A judge Monday dismissed half of what remained of a lawsuit in which the actor who played Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies” alleged that CBS and an Iowa restaurant chain settled a legal dispute in a way that interfered with his chance to financially benefit from his role in the show.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dalila Corral Lyons tossed Max Baer Jr.’s breach-of-contract allegation against CBS. But the judge said Baer can move forward with the one remaining claim in which he seeks to have the court declare his rights with regard to a deal he negotiated with CBS in January 1991 for his authority to use his name and other elements from the show to create a chain of restaurants, hotels and casinos.
Baer, now 79, played Jethro Bodine on the show, which aired on CBS from 1962-71 and in reruns for years afterward.
The suit, filed in December 2014, alleges that unknown to Baer or CBS, the Jethro’s BBQ restaurant chain in Des Moines capitalized on the features of the iconic show, including the names of the characters and how they appeared on the series.
CBS learned what the restaurant chain was doing in 2008, but instead of notifying Baer, the network entered into a secret settlement agreement with the eatery without filing a lawsuit or telling the plaintiff, according to Baer’s complaint.
“It’s one of the worst settlement agreements I’ve ever seen,” Baer’s attorney, Jon Freis, told the judge, adding that his client spent $1.9 million in expectation that he could exploit rights he believed he had concerning the show.
In a sworn declaration, Baer, who was present in court for Monday’s hearing, alleges that Jethro’s BBQ continues to violate the settlement agreement with CBS and to also “infringe on the series elements” without any consequences.
“As a result of CBS’ and the conduct of Jethro’s BBQ, Max Baer Productions’ rights have been rendered worthless,” he says. “No restaurateur would consider a licensing agreement with us since Jethro’s BBQ already has the rights, apparently, and our rights are being questioned.”
The settlement released the restaurant chain from any obligation to pay damages to Baer, according to the actor’s court papers. But in her ruling, the judge said that even if it was assumed Baer has the rights he claims to possess, there was no evidence he suffered any damages after the CBS/Jethro’s BBQ settlement that formed the basis of his breach of contract claim.
Attorney Tami Kameda Sims, on behalf of CBS, said there was nothing in CBS’ agreement with Baer preventing the network from settling any claims involving other parties.
“The Beverly Hillbillies” dealt with the character of Jed Clampett — played by the late Buddy Ebsen — and his family, who move to California after Clampett strikes oil. Baer portrayed Clampett’s nephew. Baer is the last living star of the show.
—City News Service