Jethro says Reno should follow Tahoe’s example
You can almost hear it now – the plaintive cry of Mr. Drysdale on the intercom:
“Miss Hathaway, Jethro wants to run a casino …”
Max Baer, Jr., created a cultural icon with his portrayal of Jethro Bodine on the hit 1960s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies,” where he played a dim-witted bumpkin whose main goal in life – besides eating – was to indulge in a variety of exotic career ambitions.
Some say that 30 years later, Jethro is still dreaming. But Max Baer Jr., the real guy, has his feet planted firmly on the ground, and his vision of a Beverly Hillbillies hotel/casino in Reno is getting closer to reality with each passing day. Last week he received approval for the mock oil derrick that will be the signature feature of the $130 million, 781-room Jethro’s Beverly Hillbillies Mansion & Casino. The project would be adjacent to the Park Lane Mall and the Century Theaters near downtown Reno.
Now that it looks like the project is actually going to happen, it’s time for Jethro to go a-courtin’. For investors, that is.
“I’ve got all my permits and approvals now, and we hope to break ground this year,” said Baer, a longtime Lake Tahoe resident who was making an appearance on KTHO-Radio in South Lake Tahoe on Friday to promote his project.
“Now we’re looking for investors. And it’s not an easy proposition to get people to invest in Reno, let me tell you. It’s all a question of marketing. The strip is expanding, and we’ll be a part of that.”
The Santa Monica-based Macerich Co., which owns the mall, is prepared to remodel their portion of the project to bring it in line with the Beverly Hillbillies theme. But Baer still needs to come up with his portion of the capital for the hotel/casino – $130 million by his estimates.
“My intention has always been to open sometime in the year 2000,” said Baer, who played Jethro in the television series that ran from 1962-71. “But when we have all the investors in line and all our ducks in a row, I’ll be able to tell you for sure.”
Baer contends that the tourist industry in Northern Nevada is at a crossroads.
“Reno has to start promoting itself as a destination resort, like Lake Tahoe has done,” he said. “With the new laws in place to allow the expansion of Indian gaming, Northern Nevada is in a position where it must begin catering to a different caliber of tourist. It has to be able to offer more than just gambling and food.
“That’s what Lake Tahoe is doing, and I’m very impressed with that,” he said. “That new Park Avenue project you have going is a great idea, with the gondola that’s going to go up to Heavenly, and all the shops and everything. I’ve always said that you should market the beauty of Lake Tahoe. You have a lake that only God could create, and no one else has that. You can’t (market) that in Vegas … they don’t have God’s budget.”
Baer grew up in Sacramento, and spent his childhood summers at Lake Tahoe. His uncle, Frank Globan, owned a hotel in the Regan’s Beach area, and Baer used to help serve Mass as an altar boy at The Chalet at Regan’s Beach.
He graduated from the University of Santa Clara and soon moved on to Hollywood, where he landed a television job on virtually his first try with The Beverly Hillbillies. After the popular show’s 10-year run, Baer tried his hand as motion picture producer. He didn’t have much capital, but he had a gimmick – making the movie’s title song the star. Baer’s first film, “Ode To Billy Joe,” was a hit thanks in large part to the title song of the same name, sung by Bobbi Gentry.
Baer had always longed to return to Lake Tahoe, and he did, 14 years ago. He lives now in Zephyr Heights.
“I’ve lived all over, and I’ve never seen anything as pretty as this,” Baer said of Lake Tahoe. “You’ve got everything here.
“Northern Nevada has to market itself as a whole, with Tahoe included. You let people know about the beauty of the place, and all the things there are to do here, and people will come. And Reno can be a part of that. There’s room for expansion in Reno. Look at the Boomtown expansion, and the new Silver Legacy. They wouldn’t be doing those things if they didn’t see potential.”
Said KTHO News Director Mark Hayes, who interviewed Baer on Friday: “If anyone can get this done, he can. He has amazing energy, and he knows his stuff.”
Baer’s hotel/casino is an ambitious project which will trade on the Hillbillies theme. Among the plans are a $2 million electronic light show that will feature animatronic characters from the TV show. Also, please try on for size Granny’s Shotgun Wedding Chapel, Elly Mae’s Bakery and Jethro’s Buffet … the latter all-you-can-eat, of course.
“Jethro is a caricature. He’s a cartoon character, like Batman,” Baer said. “I walked into Office Max in Reno the other day, and people started applauding. People grew up with Jethro, and they like him. I’m trading on that, sure.
“I wouldn’t be doing any of this is it hadn’t been for Jethro.”
And Baer has one other plan for his project. He wants to rename the 45-acre Park Avenue Mall area “Beverly Hills, Nevada.”
“Why not?” Baer asked. “Seattle has the Space Needle, we have Beverly Hills, Nevada, with the big oil derrick. Taken in context, it’s the same thing.”
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