Sunday, July 08, 2012
I met him just a few years ago. I was in Milwaukee covering the Dodgers and he was there to be the grand marshal of a local parade and to throw out the first pitch at a Brewers’ game. You hear people say, “I hope I have that much energy when I get to be his age.” I said, “I wish I had that much energy now.”
His career as a character actor spanned six decades. Baby boomers fondly remember him in McHALE’S NAVY. Coincidentally, I just watched an episode of that recently on Antenna TV. Talk about a different, more politically incorrect era – this was a sitcom set during World War II and his men were selling “Nip souvenirs.” Yikes. But he was always likeable and disarming. He had that big Cheshire Cat grin with the distinctive space between his two front teeth.
Some things you might not have known about Ernest Borgnine: He won an Oscar in 1955. He was nominated for an Emmy at 92. He was the voice of Mermaid Man in SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. He served in the Navy for ten years and was awarded five distinguished service medals. And among his five wives was Ethel Merman, the bombastic Broadway belter. The marriage lasted a month.
He’s appeared in hundreds of movies, and he was great in all of them. THE WILD BUNCH, THE DIRTY DOZEN, ICE STATION ZEBRA are among my favorites along with his Oscar winning performance in MARTY.
In an industry that’s so obsessed with matinee idol looks, it was always refreshing that someone like Ernest Borgnine – barrel-chested, unrefined, REAL would have such a successful career for over sixty years. His credit always read Ernest Borgnine, but to anyone who knew him, he was just plain Ernie. And that's fitting, for if there was ever an Ernie it was this down-to-earth lug with the great laugh.
He’ll be missed – for his body of work and his spirit. And also I suppose, for his advice.
By Ken Levine at 4:18 PM