Ernest Borgnine, Iconic Television and Film Star for 60 Years, Passes at Age 95
In addition to winning a best actor Oscar for the 1955 film Marty, Borgnine received three Primetime Emmy nominations and one Daytime Emmy nomination.
Ernest Borgnine, an actor who enjoyed success in both films and television over the course of a career spanning more than 60 years, died July 8, 2012, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 95.
According to news reports, the cause was renal failure.
Borgnine, a sturdily built man who spent a decade in the U.S. Navy before becoming an actor, was often cast in menacing roles, but he was also capable of delivering sensitive performances — as in the feature film Marty, for which he won an Academy Award for best actor — and of scoring laughs — as in the popular TV comedy McHale’s Navy.
The son of Italian immigrants, he was born Ermes Efron Borgnino in Hamden, Connecticut, on Janurary 24, 1917. When Borgnine was two years old, the family returned to Italy, and lived in Milan until he was seven. They then returned to Connecticut, where he attended school in New Haven.
In 1935 he joined the Navy and served on a destroyer during World War II. After leaving the Navy when the war ended, he considered a job with an air-conditioning company. Instead, at his mother’s urging, he enrolled at the Randall School of Dramatic Arts in Hartford, Connecticut. His four months there marked his only formal training as an actor.
He pursued stage work and performed for several years with the Barter Theater in Virginia. He also toured as a hospital attendant in a production of the comedy Harvey and appeared as a villain on the children’s television series Captain Video and His Video Rangers.
He eventually began to win small parts in movies such as The Mob and TV anthologies such as Goodyear Playhouse.
His first major break came when he was cast in the military drama From Here to Eternity as Fatso Judson, the brutal Army Sergeant who kills Frank Sinatra’s Angelo Maggio following an altercation in a barroom. The film won several Oscars, including Best Picture, and led to Borgnine’s own Oscar when he appeared in the title role of Marty.
The film, based on a television play by writer Paddy Chayefsky, who adapted it for the big screen, told the story of a socially awkward Bronx butcher who finds romance with an equally shy schoolteacher.
Although television production starred Rod Steiger as Marty Piletti, Borgnine made the role his own, and won numerous awards — including the Oscar — for his performance.
Other film roles followed, including Run for Cover, The Catered Affair, The Vikings and Man on a String. But his next significant impact came in television, when he starred in McHale’s Navy, which aired from 1962-1966 and garnered him a Primetime Emmy nomination as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale.
Over the ensuing years he continued to work steadily, with film credits that included Ice Station Zebra, The Wild Bunch, The Dirty Dozen, The Poseidon Adventure, Willard, Emperor of the North, The Greatest and Escape from New York.
His numerous television series roles included Wagon Train, Run for Your Life, Little House on the Prairie, Future Cop, Magnum, P.I., The Love Boat, Airwolf, Jake and the Fatman, Home Improvement, The Single Guy, JAG, Walker, Texas Ranger and many others.
He also appeared in many miniseries and made-for-TV movies, such as Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Days of Pompeii and All Quiet on the Western Front — for which he earned his second Primetime Emmy nomination.
He also earned an Emmy nomination in 2009 for a guest on ER and a Daytime Emmy nomination for his voiceover work on the animated series All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series.
Other voice work of note included Pinky and the Brain and SpongeBob SquarePants, in which he provided the voice of the aging superhero Mermaid Man.
Borgnine was married five times — to Rhoda Kemins (with whom he had one child), actress Katy Jurado, actress-singer Ethel Merman (which lasted a month), Donna Rancourt (with whom he had three children) and Norwegian-born Tova Traesnaes, whom he married in 1973 and remained with until his death.
Other survivors include his children.
Ernest Borgnine had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the two-and-a-half-hour interview, conducted by Henry Colman and Jenni Matz conducted on October 10, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Borgnine began by discussing his youth and the influence of his mother on his future acting ambitions.
Borgnine then reflected on enlisting in the Navy in the mid 1930s and on his service during World War II, and talked about his first appearances on television, including villainous roles on the DuMont children’s science fiction show Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and spoke of the role for which he is most associated — that of Marty Piletti in the 1955 feature film Marty.
He detailed his experience working with writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann (who had collaborated on the original television version — and recounted stories about his audition for the part and of his Oscar win for Best Actor.
He also detailed the popular 1960s sitcom McHale’s Navy, described the production schedule, and gave his impressions of the show's ensemble cast.
In addition, Borgnine recalled appearing on The Hollywood Squares, The Tonight Show and (in a Primetime Emmy-nominated performance) the television movie All Quiet on the Western Front.
He chronicled his feature film roles in From Here to Eternity and in the disaster film classic The Poseidon Adventure, and commented on his work with directors Robert Aldrich and Sam Peckinpah.
He briefly spoke of his roles in the television series Airwolf, The Single Guy and SpongeBob SquarePants (as the voice of Mermaid Man).
The entire interview is available here.