A tribute to Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine passed away on Sunday from renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, surrounded by his wife and children.

Born in Hamden, Connecticut on January 24th, 1917, the beefy actor got his start in the business much later than most, after a decade long career in the Navy. Yet he still had one of the longest careers in film and television at nearly seven decades, with 200 acting credits to his name.

Known as a workhorse intent to work until the end, his final role came in 2011 in the film Red, about retired spies determined to show it’s never too late to get back in the game.

In 2007 he told the Associated Press, “I keep telling myself, ‘Damn it, you gotta go to work, but there aren’t many people who want to put Borgnine to work these days. They keep asking, ‘Is he still alive?”

Despite this, the work did continue to come, with a recurring role on children’s television cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, and he even became the oldest actor ever to receive the lifetime-achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2011. He was also the oldest actor to be nominated for a Golden Globe, for his role in the 2007 television movie A Grandpa For Christmas.

His naturally beefy build saw him cast in heavier roles early on, most notably as Sgt. Fatso Judson in 1953’s From Here To Eternity – memorably beating Frank Sinatra’s character to death.

He was typecast as the villain for some time, but that all changed in 1955 when he warmed the hearts of the Zoomer generation as Marty, a lovesick butcher who finds love against all odds with a sweet wallflower. The film won four Oscars, and he picked up Best Actor for his role.

The Oscar win broke him out of the villain mold and saw him in roles in big films such as The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Poseidon Adventure and Escape from New York, but his most memorable part saw him leaving film for television in the 1960’s comedy McHale’s Navy.

He went on to play a variety of smaller roles throughout his career, noting that the size of the part and his place within it were not important to him. “I don’t care whether a role is 10 minutes long or two hours. And I don’t care whether my name is up there on top, either. Matter of fact, I’d rather have someone else get top billing; then if the picture bombs, he gets the blame, not me.”

He never would have pursued acting were it not for his indecision about what to do with his life after his time in the Navy. Lucky for us, his mother suggested acting.

“I wouldn’t trade those 10 years for anything,” he said in 1956 about his Navy years. “The Navy taught me a lot of things. It molded me as a man, and I made a lot of wonderful friends.”

Married five different times, his last, to Tova Traesnaes, was the romance he had been searching for. In 2007 he joked about their 34 years together, noting, “That’s longer than the total of my four other marriages.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Today, Chronicle Herald 

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