If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably wore out the tapes of movies like Ernest Goes to Camp by playing them over and over again.
But you also probably wondered the same question I did: who was Ernest? Obviously we knew that Ernest was a funny guy who always wore the same clothes and got into wacky hijinks, but why did they make so many movies about this Ernest guy anyways? It turns out that the character had a long and interesting career.
Ernest was played by Jim Varney, an actor from Kentucky who won awards for his acting in plays and musicals, but also worked in an Wild West themed tourist attraction called the Pioneer Playhouse early in his career. Varney's big break - and the start of the Ernest phenomenon - came about in 1980.
Varney was cast as the lovable but annoying pitchman Ernest P. Worrell in a series of commercials by a Nashville ad agency named Carden & Cherry. After his first ad promoting a local theme park, the company realized they had a hit on their hands, and soon they were cranking out Ernest ads for small businesses across America.
Each ad stuck to the same formula: Ernest would bug his neighbor Vern (played by the cameraman, with the ads filmed from his point of view) while mentioning a product or business. Carden & Cherry could churn out 25 ads in a single day thanks to Varney's secret talent: he had a photographic memory.
Varney could read a script once and act out the commercial dozens of times, flawlessly replacing the name of the product for each business. While he taped ads for big brands like Coca-Cola, Varney's bread and butter were small businesses like Cerritos Auto Square in L.A., ABC Warehouse in Michigan, and Braum's Ice Cream in Oklahoma.
But his hugely popular ads were just the start of Varney's career...