Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Baer had a circus background, but began his radio career at Utah station KSL. With a fairly high pitched voice often accompanied by a Western twang, he became one of the busiest radio performers in the late 1940s and 1950s.
His first network show was The Whistler which was soon followed by appearances on Escape (notably narrating "Wild Jack Rhett" and as the title patriot in an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet's "A Tooth for Paul Revere"), Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers (as various local sheriffs), Dragnet, The CBS Radio Workshop, Lux Radio Theater, The Six Shooter, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, to name a few.
In 1952, he began playing Chester, the unofficial deputy to Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, eventually ad-libbing the character's full name, “Chester Wesley Proudfoot”. (The character's name was changed to “Chester Goode” in the television series, which featured an entirely different cast.) Baer's portrayal of Chester was generally considered his finest and most memorable role and, as he often said, the one he found most fulfilling. Baer worked on several other Norman MacDonnell-produced radio shows, including the situation comedy The Harold Peary Show (aka Honest Harold) as Pete the Marshal, Rogers of the Gazette (loosely based on the early life of Will Rogers) as Doc Clemens, Fort Laramie, and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.
Other recurring roles included Eb the farm hand on Granby's Green Acres (the radio predecessor to television's Green Acres), Gramps on The Truitts, and Rene the manservant on the radio version of The Count of Monte Cristo. His later radio work included playing Reginald Duffield and Uncle Joe Finneman on the Focus on the Family series Adventures in Odyssey in the 1980s and 1990s.
Films and television
As an on-camera performer, Baer was recognizable by both his voice and his balding, paunchy appearance, often as fussy or obstinate officials or neighbors. Extended television roles included obnoxious Mayor Stoner on The Andy Griffith Show, neighbor Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, frequent guest appearances on The Addams Family as insurance man and city commissioner Arthur J. Henson, and in later years, Miles Dugan on The Young and the Restless in the late 1990s.
Baer guest starred in 1960 in ABC's The Law and Mr. Jones with James Whitmore, in the syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight with Edmond O'Brien, in the ABC sitcom Harrigan and Son, and on NBC's crime drama Dan Raven starring Skip Homeier. In 1961 he guest starred on Marilyn Maxwell's short-lived ABC drama series, Bus Stop. On April 13, 1962, he appeared, along with Frank Ferguson and Royal Dano in ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors! in the episode "Journey into Mourning". The 1962 film Gypsy had Baer appearing opposite Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell as hotel owner Mr. Kringelein. In 1964, he appeared as a sheriff in an episode of Mickey Rooney's short-lived Mickey sitcom. He was seen in four episodes of Hogan's Heroes and eight episodes of Bewitched in various roles. Later guest appearances included Three's Company (as a cooking competition judge), The A-Team, Star Trek: Voyager, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Dukes of Hazzard, Night Court, Little House on the Prairie, and Mad About You.
Baer's film roles included parts in several live action Disney features, including Follow Me, Boys! (again as a mayor), The Ugly Dachshund, and Those Calloways. He also appeared in Two on a Guillotine and Dave (as the Senate majority leader).
He also voiced Ernie Keebler in the cookie commercials before suffering a stroke in 1997 which affected both speech and movement. He recovered sufficiently to make a handful of appearances at old-time radio conventions before finally passing away from related complications in 2002, at the age of 88. He was buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
In 1946, he met and married circus aerialist and bareback rider Ernestine Clarke. They were together for 54 years until her death and had two daughters, Kim and Dale.
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