A stocky, craggy Hollywood legend with a great, gravelly voice and bright, kind eyes, Ernest Borgnine died today in Los Angeles. He was 95 years old.
Born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917, in Hamden, Connecticut, Borgnine spent a decade in the Navy before turning to acting on the advice of his mum, who observed that he liked to make a fool of himself in public
“I think we all have the urge to be a clown,” noted Borgnine, “whether we know it or not. The clown we see is a fascinating person, expressing pathos, poignancy, joie de vivre. It’s an opportunity to express one’s innermost feelings while hiding behind a mask.”
Specialising in playing characters who were either jovial and gentle or else brutal and harsh, Borgnine broke the big time as the malicious Sgt. “Fatso” Judson in Oscar-winning wartime melodrama From Here To Eternity (1953). At the opposite end of the character spectrum, the actor won a well-deserved Academy Award for playing a sweet, decent, lonely guy in romantic comedy drama Marty (1955).
“The trick is not to become somebody else,” said the matter-of-fact star about his process. “You become somebody else when you’re in front of a camera or when you’re on stage. There are some people who carry it all the time. That, to me, is not acting. What you’ve gotta do is find out what the writer wrote about and put it into your mind. This is acting. Not going out and researching what the writer has already written. This is crazy!”
A familiar face and voice from scores of hit shows and movies, Borgnine’s greatest hits include hit sitcom McHale’s Navy (1962-1966), war classic The Dirty Dozen (1967), western actioner The Wild Bunch (1969), disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and sci fi thriller Escape From New York (1981). Younger viewers, meanwhile, know and love him as the voice of Mermaid Man in SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present).
Survived by three children, four ex-wives and widow Tova, with whom he’d been married since 1972, Ernest Borgnine was, by all accounts, a great star and a true gentleman.