One of the few exceptions to my "rule" are Jim Varney's "Ernest" movies. Yes, I know, they're ridiculously stupid, there's hardly any plot, and -- aside from Varney himself -- they aren't particularly well-acted. But I grew up watching these movies, and I still like them. I can't honestly throw all the "Ernest" movies into the same boat and say they're all great. I like Ernest Goes To Camp, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Goes To Jail, and Ernest Scared Stupid. I don't at all care for Ernest Rides Again, Ernest Goes To School, Slam Dunk Ernest, Ernest Goes To Africa, or Ernest In The Army. In fact, these last five I've only seen once, and refuse to watch again because they were so bad.
Which got me thinking...(a dangerous pastime, I know)...I wonder how good or how bad of a career move it was for actors to take a part in an "Ernest" movie.
Some well-established actors have acted in "Ernest" movies, probably for one of two reasons:
1) They figured they were successful enough already in their careers that starring in a low-brow comedy like an "Ernest" movie would neither make or break them as an actor.
2) Their career had already reached such a low point that they would take whatever parts came their way.
In many cases, new and less-experienced actors have taken parts in "Ernest" movies, hoping to get their talents recognized so that more lucrative roles might come their way.
So I wondered...did it work? Did the veteran actors ruin their careers by being in "Ernest" movies, or were they unaffected? Did the new actors go on to have long, successful careers in show business, or did they fade into obscurity? Let's find out...
NOTE: I only bothered to check out the "Ernest" movies I actually like -- it would take too much time and effort to do all the crappy movies, too.
ERNEST GOES TO CAMP
1) Victoria Racimo, who played "Nurse St. Cloud", went on to appear in one episode of Doogie Howser, M.D., two episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, an obscure TV movie, and a sequel to a remake of White Fang (did Jack London actually write a sequel to White Fang, or is this just a Hollywood thing)? VERDICT: Racimo had enjoyed a 15-year career in film and television prior to Ernest Goes To Camp, and did very little thereafter. This movie was a career killer for her.
2) John Vernon was already a 30-year veteran in show business when he played "Sherman Krader" in the film. He continued to act regularly in films and television for the next eighteen years until his death in 2005. VERDICT: Vernon's career was unaffected by acting in an "Ernest" movie.
3) Iron Eyes Cody, who played "Chief St. Cloud" in the film, was 80 years old when this film was released. It was his 200th appearance in a film or TV show. Though Cody lived 12 years after Ernest Goes To Camp, it was his last appearance in a film or television show. VERDICT: Being in an "Ernest" movie didn't kill Cody's career. He was just really old, and it was time to retire. And so he did.
4) Gailard Sartain, who played the chef, went on to co-star in two more "Ernest" movies (Saves Christmas and Goes To Jail), but that wasn't all he did. Sartain also acted in films like Mississippi Burning, Fried Green Tomatoes, Ali, and Elizabethtown, as well as guest-starring in several acclaimed TV shows. VERDICT: "Ernest" may have made him a semi-star, but it didn't hamper Sartain's career. He did just fine afterwards.
ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS
1) Douglas Seale, who played "Santa" in this film, had appeared in a few movies and TV shows in the '30s and '40s, but didn't act again onscreen until the '80s, during which he was quite busy. After starring in Ernest Saves Christmas, Seale went on to guest-star in episodes of Family Ties and The Golden Girls, and act in blockbuster films like Ghostbusters II, The Rescuers Down Under, and Aladdin (yes, that Aladdin!). VERDICT: Seale was an established actor by the time he appeared in this movie. He enjoyed considerable success afterwards. "Ernest" didn't kill his career in the least.
2) Oliver Clark, who played "Joe Carruthers," was a 25-year veteran of film and television prior to acting in this movie. He later had guest spots on hit TV series like Life Goes On, The Golden Girls, Full House, and Walker, Texas Ranger. He also acted in several films, including Mystery Men, Crazy In Alabama, and Lost Souls. VERDICT: Clark's career wasn't hurt or helped by being in an "Ernest" movie.
3) Noelle Parker, who played "Harmony," was an up-and-coming child actor when she appeared in this film. She'd enjoyed roles in a few notable films and TV show prior to "Ernest," but her career fairly thrived afterwards. Parker appeared in hit shows like Beverly Hills 90210, thirtysomething, Law And Order, NYPD Blue, Sisters, Early Edition, and Touched By An Angel. Parker stopped acting in the early 2000s, but by all indications it was by choice and not because she couldn't get work. VERDICT: Being in an "Ernest" movie quite possibly helped Parker's career. Go figure!
ERNEST GOES TO JAIL
1) Barbara Tyson (then known as Barbara Bush) played "Charlotte Sparrow" in this film. Though she had previously appeared in episodes of 8 different TV series, this was her first film for the big screen. Though Tyson hasn't made many feature films since "Ernest," she has appeared in quite a few TV series, including Alien Nation, Blossom, ER, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Nash Bridges, The Outer Limits, The 4400, and Fringe (apparently she likes being in sci-fi shows!). VERDICT: Being in an "Ernest" movie helped Tyson's career quite a bit, too.
2) Barry Scott, who played "Rubin Bartlett," had appeared in two obscure movies prior to Ernest Goes To Jail. Afterwards, he acted in the next "Ernest" movie (Scared Stupid), guest-starred in TV series I'll Fly Away and In The Heat Of The Night, and appeared in a few other obscure films and TV shows. VERDICT: Scott's career never really took off before or after "Ernest." The film may or may not have hurt his career, but nonetheless his acting roles were few and far between thereafter.
3) Charles Napier, who played the Warden, was a 22-year veteran of film and television by the time he appeared in this "Ernest" movie. Why he signed up to do it is anybody's guess, because he had worked steadily for many years, and couldn't have been desperate for parts. Fortunately for Napier, acting in this movie didn't stall his career -- not by a long shot. Napier went on to star in several hit movies, including The Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia, Austin Powers, and The Nutty Professor II, among others. He also appeared in a number of hit TV shows, including L.A. Law, Murder She Wrote, Lois & Clark, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Party Of Five, Walker Texas Ranger, The Simpsons, Cold Case, and CSI. VERDICT: Napier didn't need to do an "Ernest" movie, but it didn't hurt his career. If anything, his presence in it might have put a few more seats in the movie theater.
ERNEST SCARED STUPID
1) Eartha Kitt, who played "Old Lady Hackmore" in the film, had already enjoyed a long career in show business, both as a singer and as an actress. As an actress, she'd appeared in a variety of hit TV shows, including I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Batman, Police Woman, and Miami Vice, as well as several movies. After "Ernest," Kitt had roles in Boomerang, Harriet The Spy, and The Emperor's New Groove, among others, and also acted in several more TV shows. VERDICT: "Ernest" didn't kill Kitt's career. Nothing ever really did. She worked in show business in seven different decades until her death.
2) Shay Astar, who played "Elizabeth," was a newcomer to show business and a budding child actress. She'd appeared in episodes of Jake And The Fatman and China Beach prior to "Ernest." After "Ernest," Astar had guest-starring spots in hit TV shows such as Designing Women, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Quantum Leap, Boy Meets World, ER, Days Of Our Lives, and 3rd Rock From The Sun. She's also appeared in a handful of movies and lesser-known TV series. VERDICT: Astar may be the biggest success story of anyone in this list. Inane as the movie may have been, it jump-started a career which appears to be ongoing for the foreseeable future.
3) Child actors Austin Nagler ("Kenny"), Richard Woolf ("Matt"), Nick Victory ("Mike"), Alec Klapper ("Joey"), and Steven Moriyon ("Gregg") acted only in Ernest Scared Stupid. These five youngsters appeared in no movies or TV shows before or after Ernest Scared Stupid, and -- with the exception of Klapper, who has continued to work sporadically in films as an additional photographer and set production assistant -- they all appear to be out of show business altogether. VERDICT: Being in Ernest Scared Stupid did absolutely nothing for these kids. It did not boost their careers, did not continue their careers, and may in fact have killed their careers.
WHAT ABOUT "ERNEST" HIMSELF?
The question begs, then, what did "Ernest" do for the career of the man who played him, Jim Varney? Well, it basically defined his career and made him a star. Prior to making "Ernest" films, Varney played the character in a number of TV commercials and a couple of TV shows (primarily aimed at children). He then portrayed "Ernest P. Worrell" in 9 feature films, all with varying degrees of box-office success (a couple of the later movies actually went straight to video -- this was before DVD's were widespread). Varney did play other characters, though not many people remember those roles as readily. He was "Jed Clampett" in the 1993 film adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies. Varney was the voice of "Slinky Dog" in both Toy Story and Toy Story 2. He had a two-episode guest-starring role as Jackie's love interest, Prince Carlos, in the hit TV series Roseanne. Varney also voiced "Cookie Farnsworth" in the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Varney died in 2000 at age 50 from lung cancer, only two years after the last "Ernest" movie was released. Might he have made more "Ernest" movies if he had lived? Possibly. He almost certainly would have continued working in films and television in some aspect. VERDICT: "Ernest" may have made Varney a star, but his talent was much bigger than the goofy character he played for all those years. If only he'd had more years on earth to prove it...