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Ernest Borgnine, movie star with face of a workingman, dies at 95



The savage bully in “From Here to Eternity” (1953)


Borgnine broke free from tough-guy stereotypes by playing a lovelorn butcher in 1955’s “Marty.”


Moved to series TV on the World War II comedy “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66) and later had series roles on “Airwolf” and “The Single Guy.”


After appearing in the 1967 action hit “The Dirty Dozen,” he appeared in three “Dirty Dozen” TV films.


As a man losing his beloved wife on the final episode of “ER,” Borgnine earned an Emmy nomination.


Introduced himself to a new generation voicing a character on the Nickelodeon cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Gannett News Service

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Updated: August 10, 2012 6:35AM

LOS ANGELES — He was a tubby tough guy with a pug of a mug, as unlikely a big-screen star or a romantic lead as could be imagined.

Yet Ernest Borgnine won a woman’s love and an Academy Award in one of the great lonelyhearts roles in “Marty,” a highlight in a workhorse career that spanned nearly seven decades and more than 200 film and television parts.

Mr. Borgnine, who died Sunday at 95, worked to the end. One of his final roles was a bit part as a CIA records-keeper in 2011’s action comedy “Red” — fittingly for his age, a story of retired spies who show that it’s never too late to remain in the game when they’re pulled back into action.

“I keep telling myself, ‘Damn it, you gotta go to work,’ ” Mr. Borgnine said in 2007. “But there aren’t many people who want to put Borgnine to work these days. They keep asking, ‘Is he still alive?’”

And yet people put him to work — and kept him working — from his late-blooming start as an actor after a 10-year Navy career through modern times, when he had a recurring voice role on “SpongeBob SquarePants” and became the oldest actor ever nominated for a Golden Globe.

Mr. Borgnine died of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife and children at his side, said spokesman Harry Flynn.

With his beefy build and a huge orb of a head that looked hard enough to shatter granite, Mr. Borgnine was cast as heavies early on, notably Sgt. Fatso Judson, the brute who beat Frank Sinatra’s character to death in 1953’s Pearl Harbor saga “From Here to Eternity.”

More bad guy roles followed, but Mr. Borgnine showed his true pussycat colors as lovesick Marty Piletti, a Bronx butcher who, against all odds and his own expectations, found romance with a wallflower in “Marty,” adapted from Paddy Chayefsky’s television play. Mr. Borgnine won the best-actor Oscar, and the film picked up three other awards, including best picture.

“The Oscar made me a star, and I’m grateful,” Mr. Borgnine said in 1966. “But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldn’t have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life.”

Those messes included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman that lasted less than six weeks.

But Mr. Borgnine’s fifth marriage, in 1973 to Norwegian-born Tova Traesnaes, endured and brought with it an interesting business partnership. She manufactured and sold her own beauty products under the name of Tova and used her husband’s rejuvenated face in her ads.

Mr. Borgnine went on to roles in such films as “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Wild Bunch,” “The Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Escape from New York,” but after “Marty,” the veteran sailor’s most memorable character appropriately came with the title role of the 1960s TV comedy “McHale’s Navy” and its big-screen spinoff.

Mischievous con man McHale, commander of a PT boat manned by misfits and malcontents, was far closer in spirit than shy Marty or ruthless Fatso to the real Mr. Borgnine, who had a cackling laugh and a reputation as a prankster.

More recently, he had a recurring role as the apartment house doorman-cum-chef in the NBC sitcom “The Single Guy.” He appeared in the unsuccessful 1997 movie version of “McHale’s Navy.”

In 2007, Mr. Borgnine became the oldest Golden Globe nominee ever, at 90, for the TV movie “A Grandpa for Christmas.” It came 52 years after his only other Globe nomination, for “Marty,” which he won.

“I don’t care whether a role is 10 minutes long or two hours,” he said in 1973. “And I don’t care whether my name is up there on top, either. Matter of fact, I’d rather have someone else get top billing; then if the picture bombs, he gets the blame, not me.”


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