January 24th, 1917 to July 8th, 2012
January 24th, 1917 to July 8th, 2012
The stocky, gap-toothed Connecticut native won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a lonely Bronx butcher looking for love in the 1955 drama 'Marty.' He also starred in the popular TV show 'McHale's Navy.'
July 9th, 2012
Los Angeles Times
Ernest Borgnine seemed born to play the heavy when he burst onto the Hollywood scene as "Fatso" Judson, a sadistic stockade sergeant who viciously beats a private to death in the 1953 movie "From Here to Eternity."
But two years later came the title role in "Marty," where the stocky, gap-toothed Borgnine defied typecasting and earned recognition as a versatile actor by inhabiting the part of a lonely Bronx butcher looking for love.
He went on to a prolific seven-decade career in film and television, moving easily from scoundrels and serious portrayals to a comedic role on the 1960s TV sitcom "McHale's Navy" and a spate of grandfatherly parts.
Borgnine, who won an Academy Award for his performance in "Marty," died Sunday of apparent kidney failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his longtime publicist, Harry Flynn. He was 95.
The role opposite Frank Sinatra in "From Here to Eternity," based on James Jones' acclaimed novel depicting Army life in Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor, moved Borgnine into the top echelon of movie villains in films such as "Vera Cruz" and "Bad Day at Black Rock."
He left expectations behind in "Marty," the 1955 film version of Paddy Chayefsky's original TV play about a sensitive Italian American bachelor butcher who longs for more than simply hanging out with his pals on Saturday night.
"Well, waddaya feel like doing tonight?" Marty's best friend, Angie, played by Joe Mantell, asks in the movie's often-quoted exchange.
"I don't know, Ang', wadda you feel like doing?" Marty replies.
Borgnine's sensitive portrayal of the self-described "fat ugly man" not only earned him an Oscar for best actor, but the movie also won Academy Awards for Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann, as well as the best picture Oscar.
In a film career that began in 1951, Borgnine appeared in more than 115 movies, including "Johnny Guitar," "Demetrius and the Gladiators," "The Flight of the Phoenix," "The Oscar," "The Dirty Dozen,""The Wild Bunch,""Willard," "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Emperor of the North."
From 1962 to 1966, he played the title role in the ABC sitcom "McHale's Navy." As the regulation-breaking commander of a PT boat in the South Pacific during World War II, Borgnine was pitted against the constantly frustrated Capt. Binghamton (played by Joe Flynn). Tim Conway played McHale's bumbling sidekick, Ensign Charles Parker.
Born Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, Conn., on Jan. 24, 1917, Borgnine was the son of Italian immigrants. His parents separated when he was 2, and his mother took him to live in Italy, returning after a few years.
Borgnine graduated from New Haven High School in 1935, then worked a few weeks as a vegetable truck driver before enlisting in the Navy as an apprentice seaman. He was discharged two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and promptly reenlisted. He spent the war as a gunner's mate on a destroyer.
After his discharge, Borgnine returned home, unsure of what he was going to do.
Finally, his mother suggested he give acting a shot. After all, she told him, "You're always making a fool of yourself in front of people."
After six months of study at the Randall School of Dramatic Art in Hartford, Conn., on the GI Bill, Borgnine got a job at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., working behind the scenes before finally landing a $30-a-week acting spot in the theater's road company.
"We kept 14 shows in our heads all the time," he told Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1956. "We'd go from 'John Loves Mary' to 'Much Ado About Nothing' — what training! Dramatic school is OK, but the road is where you learn."
He continued his acting apprenticeship over the next four years, including making his Broadway debut playing the hospital attendant in"Harvey."
More stage work followed, supplemented by television appearances, including playing a villain on the science fiction series "Captain Video and His Video Rangers."
Borgnine made his motion picture debut in 1951, appearing in three films: "China Corsair," "The Whistle at Eaton Falls" and "The Mob." But he was unemployed in New York when the call came to play his next film role: Fatso Judson in "From Here to Eternity."
Borgnine made a convincingly menacing Fatso — so much so that when young Frank Sinatra Jr. saw the movie for the first time, Borgnine later told The Times, "He looked at it and said, 'Dad, when I meet that man, I am going to kill him.' And his father said, 'No. When you meet that man, you put your arms around him and kiss him. He helped me win an Academy Award!' "
Borgnine was on location in Lone Pine, Calif., playing another menacing heavy, this time in "Bad Day at Black Rock," when director Mann and writer Chayefsky flew up to have him read for the lead in "Marty."
As Borgnine recalled during a panel discussion at the Lone Pine Film Festival in 1999, he met with Mann and Chayefsky in his hotel room.
"The very first thing when we started reading, Paddy Chayefsky said, 'Hold it! Hold it!' I said, 'What's the matter?' He said, 'You're doing it with a western twang.' 'OK,' I said, 'wait a minute.' I threw off my hat, kicked off my boots and I went at it.
"Paddy was reading all the other parts and Delbert was stretched across my bed, listening, and we came to the part where my mother says, 'Put on your blue suit or your gray suit and go down to the dance hall; there are a lot of tomatoes there.' And I said, 'Mom, you don't understand. I'm just an ugly, ugly man,' and I turned away and tears were coming out.
"And I looked back and Paddy Chayefsky had tears in his eyes and Delbert was wiping tears from his face, and inwardly I said, 'I got it!'"
"Marty" proved to be both an artistic and commercial success.
Life magazine called Borgnine's characterization of the lonely butcher who falls in love with an equally plain and lonely schoolteacher (played by Betsy Blair) "one of the most successful pieces of movie casting so far this year."
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that Borgnine's Oscar-winning performance was "a beautiful blend of the crude and the strangely gentle and sensitive in a monosyllabic man."
In the wake of "Marty," Borgnine played an Amish farmer in "Violent Saturday," a prizefight promoter in "The Square Jungle," a rancher in "Jubal" and a Bronx taxi driver (opposite Bette Davis) in "The Catered Affair."
But he was soon back in front of the cameras playing another heavy, this time the villainous Norse chief in "The Vikings," a 1958 film co-starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.
"After 'From Here to Eternity,' I decided to steer away from heavies, but here I'm playing one again," he told The Times at the time.
"I made the original decision after some young Bronx characters almost took me apart. 'You're the guy that killed Sinatra,' a group yelled at me one day in New York, and it looked bad until I spoke soothingly to them in Italian — a language they understood. 'Fellows, it was just a picture,' I said. They were so intrigued that I spoke Italian, they let me go."
Borgnine closed out the '60s with a memorable role in Sam Peckinpah's bloody 1969 western "The Wild Bunch" and later made numerous television guest shots as well as appearances in TV movies and miniseries.
In the short-lived 1970 series "Future Cop," he starred with John Amos as veteran policemen whose new partner is a biosynthetic computerized android.
And he played Jan-Michael Vincent's older war buddy, Dominic Santini, on "Airwolf," a mid-1980s CBS adventure series about a high-tech attack helicopter.
In 1995, Borgnine was back in series television playing a friendly, pasta-loving doorman on "The Single Guy," which ran for two seasons on NBC. He also was the longtime voice of Mermaid Man on the animated TV series "SpongeBob SquarePants."
Off-screen, Borgnine has been described as soft-spoken and affable — a simple, unassuming, average man.
Beginning in the late 1980s, when he wasn't working, he traveled the country in a custom-made bus dubbed the Sunbum. In 2001, at age 84, he had just completed his latest trip to Alaska.
"I find it terribly relaxing," he told The Times in 1996. "It's like driving a big car. You see everything. The minute you get out of the cities, it's wonderful. You become part of America."
When Borgnine received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2011, his career in front of the camera had spanned six decades. And at age 94, the venerable actor was still going strong.
As he said in 2008 when he received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as a retired song-and-dance man in the TV-movie "A Grandpa for Christmas": "You die on the vine if you just sit down in a chair and get old. The idea is to get up out of the chair and go out there and hustle."
Borgnine's final role came earlier this year in "The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez," as a retired radio DJ with an unfulfilled dream of stardom who winds up in a nursing home staffed by Latin American immigrants.
Borgnine was married five times, including to actress Katy Jurado from 1959 to 1964, and briefly to Broadway musical star Ethel Merman in 1964.
In 1973 he married his Norwegian-born fifth wife, Tova, who became head of her own cosmetics company.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his children Nancee, Cristofer and Sharon Borgnine and David Johnson; six grandchildren; and a sister, Evelyn Velardi.
Services will be private.
"Ernest Borgnine, Oscar-Winning Actor, Dies at 95"
July 8th, 2012
The New York Times
Ernest Borgnine, the rough-hewn actor who seemed destined for tough-guy characters but won an Academy Award for embodying the gentlest of souls, a lonely Bronx butcher, in the 1955 film “Marty,“ died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 95.
His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was announced by Harry Flynn, his longtime spokesman.
Mr. Borgnine, who later starred on “McHale’s Navy” on television, made his first memorable impression in films at age 37, appearing in “From Here to Eternity” (1953) as Fatso Judson, the sadistic stockade sergeant who beats Frank Sinatra’s character, Private Maggio, to death. But Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote “Marty” as a television play, and Delbert Mann, who directed it (it starred Rod Steiger), saw something beyond brutality in Mr. Borgnine and offered him the title role when it was made into a feature film.
The 1950s had emerged as the decade of the common man, with Willy Loman of “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway and the likes of the bus driver Ralph Kramden (“The Honeymooners”) and the factory worker Chester Riley (“The Life of Riley”) on television. Mr. Borgnine’s Marty Pilletti, a 34-year-old blue-collar bachelor who still lives with his mother, fit right in, showing the tender side of the average, unglamorous guy next door.
Marty’s awakening, as he unexpectedly falls in love, was described by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times as “a beautiful blend of the crude and the strangely gentle and sensitive in a monosyllabic man.”
Mr. Borgnine received the Oscar for best actor for “Marty.” For the same performance he also received a Golden Globe and awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Mr. Borgnine won even wider fame as the star of the ABC sitcom “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66), originating the role of an irreverent con man of a PT boat skipper. (The cast also included a young Tim Conway.) He wrote in his autobiography, “Ernie” (Citadel Press, 2008), that he had turned down the role because he refused to do a television series but changed his mind when a boy came to his door selling candy and said, although he knew who James Arness of “Gunsmoke” and Richard Boone of “Have Gun, Will Travel” were, he had never heard of Ernest Borgnine.
Over a career that lasted more than six decades the burly, big-voiced Mr. Borgnine was never able to escape typecasting completely, at least in films. Although he did another Chayefsky screenplay, starring with Bette Davis as a working-class father of the bride in “The Catered Affair” (1956), and even appeared in a musical, “The Best Things in Life Are Free” (1956), playing a Broadway showman, the vast majority of the characters he played were villains.
Military roles continued to beckon. One of his best known was as Lee Marvin’s commanding officer in “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), about hardened prisoners on a World War II commando mission. He also starred in three television-movie sequels.
But he worked in virtually every genre. Filmmakers cast him as a gangster, even in satirical movies like “Spike of Bensonhurst” (1988). He was in westerns like Sam Peckinpah’s blood-soaked classic “The Wild Bunch” (1969) and crime dramas like “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955).
He played gruff police officers, like his character in the disaster blockbuster “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972), and bosses from hell, as in the horror movie “Willard” (1971). Twice he played a manager of gladiators, in “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954) and in the 1984 mini-series “The Last Days of Pompeii.”
Mr. Borgnine’s menacing features seemed to disappear when he flashed his trademark gaptoothed smile, and later in life he began to find good-guy roles, like the helpful taxi driver in “Escape From New York” (1981) and the title role in “A Grandpa for Christmas,” a 2007 television movie.
“McHale’s Navy” and the 1964 film inspired by it were his most notable forays into comedy, but in 1999 he began doing the voice of a recurring character, the elderly ex-superhero Mermaidman, in the animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants.” He continued to play that role until last year.
He began his career on the stage but unlike many actors who had done the same, Mr. Borgnine professed to have no burning desire to return there. “Once you create a character for the stage, you become like a machine,” he told The Washington Post in 1969. In films, he said, “you’re always creating something new.”
Ermes Effron Borgnino was born on Jan. 24, 1917, in Hamden, Conn., near New Haven. His father was a railroad brakeman. His mother was said to be the daughter of a count, Paolo Boselli, an adviser to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy.
The boy spent several years of his childhood in Italy, where his mother returned during a long separation from her husband. But they returned to Connecticut, and he graduated from high school there.
He joined the Navy at 18 and served for 10 years. During World War II he was a gunner’s mate. After the war he considered factory jobs, but his mother suggested that he try acting. Her reasoning, he reported, was, “You’ve always liked making a damned fool of yourself.”
He studied at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, then moved to Virginia, where he became a member of the Barter Theater in Abingdon and worked his way up from painting scenery to playing the Gentleman Caller in “The Glass Menagerie.”
In the late 1940s he headed for New York, where by 1952 he was appearing on Broadway as a bodyguard in the comic fantasy “Mrs. McThing,” starring Helen Hayes. He had already made his movie debut playing a Chinese shopkeeper in the 1951 adventure “China Corsair.”
Mr. Borgnine never retired from acting. In the 1980s he starred in another television series, the adventure drama “Airwolf,” playing a helicopter pilot. He took a supporting role as a bubbly doorman in the 1990s sitcom “The Single Guy.” His last film appearance was in “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez,” not yet released, in which he plays an elderly man who becomes a celebrity to Latino employees at the nursing home where he lives. On television, he was in the series finale of “ER” in 2009 and appeared in a cable film, “Love’s Christmas Journey,” last year.
His other films included “The Vikings” (1958); “Ice Station Zebra” (1968); “Hoover” (2000), in which he played J. Edgar Hoover; and “Gattaca” (1997).
Mr. Borgnine, who lived in Beverly Hills, was married five times. In 1949 he married Rhoda Kemins, whom he had met when they were both in the Navy. They had a daughter but divorced in 1958. On New Year’s Eve 1959 he and the Mexican-born actress Katy Jurado were married; they divorced in 1962.
His third marriage was his most notorious because of its brevity. He and the Broadway musical star Ethel Merman married in late June 1964 but split up in early August. Mr. Borgnine later contended that Ms. Merman left because she was upset that on an international honeymoon trip he was recognized and she wasn’t.
In 1965 he married Donna Rancourt; they had two children before divorcing in 1972. In 1973 he married for the fifth and last time, to Tova Traesnaes, who under the name Tova Borgnine became a cosmetics entrepreneur.
She survives him, as do his children, Christofer, Nancee and Sharon Borgnine; a stepson, David Johnson; six grandchildren; and his sister, Evelyn Verlardi.
Asked about his acting methods in 1973, Mr. Borgnine told The New York Times: “No Stanislavsky. I don’t chart out the life histories of the people I play. If I did, I’d be in trouble. I work with my heart and my head, and naturally emotions follow.”
Sometimes he prayed, he said, or just reflected on character-appropriate thoughts. “If none of that works,” he added, “I think to myself of the money I’m making.”