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Oklahoma Memories

Jim Varney for Braums

2010-03-08

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"They're humongous, ain't they, and big, too? Let old Ernest help, okay? Now, let's see. Who got the vanilla? Who got the butter pecan?"

That's the voice of Jim Varney, who in this week of March 1983 began doing commercials in Oklahoma for Braum's Dairy Stores.

From the OklahomaHistory Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

In 1933 Bill Braum began helping his father with their dairy cattle and milk processing plant near Emporia,Kansas. In 1952 Henry Braum sold the wholesale part of his business and began concentrating on ice cream, creating the Peter Pan chain of ice cream stores in Kansas. In 1957 Bill bought out his father and took over the company. Ten years later, he sold the 67 store chain to a large company. The sale didn't include the dairy herd or processing plant, but it did include a no-compete provision that for ten years prevented Bill Braum from selling ice cream in the state of Kansas. Braum and his wife moved to Oklahoma and brought their ice cream business with them. From 1967 to 1971, the dairy herd and processing plant remained near Emporia, so they trucked their ice cream daily into Oklahoma. In 1971, they built their first plant near Oklahoma City and moved the dairy herd here.

The company was growing and expanding statewide but in March 1983, their advertising agency contracted with an actor in Nashville, Tennessee, who would really put Braum's on the state and regional map. That actor was Jim Varney. Varney began his career as a Shakespearean actor, but he found his mark in a completely different set of roles.

"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
…God! How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
…Know what I mean, Vern?"

Varney's "Hey Vern" commercials hit the airwaves in Oklahoma with the same reaction they'd received in other markets. Typically viewers would express outrage then laugh, then they would create strong sponsor identification, and that was the case here with Braum's. After the Hey Vern commercials began airing, the company built a quarter-of-million-square-foot plant in Tuttle to keep up with demand.

"…and Vern, I bet you got the chocolate. Don't you want yours, Vern? Well, pay the lady."

In this interview on ABC's Good Morning America in 1985 Varney explained why he thought the character had become so popular.

"I think everybody identifies with or may even have a neighbor or a relative that's like that. They've always got a better deal than you've got, or they tell you what you did wrong, and so I think everybody knows him."

After his run with Braum's, Varney was hired by Channel 4 Television in Oklahoma City to promote local news.

"Hey Vern, what you having for di…is that the station you watch? Vern, Vern, Vern, Vern, Vern, Vern, Vern! :::singing::: Hey, you've been lookin' for news on all the wrong stations!"

Toward the end of his career as a pitchman, Varney recorded a series of anti-smoking commercials.

"Gosh, Vern, you tryin' to kill us all, walkin' around all the time with that weed hangin' out of your mouth. Don't you know how deadly that thing is? You're just askin' for a case of the big C. Cancer City. Chemotherapy Hotel."

Sadly, Jim Varney, a lifelong smoker, died from lung cancer in February 2000, but we remember him from the early 1980s pitching ice cream for Braum's.

"Hey Vern, I see you brought the younguns in for a double-dip of that Braum's ice cream."

The Oklahoma History Center features an exhibit on Oklahoma businesses past and present. The Oklahoma History Center is located on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.