Ernest Borgnine (born January 24, 1917 - July 8, 2012)[1][2] was an American actor of television and the big screen. His career spanned nearly six decades. He was an unconventional lead in many films of the 1950s, including his Academy Award-winning turn in the 1955 film Marty. On television, he was best known for playing Quinton McHale in the 1962-66 series McHale's Navy, costarring in the mid-1980s action series Airwolf, and voicing the character Mermaid Man in the animated series, SpongeBob SquarePants. Borgnine earned an Emmy nomination at age 92 for his work on the series ER. In August 2009 at age 92 he earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Early life

Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, Connecticut, the son of Anna (née Boselli), who immigrated to the US from Carpi (Modena, Italy), and Camillo Borgnino, who immigrated to the US from Ottiglio (Province of Alessandria, Italy).[3]

His parents separated when he was two years old, and he and his mother went to live in Italy. By 1923, his parents had reconciled, and the family name was changed from Borgnino to Borgnine. The family had settled in North Haven, Connecticut, where he attended public schools. His mother also had the passion to develop her own dance. Anna gave her son a lot of moral support and he stood closely by her at all times.

Naval career

Borgnine joined the United States Navy in 1935, after graduation from James Hillhouse High School[citation needed] in New Haven, Connecticut. He was discharged in 1941, but re-enlisted when the United States entered World War II and served until 1945 (a total of ten years), reaching the rank of Gunner's Mate 1st Class. He served aboard the destroyer USS Lamberton (DD-119). His military decorations included the American Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, and the World War II Victory Medal.

In 2004, Borgnine received the honorary rank of Chief Petty Officer from the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry D. Scott—the US Navy's highest ranking enlisted sailor at the time—for Borgnine's support of the Navy and naval families worldwide.

Acting career

After the war was over he returned to his parents' home with no job and no direction. Since he wasn't willing to settle for a dead end job at one of the factories, his mother encouraged him to pursue a more glamorous profession and suggested 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. Following graduation, he auditioned and was accepted to the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, where audiences usually barter their vegetables. In 1947, he 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, he had his Broadway debut in the role of a nurse in the play Harvey. More roles on stage led him to being a decades-long character actor.

In 1951, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he eventually received his big break in From Here to Eternity (1953), playing the cruel Sergeant "Fatso" Judson in charge of the stockade, who taunts fellow soldier Angelo Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra). Borgnine built a reputation as a dependable character actor and appeared in early film roles as villains, including movies like Johnny Guitar, Vera Cruz and Bad Day at Black Rock. But in 1955, the actor starred as a warm-hearted butcher in the film version of the television play Marty, which gained him an Academy Award for Best Actor over Frank Sinatra and former Best Actors Spencer Tracy and James Cagney.

Borgnine's film career continued successfully through the 1960s and 1970s, including The Vikings, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, The Poseidon Adventure and The Black Hole. One of his most famous roles became that of Dutch, a member of The Wild Bunch in the 1969 Western classic from director Sam Peckinpah.

Character actor

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, Short Short Dramas, The Ford Television Theatre, Waterfront, The Lone Wolf, Fireside Theatre, The O. Henry Playhouse, Frontier Justice, Laramie, The Blue Angels, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Run for Your Life, Little House on the Prairie's Pt. 2 episode - "The Lord is My Shepherd", The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., Highway to Heaven with old friend Michael Landon, Murder, She Wrote, Walker, Texas Ranger, Touched by an Angel and the final episodes of ER, among many more.

Melissa Gilbert has said that her favorite Little House on the Prairie episode of all time is the 1975 two-part "The Lord is My Shepherd" in which she co-starred with Borgnine. He played the mysterious mountain-man Jonathon who uttered the classic line, "I think I will" in response to his deep desire to eat his porridge.

In 2009, at the age of 92, Borgnine earned an Emmy nomination for his performances in the final two episodes of the long-running NBC medical series ER.

Television roles

McHale's Navy

In 1962, Borgnine joined the ranks of other sitcom stars such as John Forsythe, Andy Griffith, Danny Thomas, Alan Young, Fred MacMurray and Buddy Ebsen. That same year he signed a contract with Universal Studios for the lead role as the gruff but lovable skipper Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale in what began as a serious one-hour 1962 episode called Seven Against the Sea for Alcoa Premiere. Just like the McHale character, Borgnine was a longtime navy man in real life. This World War II sitcom also starred two formerly unknown comedians/actors, the late Joe Flynn as Capt. Wallace B. Binghamton and Tim Conway as Ensign Charles Parker. Both of them got along very well with Borgnine, especially Conway. The insubordinate crew of PT-73 helped the show become an overnight success during its first season, although it did not land in the Top 30 until 1963, when it tied with Hazel in the ratings. Borgnine thrived on the adulation from fans for their favorite Navy man. He received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1963. At the end of the fourth season in 1966 low ratings and repetitive story lines brought McHale's Navy to an end. Borgnine was not happy about the show’s cancellation and was concerned about what television role he might play in the future. He also starred in the 1964 film version of the series and later appeared in a cameo performance in the 1997 remake.


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.

The Single Guy

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 would come 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.

Awards and honors

He was the first center square in the original version of the television game show Hollywood Squares, with host Peter Marshall.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Ernest Borgnine received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6324 Hollywood Blvd. In 1996, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

He was be honored with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award at the 17th annual SAG Awards, to be held January 30, 2011.[4] The awards editorial department The Envelope of the Los Angeles Times criticized the SAG's decision due to Borgnine's "personal politics" and remarks concerning the film Brokeback Mountain.[5]

Other activities

Also in 1996, Borgnine toured the US 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. He also served one year as the Chairman of the National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans, visiting patients in Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Ernest Borgnine was a Freemason and a 33rd Scottish Rite Mason in the Southern Masonic Jurisdiction. He was also a member of the Loyal Order of Moose at that organization's Lodge in Junction City, OR.

Ernest Borgnine volunteered to be Stories of Service National spokesman, urging his fellow WWII vets to come forward and share their stories.

Work after work


Borgnine in April 2010

Since 1999 Borgnine provided his voice talent to the comedy cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants as the elderly superhero Mermaid Man (where he was once again 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. Borgnine also appeared on The Simpsons episode "Boy-Scoutz N the Hood" as himself 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, 90-year-old Borgnine starred in the Hallmark original movie A Grandpa for Christmas. He played a man who, after his estranged daughter is in 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.

On April 2, 2009, Borgnine starred 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, Borgnine's 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 was the main character in 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 skit on Saturday Night Live.


Borgnine's autobiography Ernie was published by Citadel Press in July 2008. Ernie is a loose, conversational recollection of highlights from his acting career and notable events from his personal life.

In the wake of the book's publication, he began a small promotional tour, visiting independent bookstores in the Los Angeles area to promote the book's release and meet some of his fans.[6]

Personal life

Borgnine was married five times.

  1. Rhoda Kemins (1949–1958), whom he met while serving in the Navy;[7] They had one daughter, Gina (born August 18, 1952).
  2. The actress Katy Jurado (1959–1963) Borgnine once referred to his second ex-wife this way: "Beautiful, but a tiger."
  3. The singer Ethel Merman (1964), which lasted barely over a month. (divorce final May 25, 1965)
  4. Donna Rancourt (1965–1972), with whom he had a son, Christopher (born August 9, 1969) and two daughters, Sharon (born August 5, 1965) and Diana (born December 29, 1970).
  5. Tova Traesnaes (February 24, 1973 to date)

He has one sister, Evelyn Velardi (b. 1926).

His mother, Anna Borgnine, died in 1949, after a long battle against tuberculosis, just days before his first wedding.

On January 24, 2007, Borgnine celebrated his 90th birthday at a bistro in West Hollywood, California. Guests included his wife Tova, decades-long friend Tim Conway, Dennis Farina, Army Archerd, Andy Granatelli, Bo Hopkins, Burt Young, Steven Bauer, his son Cris Borgnine, grandson Anthony Borgnine, Connie Stevens, David Gerber, Debbie Reynolds, Joe Mantegna, Norm Crosby and many more.

On February 24, 2008, Borgnine celebrated the 35th anniversary of his marriage to cosmetics maker Tova Traenaes.

He is a member of the Lambda chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

A street was named in Borgnine’s honor in his hometown of Hamden, Connecticut, where he still enjoys a large and vocal following. There is also a Mexican-themed restaurant in New York City with a shrine dedicated to Borgnine.[8]

For 30 years (1972–2002), Borgnine marched in Milwaukee's annual Great Circus Parade as the "Grand Clown."[9]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Title Result
1955 Academy Award Best Actor Marty Won
BAFTA Award Best Foreign Actor Marty Won
Golden Globe Award Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama Marty Won
NBR Award Best Actor Marty Won
NYFCC Award Best Actor Marty Won
1962 Emmy Award Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead) McHale's Navy Nominated
1979 Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special All Quiet on the Western Front Nominated
1999 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series Nominated
2007 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television A Grandpa for Christmas Nominated
2009 Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actor - Drama ER Nominated
2009 Lifetime Achievement Award Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival, at the Providence screening of his new film, "Another Harvest Moon". - Previous winners of the RIIFF Lifetime Achievement Award have been director Blake Edwards; actresses Cicely Tyson and Patricia Neal; and actors Seymour Cassel and Kim Chan. McHale's Navy, From Here to Eternity, The Dirty Dozen, and Marty Won


Borgnine passed away on July 8, 2012 from Kidney failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California at his family's side at the age of 95.





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  • Ernest: "Spencer Tracy was the first actor I've seen who could just look down into the dirt and command a scene. He played a set-up with Robert Ryan that way. He's looking down at the road and then he looks at Ryan at just the precise, right minute. I tell you, Rob could've stood on his head and zipped open his fly and the scene would've still been Mr Tracy's."
  • Ernest: "The trick is not to become somebody else. 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!"
  • Ernest: "Everything I do has a moral to it. Yes, I've been in films that have had shootings. I made The Wild Bunch (1969), which was the beginning of the splattering of blood and everything else. But there was a moral behind it. The moral was that, by golly, bad guys got it. That was it. Yeah."
  • Ernest: "Ever since they opened the floodgates with Clark Gable saying, 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn,' somebody's ears pricked up and said, 'Oh boy, here we go!'. Writers used to make such wonderful pictures without all that swearing, all that cursing. And now it seems that you can't say three words without cursing. And I don't think that's right."
  • Ernest on drugs: "No, I've never done anything. At least, not to my knowledge. I once took a bunch of goofballs by accident. They looked like candy. They were in a little bowl at a party. I grabbed a hand full and went to town. That was some New Years Eve. I didn't have a coherent thought till February."
  • Ernest on his $5,000 salary for playing the eponymous lead in Marty (1955), which won him a Best Actor Oscar: "...I would have done it for nothing."
  • Ernest on Women's Rights: "They tried it the wrong way. You can't expect anyone to take you seriously if you burn your undies and tell me I'm a pig. That's why it failed. Too many ugly broads telling me that they don't want to sleep with me. Who wanted you anyway?"


  1. "Ernest Borgnine." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, 4th ed. St. James Press, 2000. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2006: "Born: Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, Connecticut, January 24, 1917 (some sources say 1915 or 1918)."
  2. Clooney, Nick (2003). The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7434-1044-0. , p. 114
  3. Ernest Borgnine Biography (1929-)
  4. "Actor Ernest Borgnine to receive lifetime award". BBC News (BBC). August 19, 2010. Retrieved August 19, 2010. 
  5. "Should SAG be honoring Ernest Borgnine?". Tom O'Neil (Gold Derby, The Envelope) (Los Angeles Times). August 19, 2010. Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  6. "The Importance of Being Ernie". Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  7. M. A. Schmidt (April 10, 1955). "Ernest Borgnine: Fiendish 'Fatso' to Meek 'Marty'". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  8. Wilson, Michael (February 14, 2009). "The Taco Joint That Loves Ernest Borgnine". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2010. 
  9. Circus Parade secures funding, will return July 12
  • ""Ernest Borgnine"". Biographies in Navy History. Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. March 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 

External links

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