As someone who’s been lucky enough to work in movies and is a gigantically huge movie fan on top of that, I was saddened this last July by the death of the great Ernest Borgnine. One of Hollywood’s last genuine legends, Ernest passed on at the ripe old age of 95, looking not a day older than 70, on July 8, 2012. I thought I’d write up a quick little article outlining the man, and hopefully include a few interesting Ernest Borgnine facts you might not know.
As an actor, Ernest gave legendary and brilliant performances in “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955), “From Here to Eternity” (1953), “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), and “The Wild Bunch” (1969), along with dozens of others. Although he specialized in playing bad guys in his early films, he gained true movie immortality by playing a shy, withdrawn butcher in “Marty” (1955), a true classic and one of the most intimate films to ever win an Academy Award. (Ernest himself earned his one and only Academy Award for “Best Actor” as the title character in “Marty”.)
He also had a very successful career on television, starring in “McHale’s Navy” (1962-1966), as well as “Airwolf”, besides making many great guest appearances in such series as “Get Smart”, “The Simpsons” and “Magnum P.I.”.
Ernest was beloved far and wide in show business, a well-known “good guy”, a genuinely nice, decent man.
With that introduction out of the way for those not familiar with Borgnine, let’s take a look at a few facts you may not have known about Mr. Ernest Borgnine:
- Ernest was perfectly cast as the star of “McHale’s Navy, as he had served 10 years in the U.S. Navy. He served on the destroyer USS Lamberton. While in the Navy, he earned several decorations for his distinguished service, including the Navy Good Conduct Medal, The World War II Victory Medal, and The American Defense Service Medal.
- On August 14, 2007, Ernest was a guest on the TV show “Fox and Friends”. When he was asked the secret of his longevity, he laughed and said, “I don’t dare tell you.”- then he whispered a line to host Steve Doocy, which was caught on microphone: “I masturbate a lot!”
- He once said he could never go into a bar after starring as the bully “Fatso” Jusdon in “From Here to Eternity”. Why? Apparently just about every time he went into a bar after that, some guy would challenge him to a fight because of that role and his fighting Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift in the movie.
- Ernest bet against himself with Jerry Lewis, saying he (Borgnine) would lose the “Best Actor” Academy Award in 1955 for “Marty”. As stated above, he ended up winning it. When he accepted his award, Ernest paid off Jerry (the Oscar emcee that year) with $1.67 in a sock. (some sources say the amount was $1.98)
- In 1964, Ernest married legendary diva Ethyl Merman. This is one of the shortest marriages in Hollywood history- dissolved after just 32 days. In writing about her marriage to Borgnine in her 1978 autobiography, Merman devoted one blank page to it.
- Ernest was a well-known very nice person. When he was working at Universal Studios, he often liked to stop the Universal Tourist Tram bus and chat with the fans, being cordial and asking “How are you?” and answering the fans’ questions. In 1996, he toured the U.S. on a bus to meet his fans and see the country. The trip was the subject of a 1997 documentary “Ernest Borgnine on the Bus”.
- At age 90, he became the oldest-ever Golden Globe Award Nominee for his performance in the Hallmark special “Grandpa for Christmas”.
- Ernest claimed the P.T. Boat used in “McHale’s Navy” was owned by Howard Hughes.
- He was the very first center square on TV’s “Hollywood Squares” when the show debuted in October of 1965.
- While on location filming “Vera Cruz” in 1954, Ernest and fellow actor Charles Bronson decided to go out for cigarettes during a break in filming. The two went out on horseback in complete wardrobe, including bandoliers and pistols. They were stopped by a truckful of Mexican Federales (Federal Police) who mistook them for bandits. Ernest and Charles were held at gunpoint until their identities could be verified.
- He had both knees replaced in 1999.
- One of Ernest’s early jobs was sweeping up the clipped hair from the floor in a barber shop.
- He had the license plate: BORG9
- Ernest was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1996.