First I would like to say that I hope everyone enjoyed my last article, "Monster Mash". From now on my articles will go by the title "Nightwatcher's Patrol". And now I give you the first installment in my Patrol series, a tribute to the late/great Jim Varney and his title character Ernest P. Worrel. Knowutimean?
In The Beginning...
James Albert Varney Jr. was born on June 10th 1949 and his career started at the young, fresh age of seventeen when he starred in a high school play of A Christmas Carol as Ebeneeser Scrooge. He later went on to perfoming stand up comedy at several different clubs and getting minor roles in movies and television shows.
Step 1: The Commercials/Ernest Is Born
One day Varney was approached by a representative of Carden And Cherry, an Arknsas based advertising company with an idea for a new character. Ernest P. Worrel, a clumsey redneck with a heart of gold becomes the center of a chain of commercials advertising everything from car dealerships (Tyson's Toyota) to multiple dairy companies (Purity, Pine State, Challenge) and even two Coke products, Sprite and Mello Yello "Make the Mello Yello move, knowutimean?". There were also public service announcements that covered water safety, weed prevention and, of course, smoking and drinking. Funny since smoking is what did Varney in. "If you don't pitch in your part, and I don't pitch in my part, we won't have a part to pitch in. Knowutimean?". The commercials usually had Ernest talking directly to the camera as you were supposed to be looking at the world through the eyes of Vern, Ernest's next door neighbor and best buddy. "Pancakes on parade. You'd butter believe it."
Varney also made a series of shorts called Your World As I See It starring Ernest's overly intelligent, wealthy, snobby and egotistical counterpart Astor Clement who guided us through life's everyday workings in a way even we, the average joe, could understand and usually used Ernest as an example. "All vanity comes with a price. Luckily mine's tax deductible. I'm Astor Clement and that's your world as I see it."
Step 2: TV Special/First Shot At The Big Screen
Hey Vern, It's My Family Album (TV movie) 1983
The Ernest commercials became so popular after a while that Carden And Cherry decided to treat the fans to a full blown TV special. Hey Vern, It's My Family Album was a collection of commercials re-shot and spread out into a feature length program which centered around Ernest finding his old family album in the attic while doing his spring cleaning. He decides to show it to Vern and in return we are all treated to a Worrel family history lesson, from a battle during the American Revolution all the way up to a day of fishing with a younger Ernest and Grandpa Worrel. As a whole this was the first movie that Ernest appeared in but, incidentally, it was also the worst out of the series.
Dr. Otto And The Riddle Of The Gloom Beam (1985)
The evil Dr. Otto Von Schnick-ick-ick, a horribly warped, fifteen fingered fiend wants to take over the world with the help of his latest invention, "The Gloom Beam". With it he will cause wide spread chaos and destruction by demagnetizing everyone's credit cards and ATM cards. It will be the end of the world's financial economy AS-WE-KNOW IT. Only one man, an air head named Lance Sterling, stands between Otto and a steady Stock Market. However, in order to save the world, Lance, along with his partner Doris, must first solve Dr. Otto's devious riddle. Will Lance and Doris save the world? If you could be any animal, which animal would you be? Can you spell Otto backwards? See Dr. Otto and you will know. Note: This movie does not revolve around Ernest but rather the villainous Dr. Otto and so it has a considerably darker tone, but the wrye, slap stick humor of the series is still intact. Also Ernest does make a cameo at the end but it's to complicated to explain here. This is also the second worst Ernest movie next to Hey Vern, It's My Family Album.
Step 3: Ernest Makes It To The Big Time!
Finally, Ernest's popularity payed off and his official movie series began...
Movie 1. Ernest Goes To Camp (1987)
Ernest is working maintenance at Kamp Kikakee, (think of the word Chickadee but spelled with three k's), a special camp for boys, but dreams of someday becoming a counselor and "shaping and molding youthful minds into a focused world view". His chance may finally come this year when he gets to counsel a group of juvenile delinquents called "The Second Chance Boys". However, all is not milk and honey at Kamp Kikakee when a mining company called Krader Industries (get it?), run by the evil Shermon Krader (yep, more k's), discovers a large deposit of Petrocite, (a special mineral that is invaluable to all the military and space programs of the world), beneath Kamp Kikakee. Now Krader wants to dynamite the camp to reach the mineral and only Ernest and the Second Chancers can stop them. But will the boys find it in their hardened hearts to befriend Ernest in time or will Kamp Kikakee be lost forever? And let's not forget about the camp's chefs Jake and Eddie and their quest to find the secret ingredient to the quintessential Eggseronious. In my opinion this is the second best movie in the series. I usually watch it during the Summer season.
Hey Vern, It's Ernest (TV show, Sept 17-Dec 24 1988)
For a mere three months in 1988 Ernest got to star in his own Emmy Award winning Saturday morning TV show. It ran for thirteen episodes in all. Their titles and air dates are listed below:
1. Hey Vern, It's Outer Space-9/17
2. Hey Vern, It's Clothing-9/24
3. Hey Vern, It's Scarey Things-10/03
4. Hey Vern, It's Movies-10/08
5. Hey Vern, It's Magic-10/15
6. Hey Vern, It's Sports-10/22
7. Hey Vern, It's Pets-10/29
8. Hey Vern, It's Hobbies-11/05
9. Hey Vern, It's Food-11/12
10. Hey Vern, It's Holidays-12/03
11. Hey Vern, It's School-12/10
12. Hey Vern, It's Lost & Found-12/17
13. Hey Vern, It's Talent-12/24
Each episode was made up of short skits that revolved around a certain theme. It was kind of like Nick's You Can't Do That On Television or as one person put it, a Monty Python for kids. Recurring skits usually included "Lonnie Don's School Of Hollywood Sound Effects", "Haircut", "Sergeant Glory", "My Father The Clown" and "Exsisto The Magnificent". And personally I think that Scary Things should have been aired on 10/29 and Holidays on 12/24. Here's a shout out for all us Ernest fans: Hey Vern, It's Ernest The Complete Series on DVD! Make it so!!
Movie 2. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Ho, ho, no!
This movie takes place in Orlando, Florida of all places where Ernest is a taxi driver who must help Seth Applegate (aka Santa Clause) find a man named Joe Corrothers so he can become the new Santa. The only catch is that Joe must except the job by 7:00 pm on Christmas Eve or Santa's magic will ware off and Christmas will cease to exist. The best part is that Ernest gets to take a wild ride in the sleigh with the helper elves. I don't know about you guys but I love Christmas and can't imagine a world without it. It would make Winter way to boring. Note: This is the first and only movie in the series to feature both Astor Clement and Vern.
Movie 3. Ernest Goes To Jail (1990)
Ernest is working as a bank janitor but gets switched with a dangerous convict named Felix Nash who bares an uncanny resemblance to him. Now Ernest must find a way to escape from prison (and Nash's death sentence) while Nash tries to rob the bank. Woah, there's a head spinner. Will Ernest escape prison in time to save the bank and his friends and clear his name? "I came, I saw, I got blowed up."
Movie 4. Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
Ernest is now a sanitation engineer (they hate it when you call them garbage men) for the town of Briarville, Missouri. As it turns out he and his entire family are also cursed. Ernest's great grandfather Rev. Phinnaeous Worrel helped to rid the town of a hideous evil one hundred years ago and now it's rubbing off. Kind of explains a few things, doesn't it? Ernest has accidentally released said evil, an ugly troll named Trantor, from his prison deep beneath a twisted tree and must now defeat him or this may be our last Halloween. This is my favorite out of the series. "Boy ah sure hope yer from Keebler!" Note: Take a close look at the milk cartons that the kids grab from the store while preparing for battle toward the end of the movie. That's right, it's Purity.
Movie 5. Ernest Rides Again (1993)
Ernest and his new best buddy Abner Melon, a history teaching college professor, stumble onto a legendary giant cannon appropriately called "Goliath" which was used in the Revolutionary War. According to legend the real Crown Jewels of England are hidden in Goliath's barrel (the ones on display in the Tower Of London being clever fakes) and so Professor Melon has been spending the better part of his career trying to find it. Unfortunately he's not alone in his quest. Melon's boss, Dr. Glencliff, wants the jewels for a get rich quick scheme and so the chase is on...literally. Ernest eventually manages to stop the cannon from rolling but after finding the jewels he gets the crown stuck on his head. The British authorities then come in and declare that whomever wares the crown is the new king of England. Fortunately Ernest finally gets the crown unstuck at that very moment. Whew! That was a close one! Note: This was the last Ernest movie to hit theaters because of the negative response from it's audiences. All movies in the series since have been released directly to video.
Movie 6. Ernest Goes To School (1994)
Ernest is enjoying his latest job as a high school janitor when he finds out that the super attendant has changed the rules so that in order for Ernest to keep his job he needs to show a high school diploma. There's only one problem, he never graduated which means he has to go *gulp* BACK TO SCHOOL!! In order to graduate and get his diploma Ernest must pass his final exam and fortunately he has made friends with a group of students who are willing to help him out. Along with the science teachers who turn out to be actual scientists and their new machine which can turn even someone like Ernest into a super generous. Unfortunately it also turns him into a super jerk. But when Ernest and the kids learn (no pun intended) of a plot to buy the school to merge it with another, will they be able to help Ernest pass his exam and save the school? It may be tough since the school's fate depends on a football game which Ernest and his young friends have no idea how to play. Hopefully the machine can help in some way here.
Movie 7. Slam Dunk Ernest (1995)
Ernest is working as a shopping mall janitor along with a group of guys who also have their very own neighborhood basketball team called the Clean Sweeps. Basketball is Ernest's favorite sport (hence the name of his dog Rimshot in previous movies) and he has always wanted to play. There is, as always, one little problem...he stinks, mostly due to his lack of aim. And so every time he asks the guys if he can join them in a game they turn him down, gently of course. But one night Ernest is visited by the archangel of basketball (NBA super star Kareem Abdul Jabbar) who gives him an offer. He gives Ernest a special pair of sneakers that will enable him to play like a pro but also warned him "Don't misuse the shoes". Of course Ernest completely disobeys the angel especially after being tempted by a mysterious mogul and soon makes it to the pro courts, without the help of his friends. Before he knows it Ernest is the center of attention and has a solo game against the Charlotte Hornets. Will Ernest snap back to his senses in time to save his friendship with the guys or will he let his new found fame and fortune go to his head?
Movie 8. Ernest Goes To Africa (1997)
Ernest wants to impress his high school love interest Rene Loomis and decides to do so by making her a gift, a special yo-yo that he made out of a pair of seemingly ordinary crystal- like stones which he bought at an outdoor flea market. Rene turns him down though because she wants a man who is more daring and adventurous. It turns out however, that the two stones that Ernest made the yo-yo out of are considered sacred to a native tribe in Africa whom they were stolen from and Ernest is accused of being a secret double agent and the thief. He and Rene are then kidnapped and taken to Africa where Ernest must return the jewels and save Rene while also avoiding some of Africa's other perils like snakes, Rhinos and the concessional vampire fish. Wait, what? Note: This is the third worst Ernest movie next to Dr. Otto.
Movie 9. Ernest In The Army (aka Stormin' Ernest) 1998
Retro junkies, ten hut! In his final movie Ernest is working as a rangeboy at a military boot camp but dreams of one day being able to drive the Army big rigs (esspecially tanks, heaven help us). In order to make his dream a reality, Ernest enlists in the reserves but is quickly called into battle overseas to help stop a ruthless Middle Eastern dictator from using our country's latest test missile against us. While in the Mid East Ernest befriends a little boy who's father is being held prisoner by said dictator. This is Ernest's last chance to prove that he really can be a hero, not just to a boy's summer camp or even a holiday, but to our entire country, and a little boy who needs his father. When in combat there is but one rule you must remember above all others: always stick by your buddy, knowhutimean?
Movie 10. Ernest The Pirate (incomplete) 2001-2002
Not much is known about this movie other than some how Ernest becomes a pirate and has a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas. This movie probably would have done well with the pirate mania generated by the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy. Sadly Jim Varney passed away just as the film was nearing completion so it was never finished. Alas, a yarn untold. Arrrgh.
Varney's Last Stand
Jim Varney managed to finish one more movie before his death. In Disney's Atlantis The Lost Empire (2001) he voiced the crew's chef Cookie. "I got yer four basic food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey n' lard". Ironically the movie was released a year after his death. Varney passed away of lung cancer on February 10th, 2000 at approximately 4:45 am ET. He was 50 years young. I know not everyone out there was really crazy about Jim Varney but if some of you could take a moment of silence after reading this article I would really appreciate it. Special thanks to wikipedia for some of this info and some unnamed costumers of amazon for their scans of at least four of the Ernest movies. (The rest were mine).