His dad was Max Baer Sr., the world heavyweight boxing champion from June, 1934 to June 1935.
The senior Baer already had died by the time his son was signed to a $250-per-week studio job in 1960. He was having lunch at Warner Brothers Studio when someone spotted him and offered him an acting contract. Looking like James Garner, who’d just left Maverick, was a good thing.
Two years later, Baer Jr. earned the part of his life. He played Jethro Bodine, Jed Clampett’s dim-witted, but handsome nephew, on the Beverly Hillbillies.
Given that Baer Jr was athletic and built like his dad, did he ever consider a career in the boxing ring? He probably was asked this question a lot, although Baer Jr. was born two years after his dad lost his title. In 2015, when Baer spoke with a Minnesota radio station, he made a joke about basically not having the passion for the one-time sport of kings.
“My dad said boxing was a religious sport,” the Beverly Hillbillies star said. “It was far better to give than to receive. I didn’t have any religious feelings at the time, so I didn’t go that way.”
Plus, Max Baer’s uncle, Buddy Baer, was a heavyweight boxer. Both his dad and uncle lost bouts to Joe Louis.
Max Baer’s Dad Died Three Years Before He Earned Beverly Hillbillies Role
His dad died right before Thanksgiving in 1959. Max Jr. was only 22. He’d just graduated from Santa Clara University and still was months away from an official, paid, acting career. He did follow in his dad’s footsteps, considering Baer Sr. acted in about 20 movies. But dad never got to feel pride when his son hit the TV big time with the Beverly Hillbillies.
However, long after the Beverly Hillbillies, Baer Jr. found himself publicly defending his dad. Way back in 1930, Baer Sr. killed an opponent during a boxing match. Frankie Campbell, his opponent, collapsed in the ring and died the next day. Baer visited Campbell in the hospital and comforted his wife. He asked for her forgiveness. She gave it to him. Police arrested Baer and charged him with manslaughter. The charge was dropped, but Baer served a year-long suspension from boxing.
Five years later, when he was the defending heavyweight champ, Baer Sr. lost a bout to James Braddock. It was considered a huge upset. And in 2005, Ron Howard directed the movie Cinderella Man about Braddock, who was played by Russell Crowe. Actor Craig Bierko played Max Baer Sr. His portrayal was of a brutal man.
That didn’t sit well with one of the stars of the Beverly Hillbillies.
“That’s a lie,” Baer Jr. told the New York Daily News. “My father cried about what happened to Frankie Campbell. He had nightmares. He helped put Frankie’s children through college.”