October 15, 1993 Character actor and Kentucky native Jim Varney (1949-2000), aka Ernest P. Worrell, played his mountain dulcimer on the Chevy Chase Show, Season 1 Episode 29. The “Ernest P. Worrell” character originated back in the 1980s in a series of television commercials, then later in a television series and several Ernest movies. He also played Jed Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies movie. The Chevy Chase Show was short-lived and canceled after five weeks on the air. Varney’s dulcimer history on the show is pretty bad, still his playing technique is not bad. The dulcimer playing starts at the 4:54 minute mark https://youtu.be/m2tdI86oIxI?t=4m52s
Dan Cox, aka Dulcimore Dan, once suggested that I ask Don Pedi about his Jim Varney story. So, I called Don Pedi and he told me that when he was chairman of the “Folk Heritage Festival” Jim Varney came to the Ashville, NC area shooting a film or something. While Jim Varney was in the area he attended the Shindig on the Green event and wanted to play the mountain dulcimer on stage. Varney asked to borrow Don Pedi’s dulcimer. Don told me he warned Jim Varney about the 8 1/2 fret on his dulcimer so it wouldn’t surprise or throw Varney off. Jim Varney told Don he understood and wanted to play it anyway. Don said Varney got up on stage and played “Wild Wood Flower” and was doing pretty good until he got to the high note of the tune and hit the 8 1/2 fret. Varney was visibly mad at himself and each time he played through the tune kept hitting that 8 1/2 fret and getting madder. Thinking it was part of his “Ernest” comedy routine the audience loved it and cracked up each time Jim Varney hit the wrong note and “acted” mad.
Don ended the story by telling me that though he didn’t say it to Jim Varney, but what went through his mind when Varney retuned the dulcimer was to say, “Know what I mean, Vern?”
Jim Varney was born in Pike County, Kentucky and grew up in Lexington. He studied Shakespeare at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia and performed in an Opryland folk show its first year of operation in the 1970s. When he was 24, Varney was an actor at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky. The theater was adjacent to an old West Village and prior to the show the audience would tour the village where apprentices would play townsfolk. Varney and the company usually played in the outdoor theater to audiences of only a few dozen people. Varney would regale the young apprentices by throwing knives into trees.
After he was diagnosed with lung cancer Varney went through chemotherapy in Tennessee. He died in his home in White House, Tennessee, and is buried in Lexington, Kentucky.
David Bennett <><
December 28, 2015