Ermes Effron Borgnino, known as Ernest Borgnine was an American film and television actor whose career spanned more than six decades. He was an unconventional lead in many films of the 1950s, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1955 for Marty. On television, he played Quinton McHale in the 1962–1966 series McHale's Navy and co-starred in the mid-1980s action series Airwolf, in addition to a wide variety of other roles. Borgnine earned an Emmy Award nomination at age 92 for his work on the series ER. He was also known for being the original voice of Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants from 1999 to 2012.
Ernest Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917, in Hamden, Connecticut. He was the son of Anna (née Boselli; 1894–1949), who emigrated from Carpi, Modena, Italy) to the United States, and Camillo Borgnino (1891–1975), who emigrated from Ottiglio (Alessandria, Italy).
Borgnine's parents separated when he was two years old, and he and his mother lived in Italy for about 4 1/2 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. Ernest had a sister, Evelyn Borgnine Velardi (1925–2013). The family settled in New Haven, Connecticut where he graduated from James Hillhouse High School. Borgnine 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/destroyer USSLamberton (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 rank ofgunner's mate 1st class.
Borgnine's military awards include: the Navy Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal with bronze star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
In 1997, Borgnine received the United States Navy Memorial, Lone Sailor Award.
On December 7, 2000, Borgnine was named the Veterans Foundation's Veteran of the Year.
In October 2004, Borgnine received the honorary title of chief petty officer from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry D. Scott. The ceremony for Borgnine's naval advancement was held at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. He received the special honor for his naval service and support of the Navy and navy families worldwide.
On February 5, 2007, he received the California Commendation Medal.
Borgnine returned to his parents' house in Connecticut after his Navy discharge without a job to go back to and no direction. In a British Film Institute interview about his life and career, he said:
- “After World War II, we wanted no more part in war. I didn't even want to be a boy-scout. I went home and said that I was through with the Navy and so now, what do we do? So I went home to mother, and after a few weeks of patting me on the back and, "You did good," and everything else, one day she said, "Well?" like mothers do. Which meant, "Alright, you gonna get a job or what?"”
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. In 2011, Borgnine remembered,
- “She said, "You always like getting in front of people and making a fool of yourself, why don't you give it a try?" I was sitting at the kitchen table and I saw this light. No kidding. It sounds crazy. And 10 years later, I had Grace Kelly handing me an Academy Award.”
He studied acting and graduated, auditioned, and was accepted as an intern to 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 like 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), All Quiet on the Western Front (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. Of his role in The Wild Bunch, Borgnine later said,
I did [think it was a moral film]. Because to me, every picture should have some kind of a moral to it. I feel that when we used to watch old pictures, as we still do I'm sure, the bad guys always got it in the end and the good guys always won out. Today it's a little different. Today it seems that the bad guys are getting the good end of it. There was always a moral in our story.
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, and the final episodes of ER, the first episode of Wagon Train, and many others.
In 2009, at the age of 92, Borgnine earned an Emmy nomination for his performances in the final two episodes of ER.
- Ernest Borgnine entry. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers 4th Ed Volume 3: Actors and Actresses. St. James Press. 2000. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale. 2006: "Born: Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, Connecticut, January 24, 1917 (some sources say 1915 or 1918)."
- The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen. Nick Clooney. Simon and Schuster. 2003. ISBN 0-7434-1044-0. Page 114
- Anna Borgnine
- Charles Borgnine
- Ernest Borgnine Biography (1917– ) filmreference.com
- View Obituary for Evelyn Velardi by Mt. View Mortuary & Cemetery, San Bernardino, CA Accessed 10 October 2013
- David Fantle and Tom Johnson. Reel to Real: 25 Years of Celebrity Interviews from Vaudeville to Movies to TV. Badger Books. 2004. ISBN 978-1932542042|. Pages 106–113
- Connecticut magazine Q & A: Ernest Borgnine (October 2010) - Pat Grandjean. Accessed 2012-11-08
- DMS-2 Lamberton - navsource.org
- US Navy History – USS Sylph
- Lone Sailor Award Recipients (navymemorial.org)
- Actor Ernest Borgnine dead at 95 (CNN - 8 July 2012)
- Ernest Borgnine Makes Chief (U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation - 18 October 2004)
- Marty + Ernest Borgnine in Conversation (British Film Institute - 10 October 2007
- Kisselhoff, Jeff; THE BOX: An Oral History of Television, 1929-1961; Viking Penguin, 1995