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Monday, December 17, 2012

Ernest Saves Christmas

It's Day #17 of “The Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar”, and it happens to be a Monday Matinee today.

And today's blog entry is all about a movie that didn't exactly make a lot of money at the box office, and yet it still has its fans.

How many of you remember the late Jim Varney? I see a few of you raising your hands up high exclaiming “I know him, I know him!”

But for those of you who might not know who he is, I thought I would open up this entry by doing a little biographical sketch on him before launching into today's feature presentation.

Jim Varney was born in Lexington, Kentucky on June 15, 1949, the fourth child of James and Louise Varney. When Varney was a young child, he had the uncanny ability to memorize long poems and passages from books, and would often recite everything that he had just read to his family who were completely amazed by his ability. I guess you could say that Jim Varney had a bit of a photographic memory.

As it turned out, Varney ended up having a memory for sounds and voice the time he was eight years old, he had the ability to mimic the same voices of the cartoon characters that he had just watched on television.

When Varney entered his teenage years, he was determined to pursue a career in entertainment, and he won several prizes and awards in state drama championships during his time at Lafayette High School. After his graduation in 1968, Varney continued to act in various stage productions and college plays, and studied Shakespeare in the Barter Theatre in Virginia.

TRIVIA: Jim Varney was extremely passionate about the works of William Shakespeare. He was once quoted as saying that one of his wishes as a performing actor was to act in a production of Shakespeare's classic play “Hamlet”.

Although Jim Varney never did get the chance to star in “Hamlet”, that's not to say that his career wasn't spectacular in itself. He ended up getting a lot of big breaks over his lifetime, which included the following roles...

  • Was a regular cast member in the 1976 variety show “Johnny Cash & Friends”
  • Held a guest starring role on “Fernwood 2 Night”
  • Cast in the role of Seaman “Doom & Gloom” Broom in the television version of “Operation Petticoat” between 1977 and 1979
  • Portrayed Evan Earp in the 1983-1984 television series “The Rousters”
  • Co-hosted HBO's 1985 New Years Eve special with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson

  • Assumed the role of Jed Clampett in the 1993 movie adaptation of “The Beverly Hillbillies”

  • Was the voice of Slinky Dog in the first two “Toy Story” films
  • Was the voice of 'Cookie' Farnsworth in the 2001 film “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Sadly, that last entry on that list would end up being his last role ever. In the summer of 1998, Varney developed a nagging cough while he was filming a movie, and grew concerned when he saw a spot of blood inside of his handkerchief. After having an appointment with a doctor, he was given the grim news that he had lung cancer. Despite his diagnosis in 1998, Varney spent much of 1999 continuing to work on projects. A chain smoker for almost his entire life, the day he heard the diagnosis was the day that he quit smoking for good, and even filmed a public service announcement about the dangers of smoking.

Varney battled lung cancer for a year and a half and underwent chemotherapy to try and combat the disease...but on February 10, 2000, Varney passed away at the age of 50.

Throughout Jim Varney's lifetime, he obviously had a lot of great success in the world of film and television, and he certainly had a lot of fun bringing his talents to the big and small screens. But I haven't even touched upon the role that truly made Jim Varney a huge star. It was also a role that was so silly and so goofy that I actually ended up doing a double take when I read that Varney had studied Shakespeare!

I'm sure you know the role that I am talking about, don't you?

It seems hard to believe, but the character of Ernest P. Worrell was created by Varney for a series of television commercials thirty-two years ago. In 1980, Ernest made his television debut in a local commercial for Beach Bend Park, which advertised an appearance by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. From there, Ernest became the official spokesperson for several dairy advertisements, and Varney created two more characters (Auntie Nelda and Sgt. Glory) that were used in various commercials that were taped between 1980 and 1990.

Eventually, Ernest's popularity grew nationwide, and the idea to spin-off the Ernest character into a series of feature films became a reality beginning with 1987's “Ernest Goes To Camp” (a movie that I did an entry in my blog about last summer). Other feature films followed, such as 1990's “Ernest Goes To Jail”, 1991's “Ernest Scared Stupid”, 1993's “Ernest Rides Again”, and 1998's “Ernest In The Army”. There was even a Saturday morning television show entitled “Hey Vern, It's Ernest”, which aired during the 1988-1989 season.

TRIVIA: Jim Varney had the distinction of winning an Razzie Award (in 1988 for “Ernest Goes To Camp”, and then winning an Emmy Award the following year for “Hey Vern, It's Ernest!”

You've probably figured it out by now, but today's blog will be taking a look at an Ernest film...and yes, it is one that takes place during the Christmas season.

"Ernest Saves Christmas” was released on November 11, 1988, and in addition to Varney, the film also starred Douglas Seale, Oliver Clark, and Noelle Parker. The film was directed by John Cherry, who directed all the other Ernest films, and made about $28 million in profits. On one hand, it was a success, since it did make four times its budget, but it was hardly considered to be worth a success when you consider that 1988's top-grossing film, “Rambo III”, made almost $200 million at the box office.

Regardless, the film remains a favourite to many Ernest fans, and I admit that I do love this movie (although “Ernest Goes To Camp” will always be my all-time favourite Ernest film).

The plot for the film is very simple. Santa Claus (Seale) is the most recent in a long line of Santa Clauses before him (the idea of Santa being replaced by a new Santa was also featured in “The Santa Clause”). And this Santa Claus is on a mission. He is in Orlando, Florida with the purpose of finding someone else to take over for him this Christmas. The lucky winner of the new promotion is the host of “Uncle Joey's Treehouse”, Joe Carruthers (Clark). And on the surface, Carruthers seems to be the perfect choice. The catchphrase of his show, after all, is “they never get old, they always stay new, those three little words, please and thank you!”

Santa just has to find him.

And Ernest P. Worrell happens to be his taxi cab driver.

So, here you are, thinking that the situation is bound to get a little more complicated with Ernest involved. Well, you're right. Just minutes after Ernest picks up Santa, they cross paths with a runaway teenage girl who calls herself Harmony Starr (Parker), who joins the two.

Upon arriving at their destination, Santa is embarrassed to admit that he has no money to pay Ernest (the only money in his possession is money from a board game). Fear not though, Ernest is in the giving spirit for Christmas and lets Santa off, free of charge. Unfortunately for Ernest, his boss doesn't seem to feel the same way, and fires Ernest on the spot.

Ah, but Ernest soon discovers that Santa has left his magical bag behind in Ernest's cab. And, Ernest, who would never play the game of “finders keepers, losers weepers” embarks on a mission to return the bag back to its rightful owner.

At the same time, Santa tries to get close to Joe in order to tell him of his new job promotion, but Joe's agent keeps him from doing so. The agent even mishears Santa's name, actually calling him Mr. Santos instead! To compound the matter, Santa realizes that he has lost his bag, and that his mind isn't as sharp as it used to be. When he tries to explain to Joe why he has come, Joe refuses to believe it, and Joe's agent actually has Santa arrested!

So, here's the situation. Ernest and Harmony discover that Santa has been arrested and work on a plan to try and bust him out of jail so that he can convince Joe to take on the job.

Meanwhile, Joe's agent manages to sink his claws into Joe, urging him to pull the plug on his children's show to star in a horror film that has aliens terrorizing children on Christmas Eve. The movie's plot is so offensive to Santa that he ends up decking the director, but Joe seems determined to go ahead with the project. Can anyone make him see reason before Christmas Eve?

And, what about the teenage girl who calls herself Harmony Starr? When she discovers the secret behind Santa's magical sack, she decides to take advantage, and plots to run away with the loot. Will a Christmas miracle make her see the light?

Oh, I can't tell you. I never reveal endings. You'll just have to watch the movie for yourselves... clicking HERE. Consider this a Christmas present to you all. And, considering how rapidly movies get yanked from the site where this is posted, you may want to take advantage while you can.

With just one more week left to go until the big day, I have a lot of holiday memories left to post. Tune in on Day #18 where we will talk about the birth of a recent pop icon who has worn a lot of hats. She's been a singer, a judge, and a Mouseketeer! And, we'll be featuring both a contemporary song of hers as well as a Christmas song. Hey, gotta keep the theme going, right?

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