Ernest Borgnine, the actor who seemed the tough, New York type, but won an Academy Award for embodying the gentlest of souls, a lonely Bronx butcher, in the 1955 film “Marty,” died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 95.
Ermes Effron Borgnino was born on Jan. 24, 1917, in Hamden, Conn., near New Haven. His father was a railroad brakeman. His mother was said to be the daughter of a count, Paolo Boselli, an adviser to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy.
Borgnine made his first memorable impression in films at the age of 37, appearing in “From Here to Eternity” (1953) as Fatso Judson, the sadistic stockade sergeant who beats Frank Sinatra’s character, Private Maggio, to death.
All because Frank didn't like his piano playing. Great Movie.
Borgnine received the Oscar for best actor for “Marty.” For the same performance he also received a Golden Globe and awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
But he will be most remembered as the star of the ABC sitcom “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66), originating the role of an irreverent con man of a PT boat skipper.
He originally turned the role down, but reneged when a boy came to his door selling candy and said, although he knew who James Arness of “Gunsmoke” and Richard Boone of “Have Gun, Will Travel” were, he had never heard of Ernest Borgnine.
Over a career that lasted more than six decades the burly, big-voiced Mr. Borgnine was never able to escape typecasting completely, at least in films, with the vast majority of the characters he played being villains.
Military roles continued to beckon. He could forget his role as Lee Marvin’s commanding officer in “The Dirty Dozen” (1967).
He played gruff police officers, like his character in the disaster blockbuster “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972), and bosses from hell, as in the horror movie “Willard” (1971). Twice he played a manager of gladiators, in “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954) and in the 1984 mini-series “The Last Days of Pompeii.”
Mr. Borgnine’s menacing features seemed to disappear when he flashed his trademark gaptoothed smile, and later in life he began to find good-guy roles, like the helpful taxi driver in “Escape From New York” (1981) and the title role in “A Grandpa for Christmas,” a 2007 television movie.
Later in his career he even starred in “Sponge Bob Square Pants”.
Borgnine had five wives. In 1949 he married Rhoda Kemins, whom he had met when they were both in the Navy. They had a daughter but divorced in 1958. On New Year’s Eve 1959 he and the Mexican-born actress Katy Jurado were married; they divorced in 1962.
His third marriage was his most notorious because of its brevity. He and the Broadway musical star Ethel Merman married in late June 1964 but split up in early August. Borgnine later contended that Ms. Merman left because she was upset that on an international honeymoon trip he was recognized and she wasn’t.
In 1965 he married Donna Rancourt; they had two children before divorcing in 1972. In 1973 he married for the fifth and last time, to Tova Traesnaes, who under the name Tova Borgnine became a cosmetics entrepreneur.
In addition to his wife, his survivors include a son, Christopher, and two daughters, Nancy and Sharon.
Sometimes he prayed, he said, or just reflected on character-appropriate thoughts. “If none of that works,” he added, “I think to myself of the money I’m making.”