‘The Beverly Hillbillies’: Who Played Jethro in 1981 Reunion Movie After Max Baer Jr. Declined?

by Jon D. B.
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A surprising choice was cast as Jethro for 1981’s TV movie The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, after Max Baer Jr. was the only surviving cast member who declined to return.

If you’re a Beverly Hillbillies fan (and why else would you be here?), then you know the name Max Baer Jr. But do you know the name Ray Young?

Born on May 9, 1940 in Kansas City, Missouri, the late Ray Young is known for Police Story and Coffy (both 1973), as well as Hunter’s Blood (1986). Yet before he died on July 6, 1999 in Los Angeles, California, Young would take on one of his more high-profile roles. And it was all thanks to Max Baer Jr.’s… Peculiar way of living.

In 1981, fans saw the return of their favorite backwood-ers for The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies. The made-for-TV-movie saw the iconic Buddy Ebsen return as Jed Clampett. Donna Douglas was back as Elly May, and Nancy Kulp would also return as Jane Hathaway.

Tragically, comedy icon Irene Ryan would pass in 1973 well before the film’s production. But where was Max Baer Jr. as everyone’s favorite goober (besides Goober Pyle, of course), Jethro?

As the story goes, actor Max Baer Jr. refused to return, as much of the original cast had already passed on. With him unwilling to star, producers needed a stand-in for Jethro. Enter Ray Young for The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies.

‘The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies… Sort Of’

In the TV movie, Ray Young steps into the famous role of Jethro Bodine to very mixed results. The film follows Jed Clampett as he and his backwoods family “help solve an energy crisis in their own rustic ways for their Beverly Hills neighborhood they still cannot adjust to,” IMDb cites.

In truth, a more apt title for this much-maligned spinoff would be “The Return of the Beverly HillbilliesSort Of.” As one IMDb reviewer puts it:

“Apart from horrible and 100% unfunny writing, it’s pointless to even consider doing a “reunion” when so many of the original cast were either dead (Raymond Bailey and Irene Ryan), refused to become involved (Max Baer, Jr.) or just looked dead due to their wooden performance (Buddy Ebsen). BUT, the writers being “clever” blokes thought no one would mind if they have a double pretend to be Jethro (looking much like Bela Lugosi’s double in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) and substitute Granny with Imogene Coca who was billed as “Granny’s Maw” (and, by my calculations she would have to be at least 150 years-old give or take a few decades).

Martin Hafer, IMDb Reviewer

Apparently, CBS had no faith in Ray Young’s portrayal of Jethro, either. In the special’s marketing, Young as Jethro is completely out of the picture. The network’s trailer for their Beverly Hillbillies return is a prime example:

Promo for the premiere of “Return Of The Beverly Hillbillies” on the October 6, 1981 CBS Tuesday Night At The Movies

Memory Museum

Honestly, it all begs the question: Why even bother? Max Baer Jr. certainly thought so, and kept his distance from the project altogether.

Outsider.com