Macon County Line (1974) set records for gross-per-dollar-invested. The road trip/thriller pic cost only $110,000 to make, and took in almost $25 million at the box office. It achieved a certain cult status, but has largely disappeared. In its day, however, it played especially well at drive-in movie theaters, and may therefore be counted among the last hits of the drive-in era. Max Baer, Jr. produced, co-scripted, and acted in the film. Ode To Billy Joe (1976), based on the popular song, was Baer's next foray into movie-making. Herman Raucher of Summer of ‘42 fame wrote the script; Baer directed. It did not do so well with the critics, but it made a sizable profit. Both films, whatever their merits, do an admirable job of creating a sense of rural places in the 1950s.
These films suggest that Baer, who holds a degree in business administration, does not much resemble guileless hayseed Jethro Bodine, the hillbilly hick long on ideas and short on brains, whom he played from 1962 to 1971 on The Beverly Hillbillies. Unfortunately, he did not continue with his filmmaking career. The path he has followed since has led those who still notice him to conclude that, yep, perhaps Baer and Bodine have more than a little in common after all.
After ...Billy Joe, our man more or less disappeared from the industry and the public eye, until the end of the 1980s, when he started talking to anyone who would lend him an ear. Like his television character, he had a scheme to gain fame and fortune, a plan that seemed doomed to fail on the grounds of inherent idiocy: Jethro's Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino.
I recall hearing him promote his great plan on local radio, in or around 1993. He either had a great poker voice or he simply could not grasp that the DJs found his money-making premise laughably ridiculous. In short time they were treating Baer as though he were Jethro. He quickly became straight man in a cruel comic act.
Sure, Dolly Parton has Dollywood, but she only acquired and redecorated an existing amusement park that could survive separate of its connection to the fading, fulsome star. Celebrities from Al Lewis to Kenny Rogers have traded on their fame for restaurant-related success. I've never eaten at a Kenny Rogers' Roasters, but it strikes me that a generation could grow up associating Rogers' bewhiskered visage exclusively with a moderately successful restaurant chain. He wouldn't be the man who sang "The Gambler;" he'd be another Colonel Sanders or Ronald McDonald. That is, if the name mattered at all, for Rogers rates but brief mention in their promotional literature.1 Baer's hypothetical casino, however, bases its success solely on the appeal of a show that struck its prime forty years ago. Granted, the show’s premise holds that promise of rags-to-riches, but does anyone really associate Granny Clampett with hedonism, fruity drinks, and a poor grasp of statistical probability? Do people really want to gamble Appalachians style?
Max Baer, Jr. thinks so, and he's put a lot of time and money into fielding his dream.
The official website has an artist's illustration of the finished product. It looks kind of like a shopping mall with turrets and faux stately exteriors, which is what it would be. The promotional material gushes that the completed building will possess "the elegance of a Beverly Hills mansion complete with chandeliers, elegant staircases, palm trees, and combined with the homespun charm of The Beverly Hillbillies." Swimming pools? Movie stars? The swimming pool will be called the Cement Pond, as it was at the Clampett's homestead. Baer says he himself will at times tend bar, wait tables, and drive the hick-customized limousine to the airport. At the casino itself, would-be high-rollers and other compulsives can play with chips and machines adorned with likenesses of the Clampett clan.
And what would a tourist magnet be without tasty vittles? The casino will feature Drysdale’s Fancy Eatin’s, the flagship restaurant, a gourmet affair where, guests would, like the Clampetts, eat off billiard tables. Granny’s Vittles and Hog Jowls Coffeeshop will have waitstaff dressed like the irascible rural matron, while a cartoonish, Coppertone Girl-inspired pin-up will bring salivating crowds out to Elly May’s Buns Bakery. For hearty eaters, Jethro’s All You Can Et will serve American fare, buffet-style. Finally, Granny’s White Lightning Bar would feature servers dressed like Elly May but "padded like Dolly Parton" and bartenders in drag as Granny "who do bottle twirling entertainment like Tom Cruise did in the movie Cocktail!" And for those seeking the ultimate old school White Trash experience, at Granny's Shot Gun Wedding Chapel, "the groom will be hauled in wearing a ball and chains, while the pregnant bride waits at the altar. Whether renewing vows or gettin' hitched for the first time, the whole ceremony can be taped, edited and scored" (Vasquez. All other quotations from the official website, in its 2005 incarnation).
Fun-seekers would have no trouble finding Baer's personal Big Rock Candy Mountain. The casino’s symbol will be a lit-up, ejaculatory oil derrick which Baer promises, will become the symbol of the lucky locale, visible for miles around. The website proudly describes this aspect of the casino as "controversial." The Baer-generated hoopla becomes increasingly surreal. Surely, this has to be some sort of joke.
Baer, however, is absolutely serious.
Baer pitched the notion in several areas, before identifying land in Reno, Nevada. He claimed to have several private bankers as backers, though he was shy to publicly identify them. The plans died in Reno in 1999, when Baer failed to produce the necessary capital. Harry York, CEO of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce notes that the city approved of the proposed casino, "but when it came time to make it happen, well, he didn’t make it happen" (quoted in Walsh).
The idea seemed to have died a merciful death.
Then, on August 5, 2003, Baer and his partners purchased a vacant Wal-Mart in Carson City, Nevada for 4.3 million dollars. The building, attached to a strip mall and a JC Penney’s, seemed the perfect site for his moonshine dream. Initially, the city administration seemed warm to the notion of a hillbilly casino, and the hotel and movie theatre that Baer included in his plans.
However, the original owners of the various businesses on the site, the Southgate Shopping Center, had signed to several covenants and restrictions which prohibited use of land for any kind of entertainment facility, and the land was sold with the understanding that these agreements remain in place. Baer has not been successful in getting JC Penney's to free him from the limitation, which a court has ruled to be otherwise binding.
Undaunted, Baer turned down Wal-Mart's offer to repurchase the site, which they'd hoped to make into a Sam's Club. A local gaming analyst said, of the plans, that he doubts Baer has any greater chance of success this time then in the past, citing "Jethro stories around the country" (Walsh).
A small part of Baer's dream has come true. International Game Technology licensed, with his involvement, a Hillbillies-themed slot machines: "Clampett’s Cash," "The Bubblin' Crude," and "Moonshine Money." The first of these made its debut at Native American casinos in 2003, and Baer claims that more than 700 of the machines pay him "per machine, per day" (Walsh).
"I want to build this thing," Baer says (Bosshart), at every turn asserting that the casino is his dream and will succeed. In 2007 he finally sold the old Wal-Mart property, and began seeking a new site. It was approved in 2008 for a site in Douglas County, Nevada, and.... Then he was back in Sparks County, Nevada, looking at an older casino that could be Jethrofied. In 2012, Baer was suing his partners. The proposal seems fated to die and be resurrected so long as Baer draws breath. And yet, even while I laugh, I consider what has sold to the North American public, and my brain softens to the possibility. The Clampett saga, it seems, has not yet reached an end.
Y’all come back now, y'hear?2
Max Baer's Thumbnail Biography. The First Unofficial Beverly Hillbillies Website. http://www.pcperspectives.com/hillbillies/jethro.html (defunct)
Becky Bosshart. "The Beverly Hillbillies Casino Saga." Nevade Appeal. April 24, 2005. http://nevadaappeal.com/article/20050424/NEWS/104240030/
Jethro’s Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino. Official Site. http://www.jethroscasino.com/
Jethro’s Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino Construction Photo Gallery. The Computer Vet. http://computer-vet.com/travel/carson/jethros/
Susie Vasquez. "Plan for Beverly Hillbillies casino taking shape." Nevada Appeal. September 5, 2003. http://nevadaappeal.com/article/20030905/NEWS/309050102
Thomas Walsh. "Beverly Hilllbillies’ casino plan resurfaces in Carson City." Reno Gazette-Journal. August 16, 2003. http://www.rgj.com/news/stories/html/2003/08/15/49430.php
1. Update: Although they have kept the name, the remaining Kenny Rogers' Roasters no longer use the singer's image in any meaningful way.
2. Baer's website, the design of which makes e2 look state-of-the-net, appears to have been updated last in 2013.