‘The Beverly Hillbillies’: Max Baer Jr. Described Difficulties of Playing Jethro Bodine: ‘Do Your Job’

by Atlanta Northcutt

How does one dumb themselves down and limit their vocabulary in order to fit a role? Ask Max Baer Jr., who you may better recognize as Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies.

As a young man, Baer Jr., who prefers to go by Max Baer, was surrounded by Cali folks after living in Oakland since his birth in 1937.

To say there is a difference between the deep and twangy southern drawl used by Jethro and the rest of the Clampetts compared to a clear and relaxed Southern California accent is an understatement. That issue was one standing in the way of Max fully completing the character of Jethro.

Max Baer Dumbs It Down To Become Jethro Bodine

In 1962, he was cast as Jethro on the Hillbillies after many previous gigs. However, one issue with the role was that Max Baer was actually extremely intelligent, unlike Jethro. He was such a good businessman he even bought the rights to the show later and gained a pretty penny.

“When you play a role like Jethro,” he said. “It’s for other people to judge because it’s pretty hard to be subjective or objective about yourself. You just do the best you can with the material that you’re given, and then you try to add to it [with your performance] as much as you possibly can. But in the end, it’s the audience who has the final say. ‘Well, we liked what you did’ or ‘We don’t like what you did.’ And you really don’t have any other way of evaluating it.”

Jethro Bodine was the exact opposite of Max Baer. Although the character was very likable, he had managed a sixth-grade education, and wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. It was a vast contradiction, but the actor knew what the audience wanted and how to deliver it to them. He believed it was a very special trait to have as an actor.

“You have to give a good performance,” Max continues. “You have to perform well. And, in my case [with Jethro], if I have made the people laugh, and even if they can laugh at my expense, it’s okay. I don’t care. They can laugh with me or at me. It doesn’t matter, just as long as they laugh. Because if I can make them laugh, then I believe that my performance was a successful one. I can’t evaluate it as to what degree of success it was. But I can say it did what it was supposed to do.”

Baer Brings Out The Best of “The Beverly Hillbillies”

Max Baer was an attractive male actor throughout the show and later in his career. His looks and simplicity attracted female viewers across the nation. However, looks only go so far and don’t create the full package, but they do help. At one point, the show expresses that “if brains was lard, Jethro couldn’t grease a pan.” However, Baer wasn’t just handsome. He was a truly talented performer that America loved.

“Max Baer as Jethro was perfect casting,” says TV historian Jeffrey D. Dalrymple. “The goofy ear to ear grin, his laugh, his ability to make you laugh along with him [or at him, as Baer himself has assessed], you believed episode after episode, that he truly was a country bumpkin with only a sixth-grade education.”

Airing on CBS from 1962 to 1971, it’s needless to say this show was a massive hit among viewers, with many women having a crush on Baer’s character, Jethro Bodine.

“Max had the ability to blend in with the other cast members, without overplaying or underplaying Jethro. He was a good actor and a good guy, and he still is…[as well as being a] talented writer, and a successful businessman.”

The Beverly Hillbillies are made up of an eclectic group of characters. Just looking at the packed truck with Granny sitting in her rocker riding on top sums up the lives of the Clampetts.

The family of “mountain folk” experienced a sudden and drastic change when Jethro’s uncle Jed Clampett struck black gold. The entire family “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly . . . Hills, that is,” with everyone in tow.