Wow, now here's a pop culture phenomenon for you. Jim Varney started shooting local and regional TV commercials as lovable dimwit Ernest P. Worrell in 1980. With each spot - for products as diverse as milk, car dealerships, and banks - featuring his neverending annoyance of unseen neighbor Vern, Ernest's popularity and fame grew across the decade until he was a national commercial spokesman in commercials for Coke products like Mello Yello. This is where I first encountered him - and I liked him - he was hilarious in those commercials.
|Ernest P. Worrell|
It naturally developed from there to take the character to home video - and in the mid 80's there were comedy tapes like Hey Vern! It's My Family Album, which let the talented Varney indulge his penchant for crazy characters by telling Vern about some notable ancestors in the Worrell family. Of course they also released a compendium of several dozen of the Ernest TV commercials as The Ernest Film Festival and a Volume 2 of same.
Then, in 1986, the production company behind Ernest made an honest-to-goodness feature film starring Varney with the wonderful title Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam. It turned out to be a completely off the wall comedy adventure with Varney essaying the title role, a would-be Bond villain named Dr. Otto von Schnick-Ick-Ick. There is a brief appearance by Ernest in the movie as well.
|Dr. Otto von Schnick-Ick-Ick|
In 1987, with the Ernest character now a definitely known presence in pop culture, and a money maker as well, someone decided there needed to be an actual theatrically released Ernest movie. I'm not sure what went on behind the scenes in the development of the script - but it appears that early on it was decided to jettison Vern completely and just let Ernest go about his business in a very family friendly way - highly appropriate for a character seen exclusively thus far in G rated antics hawking products on television or in those inoffensive videos - well, except for Dr. Otto, which actually has some darker moments, but I'm not sure very many people saw that one...so....
|Jed Clampett - The Beverly Hillbillies|
After Ernest Goes to Camp a whole movie franchise built up around Varney – although nearly all of the movies after the first went direct to video. In the end Varney did something like a dozen Ernest movies – as well as appearing in other films like The Beverly Hillbillies and Snowboard Academy – and providing the voice of Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story movies. Although the movies are lowbrow and aimed mostly at kids – Ernest is a marvelous character and Varney played him wonderfully. I wish he could have shown more of his talents in other roles – something that did frustrate him at times – but I’m glad we have Ernest – and Dr. Otto – to enjoy. Check out some Jim Varney next chance you get!
|As the bad guy in 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain|
Until next post you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!