Dave Frank

Appeal Staff Writer

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May 29, 2008
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Max Baer reflects on his fight to open Hillbillies casino

Max Baer Jr. flings a pile of dog feces off his patio with a shovel and looks out across Lake Tahoe.

The former actor on the 1960s television sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies" says the view from the perch on the hill is what brought him to the Zephyr Cove home 30 years ago, but the small-town feel of the area is what keeps him.

Inside the house, pictures of the Hillbillies' cast and framed magazine features about his proposed casino hang on the walls. There is also a large picture of his father, heavyweight boxer Max Baer Sr., posing in a fighting stance.

In his living room, he shows how his coffee table can unhinge and turn into a giant TV tray. There are gardening and adult magazines on the top.

Baer, 70, is wearing a track suit, leather fanny pack and gold medallion necklace. He picks up a sketch of him drawn in the late 1990s while he was trying to open a casino in Reno. It is one of several places during the last 20 years he's tried to open a Hillbillies-themed casino.

"I look like Howard Hughes," he says pointing at the picture. "I look like a freaking eccentric idiot."

But the actor and entrepreneur, who hopes to finish the first phase of the $125 million Jethro Bodine's Beverly Hillbillies Mansion & Casino in two years, said he doesn't care what people think. He said he was disappointed when plans to open a casino in Stateline, Verdi, Las Vegas, Sparks, Reno and Carson City all fell through, but he was never discouraged.

The idea of being close to 80 years old when the proposed Douglas County casino is scheduled to be finished doesn't bother him, either, he said.

"If you think about it, is it the ultimate outcome that is the most important, or is it the trip?" Baer said during an interview in late May. "Is it getting married, or is it the courting?"

When it comes to building a casino, it's a courtship that Baer plans to pursue until he gets what he wants.

Baer, who has also earned millions of dollars off two movies he's produced, is marketing the Hillbillies brand in the meantime through a Hillbillies-themed line of slot machines and foods.

Bill Wortman, a friend of Baer's and the former owner of the Cannery casino in Las Vegas, said Baer is a "very, very interesting fellow" who won't change a plan once he's got one.

It's uncommon for someone to take this long to open a casino, he said, but it's also uncommon for someone to have the desire Baer does.

"There's something about Max," he said. "He wants to do it on his terms, and he wants to do it his way."

Baer, who has not gotten county approval for everything he wants for the casino, keeps a set of plans for the project at his house. He works from his dining room table and keeps boxes of files around him.

One box is devoted to evidence he said he's building against Bodines casino in Carson City. CBS and Baer, both who have rights to Beverly Hillbillies name, have told the owners of Bodines they should change the casino's name.

Baer is protective of the rights, but he said his casino project is not meant to be his legacy. He has no children and four dogs. His girlfriend, Chere Rhodes, committed suicide in January.

His casino project, which will not have the 200-foot-flame-shooting oil derrick he lobbied for, is about dedication and character, Baer said. He compares himself as a boxer, fighter, runner and quarterback when he talks about the work he's done.

"There's nothing wrong in getting knocked down," he said, "but there's something drastically wrong if you don't have the balls to get back up."

Baer has a deep announcer's voice. He talks openly about things like his girlfriend's suicide and his heart problems he said might have been complicated by it.

He goes to the doctor regularly for tests.

Gene Munnings, a friend and owner of Evergreen Gene's in Carson City, called Baer a loud, good, uncompromising and, at times, self-conscious man.

Baer is afraid of flying, Munnings said. He is too proud to wear a hearing aid. He dyes his hair black, and is thinking about letting it grow out.

But Baer still can get angry about not being able to open his casino at a former Wal-Mart in Carson City, Munnings said. Baer negotiated for years with shopping center property owners during the first half of the decade to let him open his casino there.

State Archivist Guy Rocha said if he had to compare Baer to another Nevada casino owner, it would be Frank Sinatra, once an owner of the Lake Tahoe Cal-Neva.

They are both smart, driven and sometimes charming, said Rocha, a friend of Baer's.

Whether Baer's strong personality has hurt his chances at opening a casino or what Baer would do if he never gets to open the casino, Rocha said he doesn't know.

"I mean, he's obsessed with this," Rocha said. "He really is."

• Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jan 5, 2015 08:50AM Published May 29, 2008 03:00AM Copyright 2008 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.