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Maximilian Adelbert Baer (February 11, 1909 – November 21, 1959) was a famous American boxer of the 1930s, onetime Heavyweight Champion of the World, and actor.
He was born Maximilian Adelbert Baer in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of German immigrant Jacob Baer (1875-1938), who had a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother, Dora Bales (1877-1938). His older sister was Fanny Baer (1905-1991), and his younger sister and brother were Bernice Baer (1911-1987) and boxer-turned actor Jacob Henry Baer, better known as Buddy Baer (1915-1986).
His father was a butcher. The family moved to Colorado before Bernice and Buddy were born. In 1921, when Maxie was twelve, they moved to Livermore, California, to engage in cattle ranching. He often credited working as a butcher boy and carrying heavy carcasses of meat for developing his powerful shoulders.
His motion picture debut was in The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933) opposite Myrna Loy and Walter Huston. In this MGM movie he played Steven "Steve" Morgan, a bartender that the Professor, played by Huston, begins training for the ring. Steve wins a fight, then marries Belle Mercer, played by Loy. He starts seriously training, but it turns out he has a big ego and an eye for the women. Featured were Baer's upcoming opponent, Primo Carnera, as himself, whom Steve challenges for the championship, and Jack Dempsey, as himself, former Heavyweight Champ, acting as the referee.
On March 29, 1934, The Prizefighter and the Lady was officially banned from playing in Germany at the behest of Joseph Goebbels, then Minister of Propaganda and Public Entertainment, even though it received favorable reviews in local newspapers as well as in the Nazi publications. When an official at the Ministry of Propaganda was asked, "Is the film barred because Max Baer is a Jew?" he snapped, "Ja." When contacted for comment at Lake Tahoe, Baer said, "They didn't ban the picture because I have Jewish blood. They banned it because I knocked out Max Schmeling."
Baer was an actor in almost twenty movies, including Africa Screams (1949) with Abbott and Costello, and made several TV guest appearances. A clown in and out of the ring, Baer also appeared in a vaudeville act and on his own TV variety show.
Baer appeared in Humphrey Bogart's final movie, The Harder They Fall (1956), opposite Mike Lane as Toro Moreno, a fictionalized version of Primo Carnera, whom Baer defeated for his heavyweight title. Budd Schulberg, who wrote the book from which the movie was made, portrayed the Baer character, "Buddy Brannen", as somewhat bloodthirsty, and the unfounded characterization was reprised in Cinderella Man.
Baer also worked as a disc jockey for a Sacramento radio station and was a wrestler for a while. He was also public relations director for a Sacramento automobile dealership and referee for boxing and wrestling matches.
He had two wives, actress Dorothy Dunbar (married July 8, 1931-divorced 1933) and Mary Ellen Sullivan (married June 29, 1935-his death 1959). With Sullivan, he had three children, actor Max Baer, Jr. (born 1937), James Baer (born 1941) and Maude Baer (born 1943). During a separation from his first wife, Max had an affair with movie star Jean Harlow.
Max Baer never saw the TV and movie success of his son, Max Baer, Jr. In November 1959, he was scheduled to appear in some TV commercials, which he planned to do before returning to his home in Sacramento. After refereeing a boxing match in Phoenix, he checked into the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. While shaving in the morning, he suffered a heart attack and summoned a doctor. Though Baer hung on for a while, he eventually passed away in his room. He was 50 years of age.
Baer is interred in Saint Mary's Mausoleum, Sacramento. There is a park named for Max Baer in Livermore, California, which he considered his home town, even though he was born in Omaha.
TV guest appearances
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