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The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night' a Janus Films release (c) Bruce and Martha Karsh

Restoring A Hard Day’s Night for a Theater Near You

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The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night' a Janus Films release (c) Bruce and Martha Karsh

When they were gathering the original source materials for their new restoration of A Hard Day’s Night, the experts at the Criterion Collection—the famed home video label that gathers some of cinema's best films and releases them in editions of the highest possibly quality—had a big problem. “The first and last reels of the negative were missing,” Criterion President Peter Becker tells us when we meet at the company's New York City offices. “I don’t know why exactly or when they disappeared, but they have been missing for a period of time, and we were unable to turn those up.”

But they didn’t panic: The film reels the company did have were completely intact, without any glaring defects that would make it impossible to keep the film from looking—and, of course, sounding—as good as it did when it premiered at London’s Palladium Theater on July 6, 1964. To replace the missing reels, they used duplicate negatives from other source prints, and with all the materials in place, the restoration began.

The year-and-a-half-long restoration process culminates in both a recently-released dual format Blu-ray and DVD edition and a nationwide theatrical release this weekend by Janus Films (Criterion's theatrical distribution wing) to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary. Audiences will now get to enjoy the movie—a somewhat exaggerated, semi-autobiographical musical-comedy that features some of the Fab Four’s biggest hits—at home or on the big screen. Here's how Criterion restored the classic film.

A Restoration Revolution

This isn't the first time Criterion has released A Hard Day's Night: In 1987, the company released the movie as a laserdisc (and also, curiously, as a CD-ROM under a now-defunct offshoot called The Voyager Company). But Becker and others at Criterion thought they could do better, and when the rights to the film—formerly held by Miramax—expired a year and a half ago, they jumped at the possibility of bringing the film out of obsolete formats and giving it the so-called updated Criterion treatment, and quickly acquired the rights.

At Criterion, each restoration begins with a single in-house producer who individually oversees the step-by-step process of all the departments—including the in-house restoration team or the design team—who are working on the project simultaneously. “I think the reason we work the way that we do is that, over the course of working on [films], you get to know [a producer’s] certain areas of expertise,” says Becker. This helps the company decide who will oversee new projects, either in a hands-on capacity or simply serving as an expert who can provide guidance. “So, for example, we’ll have a producer who is the steward for Fellini’s legacy”—the Italian director behind such classics as and Amarcord—“[and] they may not necessarily be the producer of all the Fellini editions that we do, but effectively, they become the steward of those editions.”

The perfect steward for A Hard Day’s Night was longtime Criterion producer Kim Hendrickson, who had previously worked on similar music-related releases, including the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin’s Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter and D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop. She also happens to be a huge fan of Richard Lester, the director of A Hard Day’s Night. “You can sort of feel, internally, what sorts of projects will gravitate towards which producers,” Becker says, “and this one clearly landed there right at the outset.”

In approaching any film restoration, the company abides by a set of principles that favors the integrity of the physical film itself over imposing their mark on it. “Our particular philosophy has been to use a light hand to try to retain the look and feel of film, and I think that’s what has happened here,” Becker says, “which is to say to honor the [film] grain, and to be sensitive to what makes a film image alive.”

In the case of A Hard Day's Night, the company's plan was to digitally scan the original source materials into 4K—giving the film a high definition resolution of four thousand pixels—at their in-house lab. But instead of using their countless digital restoration tools to over-stabilize, over-saturate, or clean the 24-frames-per-second images completely to make the movie totally digitally pristine, the Criterion team used the less-is-more mantra when necessary.

To show that technique in action, Becker takes me deep into the offices—through hallways peppered with posters of the company's releases—into the restoration editing bays, a series of darkened rooms impressively stacked with every possible restoration tool imaginable. The team is working on restoring a documentary in which one frame of a scene had misplaced film sprocket holes through the middle of the image. This effectively put a huge hole in the middle of a person’s face in that frame. Members of the restoration team were exploring using adjacent frame restoration techniques to fix it, examining single frames before and after the marred frame to see if they could cut and paste a portion from a clean frame over the damaged area. (The same strategy might also be used for more common defects, like dirt or scratches on the image from frame to frame.) The idea isn't to completely change the image, but to reestablish it. That the film they're working has a run time of about 50 minutes makes me marvel at how patient they need to be when working on films double or triple that length.

“Our principle is always: Do no harm. We would much rather see original damage than see evidence of our fixes,” Becker says. “If we can make a fix without leaving a trace, then by all means, [we'll] go ahead and make the fix. But if you’re going to leave a trace of your fix, I would much rather see the original damage.” This allows the restored version of A Hard Day's Night to resemble the tangible quality of the film as if people were seeing it on the big screen in 1964, but still gives the team enough space to fix common physical defects like film warping or torn frames from the celluloid that was passed on to the scanned image.  

It Really Rocks

Restoration doesn't stop at cleaning up the film. Criterion also has to consider sound—and it's especially crucial for a music-related flick like A Hard Day's Night. They commissioned an all-new 5.1 stereo mix of the soundtrack that will appear on both the dual format release and in the theatrical release, remixed and remastered by music producer Giles Martin—son of longtime Beatles producer George Martin.

The original music materials for A Hard Day’s Night were well-preserved, sitting virtually untouched in the vaults of the famed Abbey Road Studios. But Martin—who calls from Abbey Road Studios, where the main audio remastering was done—says he found restoring the film’s sound effects to be the most difficult. “We had to go and find them at a few places in LA, some at Twickenham Studios [in London], and it was all separate reels,” he says. This forced his team to marry the virtually unspoiled audio quality of the music with the patched together examples of original effects material.

Among the many specific changes he made, Martin found and reinstated the original sound effect of subtle train background noise during the performance of “I Should Have Known Better” which, for some reason, had been cut out of the audio source he was working with. He also added a faint feedback sound effect when George Harrison mistakenly knocks over his amp during the performance of “If I Fell.”

Much like Criterion’s delicate approach to restoring the picture image, Martin had to strike a balance to complement the whole. “Once we’ve amassed all the separate sources, then we start thinking about how we’re going to approach it,” he says. “We try and clean it, but not varnish it. The whole idea is to make the film punch out of the speakers, and sound good out of the speakers, and sound immediate.” But the sound itself was never meant to be intrusive. Instead, the team took a cue from director Richard Lester’s original approach: that the music should always emerge organically from the film—even if musical instruments magically appear out of nowhere, as they do for the “I Should Have Known Better” performance—instead of being lazily laid over the top of it.

According to Martin, the song they most improved on was “Can’t Buy Me Love." To Martin, the previous versions of the song—and even parts of the original mix—sounded relatively flat. He intensified the audio quality of the song to suit the 5.1 surround mix. Now, Martin says, “It just bursts with energy. It really rocks.”

The new 5.1 audio-track creates a better spatial sense of the music and the environment of the film instead of playing with surround sound tricks. Yet another other audio track for the dual format release, directly coordinated and mixed by Criterion’s audio supervisor Ryan Hullings, will be included, because it’s how the original would have sounded—and is still Lester’s preferred audio track.

Some Esteemed Collaborators

In putting the complete package together, Hendrickson and the Criterion team wanted to create extensive supplemental material that reflected the spontaneous and celebrated nature of The Beatles’ first foray into movies. So the company called on countless Beatles-related outlets, including Mark Lewisohn—the world’s leading Beatles historian who was interviewed for the extras—as well as Apple Corps, director Richard Lester, and even the remaining Beatles themselves.

The potentially daunting task of representing The Beatles’ legacy, as well as the notoriously image-sensitive Apple Corps, didn’t phase the people at Criterion. “I think [they] were generally thrilled by the stuff we were finding, by the quality of the material that was getting produced around [the movie], and by the quality of the restoration that was being made,” Becker says. “It was a whole team who came together to really make something. We wanted them happy, they knew we wanted them happy, and from the very beginning we invited their input. They have been just amazingly supportive.” 

Becker points to the process of creating the final poster art for the new release as an example of that support. Chosen from over 65 different variations of a theme from three different artists, the poster was created by designer Rodrigo Corral, and is noticeably different from any previous A Hard Day’s Night designs, including the famous credit-sequence photos that make up the original LP cover. Becker and Criterion didn’t want to retread over something that was so iconic. “We really felt it was important for this release to have a look,” he says. “We didn’t want to just be bringing back a ‘Hey, look at this old album’ mentality. Yes, there is a nostalgia factor, and yes, it’s a great piece of design—but it didn’t feel to us that’s where we wanted to land. I think the idea was always that we wanted to make something that was ours, and it’s very hard to design for something that already has its own iconic presence.”

The final, minimalist design, which perfectly captures the manic spontaneity of the film, was the only design the team presented to Apple Corps, and they gave it their stamp of approval.

Celebrating a Moment

Surely something as important as The Beatles’ first movie couldn’t just be contained in a DVD and a Blu-ray. “What do you do for the 50th anniversary for something that is so culturally significant on a global basis?” Becker says. “I think the answer, as always, goes back to the way that we think that movies are meant to be seen, which is in a theater with as many strangers as possible, all coming together for a really fantastic theatrical experience.”

Janus Films, the theatrical distribution branch of Criterion, has always released restored and art-house films into theaters, but mostly on a small scale. It wasn’t until their theatrical run of last year’s The Great Beauty—which later won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film—that they began to think much bigger and more spontaneously. 

Usually, Criterion sends out a limited number of 35mm prints or DCP (digital cinema package) bookings to a few theaters to play out over a long period of time. But the success of The Great Beauty meant that the film quickly expanded to nearly 100 theaters nationwide—new territory for Janus and Criterion. This realization that they could reach a large number of theaters, coupled with the immense popularity of The Beatles, made them push to release A Hard Day's Night theatrically on the combination anniversary/holiday weekend. The company had originally aimed to get the restoration into 50 theaters, but it will now be playing in over 115 in North America—and that number continues to expand.

To Becker, the film has always been the ultimate trans-generational feel-good experience, which he says has something to do with The Beatles themselves. “There’s something about the feeling of infinite possibility [in the film] that lends to this kind of feeling,” he says. He hopes to see families and people of all ages coming together to celebrate the film—and the moment it represented. “The music is familiar and the ebullience of the moviemaking is infectious," he says, "and it is one of those cases where there are people who are currently in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s, who were in their teens, 20s, and 30s when The Beatles took the world by storm.” In a sea of forgettable summer movies, A Hard Day’s Night offers a timeless ode to freedom and fun—a cinematic surge of energy, creativity, and great music—that's missing from blockbuster films today. Criterion’s restoration looks and sounds gorgeous, and the July 4th weekend is the perfect time to experience it for the first time—or the one hundredth.

“They absolutely remember what that was like, and they absolutely love returning to those moments,” Becker says, “How often are those moments still relevant for the 6, 7, and 8 year olds, or the 15 to 20 years olds of today?”

All photos courtesy of Bruce and Martha Karsh.

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Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?


To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.


The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.


In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.


The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.


The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   


Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.


It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”


In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]


Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.


The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.


Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.


Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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Mill Creek Entertainment
Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''


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