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Actor Ernest Borgnine’s role in the film Marty transformed him from a stereotyped character actor to a leading man, earning him an Academy Award as Best Actor.
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Over the next year, Borgnine was disappointed when Hecht-Lancaster cast him in a number of lightweight movie roles, including The Best Things in Life Are Free with Dan Dailey, Sheree North, and Gordon MacRae. He felt that his contract limited his career and, in 1957, he sued the production company. Borgnine was forced to pay nearly half a million dollars, but he was free to pursue the roles that he wanted.
In 1962, Borgnine was offered the lead in a new television comedy, McHale's Navy, about a gregarious boat captain and his crew of bumbling Navy misfits. The show quickly moved to the top of the ratings, and Borgnine had found his niche in television. In 1964, the success of the TV show spawned a full-length feature adaptation, which starred Borgnine in the title role.
After McHale's Navy ended its run in 1966, Borgnine quickly transitioned back to the big screen, taking on powerful roles as Dutch in Sam Peckinpah's 1969 western The Wild Bunch and as General Worden in 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. His film career continued successfully into the 1970s and 1980s with appearances in many movies including the 1972 disaster classic The Poseidon Adventure and the 1981 sci-fi film Escape from New York.
Borgnine also continued making numerous appearances in highly acclaimed television movies, including The Trackers (1971), Legend in Granite: The Vince Lombardi Story (1973), and The Ghost Flight of 401 (1978). After working steadily through the decade, he landed a starring role as a helicopter pilot in the 1984 hit series Airwolf, opposite Jan-Michael Vincent. He also reprised his Dirty Dozen character in three television movies, including The Next Mission (1985), The Deadly Mission (1987), and The Fatal Mission (1988).
In 1995, Borgnine was introduced to a whole new generation as "Manny the Doorman" on the NBC sitcom The Single Guy and as the voice of Mermaid Man in the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants. He also appeared in the features Gattaca (1997) and BASEketball (1998); and lent his voice to such animated films as All Dogs Go To Heaven 2 (1996) and Small Soldiers (1998).
In addition to his film and TV career, Ernest Borgnine released his autobiography Ernie in 2008, which documents his life and prolific acting career.
Borgnine lived in Beverly Hills with his fifth wife, Tova, whom he married in 1972. He was previously married to Rhoda Kemins (1949-58), actress Katy Jurado (1959-1963), musical theater star Ethel Merman (who he was famously married to for only one month in 1964), and Donna Rancourt (1965-1972).
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