Lovable Hollywood Villain From Italian Stock, Ernest Borgnine Dies at 95
Towards the end of his life Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine complained the only thing producers said when they heard his name was "Is he still alive?" He said it with a smile because he loved working and had a great career.
Ernest Borgnine was the bad guy who beat Frank Sinatra to death in the film From Here to Eternity. His battered features and chunky physique made him a natural to play the villain but his only Oscar came when he played a sympathetic character in the film Marty.
Borgnine was a shy butcher who thought he would never find love because he wasn’t good looking. Then at a party he found a girl who felt the same way and they got together. All together now . . . . Aaaah!
In real life Borgnine wasn’t so lucky, marrying five times before he found happiness with a Norwegian cosmetics entrepreneur Tova Traesuaes. She used his face in ads selling lotions to stave off ageing and in fact Borgnine always looked a lot younger than he was. The couple were married for 34 years.
One his ex-wives was the Broadway star Ethel Merman but the marriage only lasted six weeks. “If you blinked you missed it”, she laughed as the pair moved on.
The Hollywood star had Italian parents and lived in Milan for two years when he was a child but he spent his formative years in the US Navy, enlisting in 1935 when he was 18 and served for 10 years, including the second world war. He looked back fondly on his time in the Navy saying the experience made him as a man.
After the war Borgnine went o work in factories but his mother suggested he make better use of his forceful personality. She suggested he train as an actor – and like most Italian mothers – she was right.
His biggest successes were in films The Dirty Dozen, The Poseidon Adventure and Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. His TV series McHale’s Navy was a huge hit in the States. Modelled on Phil Silvers Bilko character Borgnine showed a lighter, comedy side.
The big breakthrough had come in a Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. Never a boastful man, Borgnine later said he through he was terrible in the part but “The part brought the house down” – and he was off to a lifetime of Hollywood success.