"Hey Vern, cooking out again, eh. Are you crazy man? Didn't you hear Robin Reed's pinpoint weather forecast on News 7?"
In the early 80s it was hard to miss Ernest P. Worrell on WDBJ7. Actor Jim Varney appeared in more than a dozen commercials promoting the station's news and entertainment programs (see below).
Almost 30 years later, John "Buster" Cherry still marvels at the way Jim Varney brought the character to life.
"All the Ernest commercials were 30 seconds top to bottom, no cuts," Cherry told us during an interview at his home in the suburbs of Nashville. "And I could say alright... emphasize the word energy, the window's going to hit your fingers here, cut three seconds off. He could do it!"
"That Robin's got him a computer Vern. The man is wired for weather!"
Cherry hired Varney and came up with the character to promote a tired amusement park in Kentucky.
"We couldn't save it," Cherry said.
The amusement park folded, but Ernest would rise again.
Over a period of 10 years, the Nashville ad agency Carden and Cherry produced more than 3000 spots for local advertisers across the country, including dairies, car dealers and television stations like WDBJ7.
Friends encouraged Cherry to write a book. "I think they were saying that to get me to shut up," Cherry joked.
The result is a memoir, Keeper of the Clown: My Life with Ernest.
The television commercials are just part of a story that includes the 10 Ernest movies Cherry directed. "We shot Ernest Goes to Camp, and then Ernest Saves Christmas, and Ernest Goes to Jail. Just one right after the other."
More were in the works when Varney became ill. A heavy smoker, he died from lung cancer in 2000. He was 50 years old.
If Varney were still alive today, we asked Cherry, would he still be portraying Ernest?
"Yes and we would still be fighting over it. We would still be arguing, c'mon Jim, we've got to do one more."
"Didn't you hear Robin say that it was going to rain any second? We are talking pinpoint Vernon. Next time call your Old buddy Ernest, KnowWhatIMean?
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