The great Ernest Borgnine, (whose real name is Ermes Effron Borgnino) was born on January 24, 1917. He had a much-decorated ten-year career in the Navy, before starting acting in 1947, making his Broadway debut in 1949 with Harvey. However, a move to Hollywood in 1951 saw him snag the integral role of Sergeant “Fatso” Judson in From Here to Eternity (opposite Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra). Borgnine’s stocky frame and unconventional looks meant that he was often cast as the ‘heavy,’ in such films as Vera Cruz and The Vikings. However, his greatest success came with his lead role in the touching 1955 drama, Marty. The actor won the Academy Award for Best Actor following his emotional turn in the film, which is widely regarded as a classic.
The 1960s saw Borgnine take the lead in the much-loved sitcom, McHale’s Navy (1962-1966) and its big screen spin-off in 1964. The decade also saw the character actor take roles in a variety of iconic films, such as The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch. Other important films followed, including the 70s disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure, The Black Hole and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981). He became known to a whole new generation of fans in the 1980s for his role in the action series Airwolf, which ran from 1984 to 1986.
Borgnine continued to work in film and television, voicing the character of Mermaid Man in the long-running animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, as well as chalking up guest appearances in a multitude of shows such as Magnum, P.I., The Simpsons and E.R. – where he garnered an Emmy nomination at the age of 92! He also made a wonderful late-career big screen appearance on the 2010 Bruce Willis action film, RED.
Borgnine was a gifted performer who lived life to the fullest. He heightened every scene in which he appeared, bringing nuance and subtly to even the smallest of roles. The five times married actor (including brief wedlock to Ethel Merman), was also a frequent guest on the chat show circuit, regaling audiences with numerous anecdotes and jokes. Off-screen, Borgnine received the honorary rating of Chief Petty Officer in 2004, following his tireless support of the US Navy.
Ernest Borgnine died of kidney failure on July 8, 2012 at the age of 95.