"Hey Vern!"

Ernest Powertools Worrell began life in the 1980s as a commercial pitchman in thousands of regional advertisements. Created by John Cherry and portrayed by actor Jim Varney, the Ernest character starred in television ads for everything from milk to hardware to amusement parks to used cars. Everclad in his trademark grey pants, t-shirt, blue denim vest, and cap, the secret to the character's success was his friendly goofiness and low fee for appearances. By marking the character available to any business that wanted him instead of tying him to a specific product, the Carden-Cherry Ad Agency (who owned the character) was able to charge between $7,000 and $10,000 from hundreds of different clients for each thirty second spot. Over 3,000 commercials were typically shot one after another in the span of a day or two with dozens of spots for dozens of products filmed in rapid succession. Ernest was always seen talking to an off-camera character named "Vern", although the placement of the camera angle implies that we, the audience, are Vern. Most of the commercials ended with Ernest being injured in some fashion, such as eletrocution or having his fingers slammed in a window. The character and the commercials became so popular that a series of videos were prepared featuring the character, and these productions did very well in the home video rental market. The next time you're looking for some goofy fun check out Knowhutimean?, The Ernest Film Festival and The Ernest P. Worrell Family Album (aka Hey Vern, It's My Family Album). In the commercials Ernest had an unseen wife named Edna and an equally unseen son named Ernie, but these concepts were dropped in 1987 when Varney, Cherry, and Disney made a deal to bring Ernest to the movies.

Ernest's big-screen debut (also directed by Cherry) was in Ernest Goes To Camp and featured our hero trying to save a summer camp from evil land developers. Filmed on a budget of only $3,000,000, the film grossed over $23,000,000 which made the character a profitable item and led to eight more films over the years. In 1988 Ernest Saves Christmas debuted and saw Ernest teaming up with Santa Claus to, well, save Christmas. Ernest Goes To Jail, considered to be the best of the films, broke free in 1990 and allowed Jim Varney to play multiple roles. A Halloween adventure, Ernest Scared Stupid spooked up audiences in 1991 when Ernest faced a mythical troll that was enslaving innocent children. The film deal with Disney ended at this point and the remaining films in the series were direct-to-video. Ernest Rides Again was released in 1993 and was followed by 1994's Ernest Goes To School, 1995's Slam Dunk Ernest (featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and 1998's Ernest In The Army. TV's The Simpsons poked fun at the Ernest series by featuring Homer and family attending two other (fake) movies: Ernest Needs A Kidney and Ernest Goes Someplace Cheap. All of these movies (minus the two fakes, of course) are available on video and most are on DVD for a low suggested price of $9.99.

In 1988 the CBS television network brought Ernest to the small screen with a Saturday morning childrens' program Hey Vern, It's Ernest. The show featured Ernest in a series of sketch comedy-type pieces where Varney also performed several of his other characters, such as Aunt Nelda, Sergeant Glory, Dr. Otto, and Baby Ernest on the show to keep things from becoming too stale for the young target audience. Jim Varney even won a Daytime Emmy for his work on the series, but the show only filmed thirteen episodes (each running thirty minutes each). The show resurfaced in the early 1990s in syndicated format, but to my knowledge has not aired in recent years.

Jim Varney sought to distance himself from Ernest in the late 1990s as he took several non-Ernest roles in film and television. He appeared as Jed Clampett in the film adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in both Toy Story films as well as the voice of the carny Cooder on The Simpsons. Rumors circulated in 1999 that a revival of the Ernest character could be in the works, but tragically Jim Varney passed away from lung cancer in February 2000. Unlike other contemporary heroes such as Batman or James Bond, no other actor has stepped into the Ernest role which, in my opinion, is just fine because nobody, and I mean nobody, could fill Jim Varney's denim vest. Knowhutimean?


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