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Acorns to Oaktrees

June 27th, 2005 at 3:07 pm

The Truth About Max Baer

in: General

This was orginally printed in The Independent. Reprinted with permission. I’ve frequented the Max Baer Park in Livermore. It has a dog park where I spent many happy hours with Sara and Henrey.

Livermore’s Max Baer gets bum rap

By Barry Schrader, Columnist & History Detective



Max Baer

It is time for the citizens and City of Livermore to come to the defense of their favorite son Max Baer who has been vilified in a fictionalized movie called “Cinderella Man.”

For those of you who may not recall this local legend, also known as the “Livermore Larruper” for his pugilistic skills, Max became heavyweight boxing champ of the world by defeating Primo Carnera in 1934 before a crowd of 50,000 at Madison Square Garden. A year before that he beat Germany’s pride Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium. Because Max had a Jewish grandfather he displayed the Star of David on his trunks—infuriating Hitler and the Nazis, at the same time pummeling Schmeling so soundly for 10 rounds the referee stopped the fight. Max lost his world title in 1935 to James J. Braddock (called the Cinderella Man by the press, thus the movie title) in a 15-round decision. It is said that Max frittered away his title by spending too much time “living the good life” in Hollywood and making a movie instead of staying in shape and training for the fight with Braddock.

However, those from Livermore who knew him as the son of a butcher and hog farmer who trained in the local gym, spoke highly of his friendliness, sense of humor, generosity and good manners around women. Max and his brother Buddy (also a well-known boxer) lived with their family at Twin Oaks ranch at the end of Holmes Street. One of his trainers was former mayor Manuel Medeiros, who was also a local barber (the outdoor training ring was in Manuel’s back yard on Sixth Street). Max’s niece, Dorothy (Santucci) Tarte of Livermore, told me “he (Baer) didn’t have a mean bone in his body.” Others recalled the tragedy when one of his opponents (Frankie Campbell) died after the beating he received in the ring from Baer. This caused Max great anguish. He cried openly over it, then financially assisted the Campbell family from his later winnings. Another fighter (Ernie Schaaf) he defeated also died. However, that was after a bout with another opponent Primo Carnera.

After losing to Braddock and then getting demolished in four rounds by Joe Louis a few months later, Baer was no longer a title contender, but still fought for another six years. However, his attention turned toward acting and nightclub performances. His career record was 72 wins and 12 losses with 53 knockouts. He died in 1959 at age 50 from a heart attack.

His second wife, Mary Ellen Sullivan, lived the rest of her life in the Sacramento area. I had the privilege of meeting her in the late 1970s when helping Amador-Livermore Valley Historical Society curator Ann Lewis assemble a Max Baer display at the Heritage House on the fairgrounds. I traveled to Sacramento to pick up some trophies and other personal memorabilia from Mrs. Baer. She was very gracious and appreciated the fact that his “home town folks” were paying him homage. There is also a park in Livermore that bears his name.

As for the smear on his reputation in the current movie, his son Max Baer Jr. has come out swinging in the press to clear his father’s name. He is quoted as saying “It is a lie that my father boasted about killing two fighters in the ring. He cried about what happened and had nightmares over it. He helped put Frankie Campbell’s children through college.” Baer further stated he has a great respect for the movie producer Ron Howard but added, “He never called me for any factual information about my father. They distorted his character. They didn’t have to make him an ogre to make Jimmy Braddock a hero.” Max Junior has also been in the limelight much of his life—but as an actor and producer. He played Jethro in the TV series “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and went on to produce several movies of his own. A historical footnote: Max Junior was grand marshal of the Livermore Rodeo Parade in the mid-80s.

It would be nice if the Livermore City Council would come to the defense of one of the city’s favorite sons, and take a stand, condemning the portrayal of Max as a sadistic thug in “Cinderella Man” and calling on Director Ron Howard to set the record straight about the real life Max Baer. After all, Livermore, being his adopted home town, is taking a hit from the bad publicity as well. I say “adopted” because Max and his family didn’t arrive in town until he was 12. However, he always told the press he was from Livermore.

If you are so inclined, you can read more about the Max Baer movie controversy in the June 27 issue of the National Enquirer (pages 42-43).

Category: General

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  • 1

    The demonizing of Max Baer in Cinderella Man was not as bad as many claim. No, he would never have boasted about killing Frankie Campbell and Ernie Schaaf (he grieved over Campbell for the rest of his life). I do not believe he would have propositioned Mrs. Braddock the way he does in the film. And he was not a malevolent ogre but a wonderful, gregarious, fun-loving and loving man. BUT, he did foul his opponents (on my DVDs of the real fights, he hit low and back-handed both Max Schmeling and Jim Braddock, and lost three rounds to Braddock because of those fouls). He publically belittled Braddock for weeks before the fight (he was a PR nightmare) until he read the relief story. He was a wild and swinging playboy who had sex in the dressing room before the Braddock fight, and had not trained seriously for the fight, for which reason the driven and brutally-trained Braddock beat him. The film does make Braddock and Baer look like David and Goliath when, in fact, they were precisely the same height and Braddock was slightly stockier. This film is the most historically accurate film that I’ve seen come out of Hollywood, and even if Baer did not come across well, most of the portrayal was accurate. Read the book Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap.

    Henry Zecher on July 13th, 2005
  • 2

    Max Baer was one of the kindest warm hearted persons in the boxing, and entertainment world. I think it is sad that Ron Howard would make Mr. Baer a villian to generations who really do not know what a kind, loved person he was.

    It was also disrespectful to Max Baer’s children and family to see him protrayed in this manner. Mr. Howard should have met with the Baer family before doing this movie to have some correct insight. Max Baer Jr. is outraged over his father’s protrayal.

    Being a playboy does not make you a brutal killer.

    I hope future generations will look further than the movie Cinderella Man to know the true Max Baer.

    Barbara Penley on September 27th, 2005
  • 3

    I was disgusted when I saw the potral of Max in Cinderella man. My family has always loved James Braddock and I’ve heard stories since I was 2 years old, but they were the truth. James was good enough a hero without all the lies. And Max Baer diserves much more respect than this. Boxing diserves more respect than this. I hope this movie and the controversey over it doesn’t ruin either of their reputations..(of course it already has…)

    Violette Aimez on April 10th, 2006
  • 4

    dear baer family,

    i lived in sac in my early teens and never heard anything but kind and wonderful things about max baer. he was an icon and hero in sacramento.

    i have a very personal, 44 year old, family question. in 1959-1960 i was breifly engaged to an airman from mather afb, named russell lee taylor. my father was transferred to france and i never saw russell again but i was told that he married max baer’s daughter maude (?). i would like to know if this is true. i’d also like to know that they have had a happy marriage and many children. that is my personal wish.

    i doubt i’ll get an answer to this email but it was worth a try.

    sincerely,

    heidi van wagnen

    PS–i’m the mother of 4 and grandmother of 8

    HEIDI VAN WAGNEN on May 4th, 2006
  • 5

    I have the Cinderella Man movie on DVD. To be honest, I was more fascinated about Max Baer the man rather than James Braddock. After reading a few articles about Max on different websites, it seems to me he was a kind and really misunderstood individual. I would love to see a movie done on Max Baer to show the public who he really was. Not a monster, but a great human being. With the right director and cast this movie would be as good, if not better than “Cindereall Man”.

    Jack Pick on June 5th, 2006
  • 6

    Just saw the movie last night and felt so sad for Max Jr. I’m glad to hear his father was not as portrayed in the movie. I really can’t believe Ron Howard would make the movie without consulting the children. Someones needs to make a current movie about Max Sr. His life story is very interesting and the fact he defeated the German “Goliath” at that time in history is fascinating.

    Max Jr., so sorry what Ron Howard’s lack of consideration. The movie certainly would have been just as good if your father had been portrayed more honestly. Also, you brought many hours of laughter to our family night television viewing……..thanks for that!

    Tami Raleigh on June 29th, 2006
  • 7

    I work full time and take very little time to watch television. When I do it must catch my attention faily quickly. I watched Cinderella Man last night oly because I like Russell Crowe from a few other movies. Frankly I had never heard of Braddock or Baer. However the name Max Baer did catch my attention as being familiar. People who watch movies are usually half way intelligent and watch them with the knowledge that there will be a certain amount of fiction to them. IF it interests them enough to the point they will remember it through generations to come then they will do as I did and look it up on the internet and get the facts. I looked it up simply to find out why Max Baer sounded familiar. Then I found out it was Jethro. I went on to read about the facts about his father and from this I went on to Braddock. If I had not watched the movie I would never have gave a second thought to either of them. I also, being of halfway 9ntelligent nature realize that had someone come up with a movie about Max Baer they would have portrayed Braddock in a “negative light” to explaine how “poor Max Baer” lost the match to Braddock. Either from suffering the guilt of someone dying in the ring with him or stressed out or some such drivial. It is all a case of who got there first. Just watch the movie, let it go and being of an intelligent nature in a world where most homes have a computer let them look up the history of both these great people. Credit the population with some common sense. After the movie, and now going through the internet reading about them both I have the deepest respect for them. Yesterday if someone asked who they were I would have said “don’t knw and don’t care”.

    Elaine Kellerman on July 1st, 2006
  • 8

    My Dad was stationed at Fairfield Sasune(?) {Travis AFB} During WWII. He told me that he had seen Max and his brother Buddy at the Senator Hotel (?) in Sacramento on a few occasioins. He said Max was always jokeing and having fun and his brother Buddy was always trying to get a gin rummy game going in the lobby. He said Max stepped on his toe once when he was walking by. Dad said it felt like a car had run over his foot. Max turned and said excuse me and continued on his way. Dad said he was one of the biggest guys he ever saw. He could stand flat footed and rest his elbows ontop of a ’41 Plymouth. Not a very interesting story, but I liked it.

    Jay Owen on July 3rd, 2006
  • 9

    Since I was a boy growing up watching “Beverly Hill Billies”, my father would tell me about Max Baer Sr. and how great a fighter he was. My father stated on many occasions that Max Baer was never the same fighter after the Frankie Campbell bout. I can’t imagine a man being proud of something as devestating as this and do not believe Max Baer was. I played indoor professional football for a couple of years and in my career experienced one man become paralyzed and one of my team mates die. Everytime I strapped on a helmet I knew the consequences. I thought the movie “Cinderella Man” was inspiring, however, it’s a movie. There is always a good guy and a bad guy, even though this is not always the real story. My best to both the Baer and the Braddock families.

    Eddy Christensen on July 9th, 2006
  • 10

    An interesting and contraversial movie made to bring out the hero and villain that we all can be moved by. Its always our choice to dig deep enough to find the truth, but for those that really care will likely find contrary opinions on the very same subject. Truth is brought out by verifiable substantiated fact. With this we can be more assured of the reality of historical reference. Perhaps a more viable record from Max jr. would settle this, if it evers hits the press I bill buy it.

    scott maclean on July 10th, 2006
  • 11

    As most, I saw the movie and with no real knowledge of Max Baer I found the movie to be entertaining and believable. I did not find the Baer character villified as a matter of fact the message that came to my mind was that the behavior displayed prior to the fight was hype to put fear in his opponent. The representation of Baer was one that made me believe that he was a gentleman as after the fight it appears he walks over shakes ahnds and congratulates Braddock. My perception of Max lead me to feel bad for him as he was shown walking from the ring. Boxing is now more of a precision sport then it was in those days and if you understand that while watching the film perhaps you would have the same opinion of Max that I had. I do not akin him or his actions to that of Mike Tyson but I do believe Tyson used the same type of hype to psych out his opponents and like Max he had a thunderous punch. My opinion is it was a shame that he was unable to reconnect with the championship, yet perhaps by holding for a time was the dream Max wanted. I liked the movie and felt compassion for all the characters.
    As for Max Jr. I would be upset also if the person who I knew as my father was not portrayed accurately, however he should be the first to know that it is drama that sells seats and movie tickets, imagine a movie about a nice guy beating up on another nice guy who wants to go see that.

    Jim Coonrod on July 13th, 2006
  • 12

    I have watched Cinderella man many times. I love this movie because of the message of “a second chance” it drives home. Mr. Howard did the Baer family a dis-service by not being truthful about the Max Baer character, but I do understand why he did it. By making the character a hateful, hurtful man he is giving the Braddock character more of an underdog edge and that is what this movie is all about. Please give Ron Howard the artists license he needs to make a great movie. All that really matters is that Mister Baers family knows what he was really like and some people who are down in the dumps out there saw a movie that made them feel like things will get better. God bless!

    Mike Hubbert on July 20th, 2006
  • 13

    I think that Max Jr. should do a beautiful movie about his father Max Sr. I have not seen Cinderella Man yet and probably won’t, I don’t care for People who tell such lies on ture legends.

    Max Baer Sr. is the greatest fighter, and i would definately go see a movie about him. Providing it is based on truth not lies.

    Tamara Godoy on July 21st, 2006
  • 14

    …Come to think of it. Max Baer Junior made many television viewers believe that people of southern descent were dumb or lacking in intellect. His character “Jethro” on the Beverly Hillbillies was mildly retarded, who wore a piece of thick twine as a belt. I have met bags of hammers that were more engaging than the southern bone head Max Baer played on that show. If anyone knows anything about the way the game is played in Hollywood, it should be ol’ Jethro.

    Mike Hubbert on July 21st, 2006
  • 15

    I watched the movie and loved it. I knew before watching that Baer wasn’t as horrible as he was portrayed in the movie. But he did ridicule Braddock, backhand him, and hit him below the belt in the fight. So it wasn’t like he was a saint either. Not even to mention him being a playboy. Now I do agree he got a little harsh treatment, but everyone seems now to be making him out to be better than he really is. Just watch the movie and know that Hollywood will always twist the story, they have to in order to gain more interest and more revenue. The move “Hoosiers” is a great example, everyone loved the movie even though it wasn’t 100% accurate. P.S. Elaine Kellerman, if you are going to speak and rant on about how smart you are, at least show us you know how to spell…that is embarrassing, its called spell check, but I’m sure you knew that given that you are all about looking things us on a COMPUTER!!!!!

    Adam Berry on August 27th, 2006
  • 16

    The same analogy can be made in the movie, “The Hurricane”. In the film Rubin Carter fights Joey Giardello and is allegedely “robbed ” of the decision. However the truth is that he was well and truly beaten. Again this is the slant HOLLYWOOD, put on the fight. I admire Rubin Carters fight to clear his name after being wrongly convicted of a triple murder. The same can be said of The Cinderella man, everyone loves to see the underdog overcome the opposition.
    The one thing for sure is that Max Baer, Jimmy Braddock & Rubin Carter all deserve their place in Boxing history for their acheivements.

    SHAUN DWYER on October 10th, 2006
  • 17

    I just pulled up an article from Time Magazine (time.com). It is interesting because it is a contemporary report on the Braddock/Baer fight from 1934. Contrary to what Zechler says above, this article says that Baer was 18 pounds heavier and had a 3-inch advantage in reach. It also says that Baer was seriously afraid he might kill Braddock.

    Here’s the link to the article: www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,754921-1,00.html

    If the link doesn’t work, you can find the article just by searching time.com for “baer braddock”.

    Mark Johnson on October 22nd, 2006
  • 18

    In response to HEIDI VAN WAGNEN asking about Max’s daughter Maudie, she is not married to Russell Taylor. She lives in Sacramento her husband Tom and has two children Steve and Staci. I am friends of the family. She is a wonderful person and has a great family. Her son has a little Max resemblence and he named his son Max, who is a little tank!

    P-Dawg on November 19th, 2006
  • 19

    The perception that Max Baer was a killer and a monster has been spreading across cyberspace. I decided I couldn’t allow his true image to be tarnished by one movie, for people years from now to see him as something he was not. I decided to set the record straight. For the last six months, I’ve waded through newspaper accounts, magazine articles and books from the era, read modern biographies and autobiographies written about the great boxers from the 1930s, and conferred with boxing experts via the internet to obtain background and detailed information. I’ve double-confirmed facts, dispelled or proved rumors and debunked or laid to rest myths about Max Baer to the best of my ability. I’ve put everything I’ve discovered into a website at www.maxbaer.org. I would love to hear from all those who knew him and hope that all of you enjoy this labor of love. I would especially appreciate if someone could let Max’s family members in Sacramento know of my site. Thank you.

    Regards,
    Cat

    Catherine Johnson on January 11th, 2007
  • 20

    I knew Max Bear when I was a kid in Sacramento. George Lee an old time boxer who was one of the best small fighters ever from Sacramento worked with Max
    and could never get him to work on his game. It was all too easy for him. He was wonderful boxer. If he had worked on his game, he may have been the best ever.
    George would get mad at him and Max would just tell George “Have some fun George…Life is for fun” Max was a wonderful guy…funloving in every way. He was not a bad guy at all. His brother Buddy was the same. I use to go into his store in Sacramento and he would take the time to talk to us kids. But it was George Lee who told me , “Max has never got over the ring death…He has never got over it!”
    He used the fun loving stuff to cover his pain. And he did hold back sometime
    when he was overpowering a man.” But Max was a wonderful man!

    George

    George on October 13th, 2008
  • 21

    I have seen the movie and though not a big boxing fan I did enjoy it. When I watched it to be honest I had no idea who Max Baer was, and even after the movie I didn’t give it much thought. But after recent events in my life I have found out some intresting news and I am hoping that someone here may be able to help me.
    My Grandfather was a amateur boxer while serving in the US Army and fought a exhibition match against Max Baer. Now I am told that this match took place after Max retired and was in his 40′s but other than that I have no information. My grandfather passed away when I was very young (8 years old) and I only learned of this a few days ago. I am hoping that someone might be able to point me in the right direction on where I can get some information about my grandfathers match against him. My Grandfathers name was Austin D. McDermott, you can Email any information to aaroneblen@hotmail.com

    Aaron Eblen on October 21st, 2009
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