Max Baer Jr. has a lot of fans and plenty of critics. Occasionally, I get calls from both factions asking for updates on the former actor and his plan to build a resort casino in Douglas County just south of Carson City.
He also came to mind recently when I received an e-mail from Fred Nietz, who was on the Web when he came across a new product bearing Baer's Jethro character from the Beverly Hillbillies. It's called Jethro's Heapin' Helping Steak Sauce (there's also Uncle Jed's Tennessee Whiskey Glaze, Granny's Peach'n' Pepper Pourin' Sauce and Elly May's Wild Mountain Honey BBQ Sauce, sold primarily in the South, and on his Web site).
Then I saw the humorous new Geico TV commercial scripted to be an investigative piece on how Jed Clampett really made his millions (if you haven't seen it, you can view it on the Web at www.youtube.com/watch?v=96044mb99vs).
So it seemed there was plenty to catch up on with Max, who filled me in Thursday on the status of his plans.
First things first ... he's as determined as ever to build the casino.
Actually, "Moreso now than ever because I'm older and I have less time," he said.
Don't take that to mean his health is failing. Baer, 70, said he's very healthy. He did spend four days in the hospital in January after the much-publicized suicide of his live-in girlfriend, who shot herself through the chest at his Zephyr Heights home. Doctors think it may have been the stress of finding her that caused his heart rate to soar to 160-beats per minute. Even for Baer, who says his skin is thicker than an alligator's, that was a difficult situation to overcome.
Now he's focused again on the casino.
The first phase of the massive project would feature a 40,000-square-foot gaming area with 800 slot machines and 16 gaming tables, cinema complex and five-story, 240-room hotel.
He's got all the permits he needs and said he could begin construction at any time. But first he wants to make sure any remaining obstacles are handled, including getting a variance for the large sign that he wants to put up along Highway 395. He plans to go before the Douglas County Planning Commission in May to try to find a solution.
Also, a nearby developer is suing Douglas County, saying the rezoning of Baer's property has devalued their project.
If everything goes smoothly from here on out, Baer figures, construction could begin next year and it could be open in 2010.
But Baer is working on new projects, too. They include developing a Hillbillies-themed restaurant. He and partners have plans to put the restaurant in five airports to begin with, and they're also working on plans for larger restaurants on the same theme that would open, initially, in the South.
The key to all his plans is brand recognition ... in other words, people who remember the television show and its characters. His critics like to say that few non-seniors have watched the show, and that most younger people haven't even heard of it.
But the Geico commercial seems to suggest the name is still very recognizable, and if Baer is correct, the recognition will only grow.
Why? TV Land cable television network has begun showing 16 hours of Beverly Hillbillies each week, something that will continue for at least four years, he said.
"More people know the Beverly Hillbillies than know that Reno or Lake Tahoe exist," he said.
What else is on Baer's mind?
For one thing, the soon-to-open Bodine's Casino just north of his site. Baer said he's been approached dozens of times by people who think that's his casino. One person, for example, recently congratulated him that his casino was coming along, but said it didn't look as big as he thought it would be.
He thinks that casino, which he has no part of, will profit from all the news about his own casino plan.
"These are local people who don't know and think that's mine," he said. "What do you think a tourist would think?"
Baer maintains that the person who opened the original Bodine's restaurant on that site was his neighbor at Lake Tahoe, who called him Jethro. He learned about the restaurant years after it opened and assumed it was named after him.
"How am I going to prove that?" he said.
He wishes he'd done more about it earlier, but didn't see it as a threat to his project when it was merely a restaurant.
A threat, maybe, but not enough to tarnish his project, he believes. People will come a long way to see what all the fuss is about, he said. His analogy is that people will pay a lot to see a three-headed dog in a freak show.
And Jethro's Casino is his version of a three-headed dog.
• Editor Barry Ginter can be reached at 881-1221, or firstname.lastname@example.org