We’re sad to report that legendary actor Ernest Borgnine died today, July 8th, at the age of 95. The prolific Oscar-winning (for Marty) and Emmy-nominated actor (for McHale’s Navy and ER), began his carer in early live television, and is best known on TV for his starring roles in McHale’s Navy and Airwolf; plus, he is known to younger generations for his role as “Mermaid Man” on the animated SpongeBob SquarePants.
Born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut, Borgnine never thought he’d be an actor. It was at the urging of his mother (“Have you ever thought of becoming an actor? You always like to make a darn fool of yourself in front of people. Why don’t you give it a try?”) that he entered the field. We’re so grateful that he did!
After graduating high school, Borgnine joined the Navy in 1935, ended his service in 1941, and went right back in again when World War II broke out. Once he set his sights upon acting, he first attended Yale University, but then moved on to the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, CT to concentrate solely on the dramatic arts. After significant stage work at the Barter Theater in Virginia and time on Broadway in “Harvey”, Borgnine appeared as the evil “Nargola” on the popular 1951 children’s television show, Captain Video and his Video Rangers.
On working in early live television
In 1953 he played “Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson” in From Here to Eternity, but the role with which Borgnine would forever be associated came in 1955. Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s television play of the same name, Borgnine auditioned for, and won the part – and the Best Actor Oscar that year – for playing the title role in Marty.
On winning an Oscar for Marty
A big screen star, Borgnine soon conquered the small screen as well. In 1963 he made his first of many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and was asked to play the lead in a dramatic show called Seven Men Against the Sea, which as Borgnine explains in the following clip, eventually became the 1964 comedy McHale’s Navy.
On the genesis of McHale’s Navy
Borgnine began his run occupying center square on the popular game show Hollywood Squares in 1966, starred in the film The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, and appeared in the short-lived series Future Cop in 1976-77. In ‘77 he played “The Centurion” in Franco Zeffirelli’s TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, and from 1984-86 he was back starring in a TV series again, this time as “Dominic Santini” in the action-adventure show Airwolf.
On starring in Airwolf
After playing “Manny the Doorman” on the mid-’90s show The Single Guy and voicing “Carface” on the animated TV series All Dogs Go To Heaven, in 1999 Borgnine began lending his voice to SpongeBob SquarePants‘ “Mermaid Man”, thrilling girl scouts and adults alike with his maniacal catch phrase, “EVIIIIIIL!”
On voicing “Mermaid Man” on SpongeBob SquarePants
“As an actor, you’re supposed to know what life and, and love is all about. There’s so much to life, so much to bringing forth something in yourself that you have experienced, or have had an experience, or are thinking of an experience, or are willing to experience, something that you can bring to this theater, to this picture. And this is what makes an actor, I feel it’s what you have here (points to heart) and what you have here (points to head) that counts. It’s not just reading things off of a thing that, some writer has written for you. You make the writer’s words your own, besides thinking, “Am I living those words?” That’s what counts.”
See the entire interview a http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/ernest-borgnine
About the interview:
In his two-and-a-half hour interview, Ernest Borgnine discusses his youth and the influence of his mother on his future acting ambitions. He reflects on enlisting in the Navy in the mid 1930s and on his service during World War II. He talks about his first appearances on television, including villainous roles on the DuMont children’s science fiction show Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and speaks of the role for which he is most associated – that of “Marty” in the 1955 film of the same name. He details his experience working with writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann (who had collaborated on the original television version)— and recounts stories about his audition for the part and of his Oscar win for Best Actor. He details the popular 1960’s sitcom McHale’s Navy, describes the production schedule, and gives his impressions of the show’s ensemble cast. Borgnine recalls appearing on The Hollywood Squares, The Tonight Show, and (in an Emmy-nominated performance) the television movie “All Quiet on the Western Front.” He chronicles his feature film roles in From Here to Eternity and in the disaster film classic The Poseidon Adventure, and comments on his work with directors Robert Aldrich and Sam Peckinpah,. He briefly speaks of his roles in the television series Airwolf, The Single Guy, and Spongebob Squarepants (he provides the voice of “Mermaid Man”). The remarkably vital 91-year-old Borgnine spoke with humor and enthusiasm and a clear zest for life. Henry Colman and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on October 10, 2008 in Beverly Hills, CA.