Best known to television audiences from his roles in McHale’s Navy and Airwolf however his was in such great movies as From Here To Eternity, Bad Day at Black Rock, and Marty.
The Whistle at Eaton Falls
Treasure of the Golden Condor
The Stranger Wore a Gun
The Bounty Hunter
Run for Cover
The Last Command
The Square Jungle
The Catered Affair
The Best Things in Life Are Free
Three Brave Men
The Rabbit Trap
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
Man on a String
Pay or Die
Go Naked in the World
The Last Judgement
The Italian Brigands
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Legend of Lylah Clare
A Bullet for Sandoval
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?
Sam Hill: Who Killed Mr. Foster?
Rain for a Dusty Summer
Emperor of the North Pole
The Neptune Factor
Legend in Granite
Twice in a Lifetime
Law and Disorder
Vengeance Is Mine
The Devil’s Rain
The Ghost of Flight 401
Cops and Robin
The Double McGuffin
The Black Hole
When Time Ran Out
Escape from New York
Code Name: Wild Geese
Love Leads the Way: A True Story
Spike of Bensonhurst
The Big Turnaround
Gummibärchen küßt man nicht
Jake Spanner, Private Eye
Any Man’s Death
Tides of War
The Last Match
Mountain of Diamonds
Hunt for the Blue Diamond
The Outlaws: Legend of O.B. Taggart
Tierärztin Christine II: The Temptation
All Dogs Go to Heaven 2
Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders
An All Dogs Christmas Carol
The Lost Treasure of Sawtooth Island
The Last Great Ride
The Kiss of Debt
The Long Ride Home
The Trail to Hope Rose
The Blue Light
That One Summer
The Bodyguard’s Cure
I Am Somebody: No Chance in Hell (it)
The Genesis Code
Another Harvest Moon
The Lion of Judah
Love’s Christmas Journey
The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez
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 … If none of that works, I think to myself of the money I’m making. ~ Ernest Borgnine
Ernest Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut, the son of Italian immigrants. His mother, Anna (née Boselli; 1894–c. 1949), hailed from Carpi, near Modena, while his father Camillo Borgnino (1891–1975) was a native of Ottiglio near Alessandria. Borgnine’s parents separated when he was two years old, and he then lived with his mother in Italy for about four and a half years. By 1923, his parents had reconciled, the family name was changed from Borgnino to Borgnine, and his father changed his first name to Charles. Borgnine had a younger sister, Evelyn Borgnine Velardi (1925–2013). The family settled in New Haven, Connecticut, where Borgnine graduated from James Hillhouse High School. He took to sports while growing up, but showed no interest in acting.
Borgnine joined the United States Navy in October 1935, after graduation from high school. He served aboard the destroyer/minesweeper USS Lamberton (DD-119; AG-21 and DMS-2) and was honorably discharged from the Navy in October 1941. In January 1942, he reenlisted in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During World War II, he patrolled the Atlantic Coast on an antisubmarine warfare ship, the USS Sylph (PY-12). In September 1945, he was honorably discharged from the Navy. He served a total of almost ten years in the Navy and obtained the grade of gunner’s mate 1st class. His military awards include the Navy Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal with 3⁄16″ bronze star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Borgnine returned to his parents’ house in Connecticut after his Navy discharge without a job to go back to and no direction
He took a local factory job, but was unwilling to settle down to that kind of work. His mother encouraged him to pursue a more glamorous profession and suggested to him that his personality would be well suited for the stage. He surprised his mother by taking the suggestion to heart, although his father was far from enthusiastic
He studied acting at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, then moved to Virginia, where he became a member of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. It had been named for the director’s allowing audiences to barter produce for admission during the cash-lean years of the Great Depression. In 1947, Borgnine landed his first stage role in State of the Union. Although it was a short role, he won over the audience. His next role was as the Gentleman Caller in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
In 1949, Borgnine went to New York, where he had his Broadway debut in the role of a nurse in the play Harvey. More roles on stage led him to being cast for decades as a character actor.
An appearance as the villain on TV’s Captain Video led to Borgnine’s casting in the motion picture The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951) for Columbia Pictures. That year, Borgnine moved to Los Angeles, California, where he eventually received his big break in Columbia’s From Here to Eternity (1953), playing the sadistic Sergeant “Fatso” Judson, who beats a stockade prisoner in his charge, Angelo Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra). Borgnine built a reputation as a dependable character actor and played villains in early films, including movies such as Johnny Guitar, Vera Cruz, and Bad Day at Black Rock.
In 1955, the actor starred as a warmhearted butcher in Marty, the film version of the television play of the same name. He gained an Academy Award for Best Actor over Frank Sinatra, James Dean (who had died by the time of the ceremony), and former Best Actor winners Spencer Tracy and James Cagney.
Borgnine’s film career flourished for the next three decades, including roles in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Ice Station Zebra (1968), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Emperor of the North (1973), Convoy (1978), The Black Hole (1979), and Escape from New York (1981).
One of his most famous roles was that of Dutch, a member of The Wild Bunch in the 1969 Western classic from director Sam Peckinpah.
Borgnine made his TV debut as a character actor in Captain Video and His Video Rangers, beginning in 1951. These two episodes led to countless other television roles that Borgnine would gain in Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Ford Television Theatre, Fireside Theatre, Frontier Justice, Laramie, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Run for Your Life, Little House on the Prairie (a two-part episode entitled “The Lord is My Shepherd”), The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., Highway to Heaven, Murder, She Wrote, Walker, Texas Ranger, Home Improvement, Touched by an Angel, the final episodes of ER, the first episode of Wagon Train, and many others.
In 1962, Borgnine signed a contract with Universal Studios for the lead role as the gruff but lovable skipper, Quinton McHale, in what began as a serious one-hour 1962 episode called Seven Against the Sea for Alcoa Premiere, and later reworked to a comedy called McHale’s Navy, a World War II sitcom, which also co-starred unfamiliar comedians Joe Flynn as Capt. Wally Binghamton and Tim Conway as Ens. Charles Parker. The insubordinate crew of PT-73 helped the show become an overnight success during its first season, landing in the Top 30 in 1963.
Like the McHale character, Borgnine was a longtime navy man in real life. He thrived on the adulation from fans for their favorite navy man, and in 1963 received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. At the end of the fourth season, in 1966 low ratings and repetitive storylines brought McHale’s Navy to an end.
Borgnine returned to a new contract with Universal Studios in 1983, for a co-starring role opposite Jan-Michael Vincent, on Airwolf. After he was approached by producer Donald P. Bellisario, who had been impressed by Borgnine’s guest role as a wrestler in a 1982 episode of Magnum, P.I., he immediately agreed. He played Dominic Santini, a helicopter pilot, in the series, which became an immediate hit. Borgnine’s strong performances belied his exhaustion due to the grueling production schedule, and the challenges of working with his younger, troubled series lead. The show was cancelled by CBS in 1986.
He auditioned a third time for a co-starring role opposite Jonathan Silverman in The Single Guy as doorman Manny Cordoba, which lasted two seasons. According to Silverman, Borgnine came to work with more energy and passion than all other stars combined. He was the first person to arrive on the set every day and the last to leave.
Starting in 1999, Borgnine provided his voice talent to the animated sitcom SpongeBob SquarePants as the elderly superhero Mermaid Man (where he was paired up with his McHale’s Navy co-star Tim Conway as the voice of Mermaid Man’s sidekick Barnacle Boy). He expressed affection for this role, in no small part for its popularity among children. After his death Nickelodeon re-aired all of the episodes in which Mermaid Man appeared in memoriam. Borgnine also appeared as himself in The Simpsons episode “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood”, in addition to a number of television commercials. In 2000, he was the executive producer of Hoover, in which he was the only credited actor.
In 2007, Borgnine starred in the Hallmark original film A Grandpa for Christmas. He played a man who, after his estranged daughter ends up in the hospital because of a car accident, discovers that he has a granddaughter he never knew about. She is taken into his care, and they soon become great friends. Borgnine received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for Television for his performance. At 90, he was the oldest Golden Globe nominee ever.
Borgnine’s autobiography Ernie was published by Citadel Press in July 2008 (see below). Ernie is a loose, conversational recollection of highlights from his acting career and notable events from his personal life.
On April 2, 2009, he appeared in the last episode of the long-running medical series ER. His role was that of a husband whose long marriage ended with his wife’s death. In his final scene, his character is in a hospital bed lying beside his just-deceased wife. His performance garnered an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, his third nomination and his first in 29 years (since being nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special in 1980 for All Quiet on the Western Front).
In 2009, at age 92, he starred as Frank, the main character of Another Harvest Moon, directed by Greg Swartz and also starring Piper Laurie and Anne Meara. On October 2, 2010, Borgnine appeared as himself in a sketch on Saturday Night Live. On October 15, 2010, he appeared in Red, which was filmed earlier that year. In late 2011, Borgnine completed what would be his last film, playing Rex Page in The Man Who Shook The Hand of Vicente Fernandez.
Borgnine married five times. His first marriage, from 1949 to 1958, was to Rhoda Kemins, whom he met while serving in the Navy. They had one daughter, Nancee (born May 28, 1952). He was then married to actress Katy Jurado from 1959 to 1963. Borgnine’s marriage to singer Ethel Merman in 1964 lasted only 32 days. Their time together was mostly spent hurling profane insults at each other, and both would later admit that the marriage was a colossal mistake (Merman’s description of the marriage in her autobiography was a solitary blank page). Their divorce was finalized on May 25, 1965.
From 1965 to 1972, Borgnine was married to Donna Rancourt, with whom he had a son, Cristopher (born August 9, 1969) and two daughters, Sharon (born August 5, 1965) and Diana (born December 29, 1970). His fifth and last marriage was to Tova Traesnaes, which lasted from February 24, 1973 until his death in July 2012.
Borgnine died of kidney failure on July 8, 2012 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, with his family at his side. He was 95 years old.