As a young actor, Ernest Borgnine debuted on Broadway in the 1949 play Harvey, which led to many appearances in early television shows. In 1951, he headed to Hollywood, where he made his feature debut in The Whistle at Eaton Falls. Two years later, he landed a role in From Here to Eternity, but he soon found himself typecast as an onscreen tough guy. In 1955, he was relieved to land the leading role of a sympathetic everyman in Marty. His prolific career acting in both movies and television spanned over six decades.
Actor Ernest Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnine, on January 24, 1917, in Hamden, Connecticut. His parents, Charles and Anna, immigrated to America from Italy at the turn of the century. The family settled in Connecticut, where Borgnine attended public school in New Haven. Upon graduating from high school, in 1935, he joined the Navy as an apprentice seaman.
After 10 years in service, Borgnine returned to Connecticut and continued his education by enrolling at the Randall School of Dramatic Art in Hartford. Beginning in 1946, he spent four years honing his craft at the Barter Theatre in Abington, Virginia. While there, Borgnine encountered his first professional acting experience, initially appearing in bit parts, and eventually graduating to starring roles.
The young character actor soon landed a part on Broadway in the comedy Harvey, which led to appearances on New York television shows like Philco Television Playhouse and Captain Video and His Video Rangers. In 1951, he headed west to Hollywood, where he made his feature debut in the docudrama The Whistle at Eaton Falls.
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).
Ernest Borgnine died on July 8, 2012 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the age of 95. According to the L.A. Times, the apparent cause of Borgnine's passing was kidney failure. He's survived by his wife Tova, his children Nancy, Cristofer and Sharon Borgnine and a stepson David Johnson, as well as six grandchildren. The Oscar-winning star, whose career spanned over 60 years, will be remembered by fans as one of Hollywood's most beloved character actors.
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