Donna Douglas (who passed away in 2015) and Max Baer, Jr. were and remain beloved for playing poor-country-turned-rich-city cousins Elly May Clampett and Jethro Bodine on TV's legendary sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies. The show originally aired on CBS from 1962 to 1971 but continues to be popular in syndication, on streaming channels like Pluto TV, and on DVD.
Much wiser than his most famous TV male alter ego, Baer once offered his insight into the extremely likable interpretation of Jethro Bodine, and how important a role the audience plays in the scheme of things with regard to an actor’s performance; especially a television audience:
“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.”
“As long as you give 100 percent,” Baer continued, “…even if you’re sick. Don’t [lie] and say, ‘Oh, I can’t show up.’ You show up! You do your job — and you do it as if you aren’t sick...because it’s going to be on film in perpetuity. You’re not going to be able to put a little quote at the bottom of the screen saying, ‘Well, he wasn’t as good today because he was sick … or emotionally disturbed or had a headache.’ You have to give a good performance. 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 what degree of success it was. But I can say it did what it was supposed to do.”
Baer clearly did just that, winning over millions of Jethro fans for decades, including his Hillbillies costars, including Buddy Ebsen (Uncle Jed Clampett), about whom Baer once said, "To me, Buddy was the star of The Beverly Hillbillies."
As with Douglas, Ebsen, and the other Hillbillies stars are now gone, including Irene Ryan (Granny Clampett), Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale, the self-absorbed banker), and Nancy Kulp (Miss Jane, Drysdale's secretary).
Baer and Douglas had a great deal of affection for the entire cast. In 2013, Douglas specifically spoke highly of both Ebsen and Baer:
“Buddy...he was the best! I had most of my scenes with him, he reminded me so much of my own dad. Once at the beginning of the show’s run, my dad went to town and someone yelled, “Hey, Jed Clampett” to him. It was so precious, as my parents were so proud of my success! And then Max and I were with Buddy the night before he died at the hospital.
Douglas was an honest-to-goodness Southern Belle who displayed a natural beauty and talent in her portrayal of the hollering, rope-wearing, whistle-happy, and critter-cuddling Elly May. As the actress once observed with regard to playing her most famous role:
"Elly just had a good sense of family, and knew right from wrong she had the same upbringing that I did; back then you had respect for your parents, elders, and community. We had the same values, morals, and love of critters. They are like children; they can sense whether a person is sincere; they are a good judge of character."
During the Hillbillies' heyday, Douglas was invited to Japan, where the show was quite popular. As she recalled, "The Japanese people loved Elly and the show. It was such an exciting trip. They lined the streets to see me. They're such warm people. It was quite an experience for a little girl who had never been more than 75 miles from home [which was Pride, Louisiana]. Now, I've been to Isreal more than five times, with 16 cruises, all over the U.S. and Canada. Playing Elly opened a lot of doors for me, and I'm grateful."
As do remain the millions of fans around the world of Donna Douglas, Max Baer, Jr., and the entire cast of The Beverly Hillbillies.
[Note: The commentary by Donna Douglas first appeared in the book, Glamour, Gidgets and the Girl Next Door: Television's Iconic Women from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. The commentary from Max Baer, Jr. first appeared in the book, Dashing, Daring and Debonair: TV's Top Male Icons of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. IMDB.com provided additional reference material for certain dates and some information in this article.]