Sunday, July 08, 2012

Ernest Borgnine 1917-2012

Wow. It’s been a bad week for sitcoms icons. First Andy Griffith, and now Ernest Borgnine has passed away at 95. He remained robust and sharp pretty much to the very end. A few years ago he was asked the secret of long life and he said he masturbated every day. That sure beats eating healthy and taking vitamins.

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.

25 comments:

Larry said...

Let's not forget his great work as heavies in his earliest films like From Here To Eternity or Bad Day At Black Rock. Or one of my favorite movies as a kid, The Poseidon Adventure.

He really seemed to love what he was doing. Maybe that's why he lived so long.

Charles said...

Ken, did u ever think about writing a book about television writing or maybe one on your experiences doing television shows?

Tallulah Morehead said...

According to my memoir, My Lush Life, I too was married to him for some 20 minutes, but neither of us retained any memory of it. If he could have stopped masturbating for a minute and tried making love to me (with the lights OFF!), the marraige might have lasted at least an hour.

Little Dougie met Ernie about three years ago, but somehow "neglected" to bring to bring his chapter in my book to Ernie's attention.

Awfully good actor. You seldom heard a bad word about him, unless you asked Ethel Merman, who was fulsome in her dislike. Somehow, he was seldom asked to do beefcake shots.

iain said...

"Bad Day At Black Rock" - now that was how you play a bad guy!

Matt Patton said...

He was in the first movie I was allowed to go to alone. At night. The Posiedon Adventure. Not a masterpiece, but he was really good. For one thing, he and Stella Steven could bellow at each other like nobody's business. Movie shouting matches are a real art, and these two were like Picasso matched up with Matisse . . .

His performance in The Catered Affair is close to heartbreaking -- his banked anger and despair at watching the money he wanted to finally buy himself independence as a cab driver possibly going towards an elaborate wedding that nobody really wants, is a small masterpiece of naturalistic acting. (Debbie Reynolds, Rod Taylor, and Barry Fitzgerald weren't bad either. Bette Davis never seemed comfortable in the role of the mother, but she had some great moments as well. It was also Gore Vidal's best script; smart and touching and no attempts to demonstrate how clever he is.)

Roger Owen Green said...

I last saw him a couple years ago on CBS Sunday Morning, for some reason. He was a HOOT.

Bob in VT said...

I often marvelled that Ernie outlived all of the stars in From Here to Eternity: Clift, Kerr, Reed, Sinatra and Lancaster. Who would have guessed that? Marty is what movies used to be, centered around the writing and the acting. No big names, no pretty faces, but a story that most could relate to superbly delivered. His Oscar was well deserved. If you get a chance to view the TCM interview he did with Robert Osborne (Private Screenings), you're in for a treat. Ernie was a tremendous raconteur, and funny! Of course every anecdote he told was followed by that raucous laugh of his, which was infectious. TCM usually does a retrospective when someone of note dies, so it may be rebroadcast in the next few weeks.

Tom Quigley said...

Worked with him on a show called THE SINGLE GUY back in the mid-'90's and he turned out to be a very sweet, but shy and sometimes withdrawn person. It was at first difficult to reconcile that with the coarse, gruff characters he played in many of his movies, especially after seeing him beat Frank Sinatra to death in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Guess it's a testimony to how great an actor he really was.

David Schwartz said...

I know he was 95, but man, I hate to see him leave the planet. What an incredibly energetic presence he brought to every project I ever saw him in. McHale's Navy was my favorite show when I was 8 years old. At that time in my life I had a bit of trouble discerning fantasy from reality. I believed the show was actually shot during World War II and the PT 73 was actually in the war. Everytime they'd go out on a mission I'd worry that they might get hurt or their boat might sink. What a great show (albeit politically incorrect), and Ernest Borgnine was the perfect combination of brave hero, slick con artist, and the happy-go-lucky skipper with a big heart.

Roseann said...

I worked with him once. And since we were both born in New Haven, CT I thought we had something in common. He was so gracious and kind to little me. I've never forgotten how lovely he was to me and to everyone on the production.

Ane said...

In Norway the headlines today are mostly versions of "Moviestar married to Norwegian. Now dead." Sure, it was her nationality that killed him...

Paul Duca said...

You look at Tovah Borgnine, you don't think "Norwegian".

Paul Duca said...

Tallulah, dear...what is your take on the rumors that Ethel Merman was, shall we say, a switch-hitter?

Tony Schumacher said...

I don't know why but I always loved Borgnine, there was something about him that made you think he'd be a great uncle to have around the house. The sort of uncle who would buy you ice cream when he'd been told not too. As I grew up he struck me as the kind of Uncle who would be great to go for a beer with, full of stories and loved by the ladies.
Another of the great black and white stars winking out of the night sky... such a shame.

scottmc said...

Ernest Borgnine was the actor who I most associate with my father. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was one of my father's favorite movies. The first time I saw it was on television watching it with my father. I remember seeing THE DIRTY DOZEN, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE in theaters with him. We watched 'McHale's Navy' on television. And now, one of my daughter's favorite programs is 'SpongeBob' and whenever there is a 'Mermaid Man' episode I tell her about the the man who is the voice of that character.( It is a chance for my daughter to connect, in even a small way, with the grandfather she never had the chance to know.)
I had the chance to meet Ernest Borgnine at a book signing when his autobiography was published. It was an overflow crowd, remarkable considering that the weather that night was awful. He couldn't have been nicer.

Patrick said...

I keep hoping to see the clip from Carson where Carson pulls out Ethel Merman's book with Borgnine sitting there. Carson reads the title of the chater, "Ernest Borgnine" then he shows the first page. The whole chapter is one blank page! Borgnine laughed as hard as anyone.

Sebastian Peitsch said...

You know it's pretty weird when you look up "Airwolf" on Wikipedia and five minutes later I see the read-count in Google Reader pop to "1" and I click and read this.

Wanted to read up on Jan-Michael Vincent because he was mentioned on the Nerdist Podcast. Remembered that masturbation thing Borgnine mentioned on TV (here's a video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XpS-tUsdiE )

He said "a lot" by the way, not every day.

Anyway, he had a full life so I'm not sad he died but rather remember him fondly in all his roles.

RCP said...

I read Ethel Merman's autobiography and she was all sweetness and light. As much as I liked Ernest Borgnine, the divorce had to have been his fault.

cadavra said...

Seriously, anyone here who hasn't seen EMPEROR OF THE NORTH needs to Netflix it (or better yet, buy it) immediately. THAT is how you play a villain!

(Also should squeeze in a mention of JOHNNY GUITAR, as well.)

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Paul Duca said...
Tallulah, dear...what is your take on the rumors that Ethel Merman was, shall we say, a switch-hitter?"


Well, she never sucked my dick, but nothing would surprise me.

The name Ernest Borgnine showed up on Match Game one week when Ethel was on the panel. Gene Rayburn then asked her: "Weren't you married to Ernie for an hour or two once?"

Merman's reply, delivered ice cold through clenched lips was: "It was 25 minutes, and they were the longest 25 minutes of my life."

I never heard Ernie say anything ungracious publically about Ethel, but then, I wasn't always listening.

Joey H said...

Ernie Borgnine was one of my favorite celebrity interviews that I was fortunate to do. He was incredibly patient and kind to a young journalist who was a bit out of his element.

Brian Phillips said...

Suffice it to say, that there are people whose voices I would not want to hear in the throes of passion.

Ethel Merman is one.

Arnold Stang is another.

Gary the Gimp said...

My only disappointment with Borgnine is that during the writer's strike, he stated the he really didn't understand why writers would strike, that he'd cross the picket line to go to work.

I guess that's why he worked so much.

Jane said...

He was the best thing as the cop in the Poseidon Adventure. His ex prostitute wife was complaining that he was always arresting her when she was trying to do her job and he said:'I had to arrest you to get you off the streets so I could marry you!'

Seamless.

Tony Martin said...

Not to split hairs, but the quote I heard, when Ernie was on t.v. was "I masturbate a lot".
I never heard him say "every day".
Hey, Ken. Love your blog!