Sunday, July 8, 2012

Borgnine Lives

Tom Keiser reflects on Ernest Borgnine:

There are too many memorable roles associated with the late Ernest Borgnine to count.

Some of you may only associate his booming voice with his role as Mermaid Man in SpongeBob SquarePants, where he was committed in his golden years to still fight EEEEEEEEEEE-VILLLLL!!!!!! Baby boomers and Generation Xers probably know Borgnine from his TV roles in “McHale’s Navy”, “Airwolf”, and, um, “The Single Guy”. Others still may know of him from some of the films they show on TCM, such as his supporting work in Johnny Guitar, Bad Day At Black Rock and From Here To Eternity. And speaking of his role as Fatso Judson in From Here To Eternity, Ernest Borgnine appeared as himself in “Boy Scoutz N The Hood”, one of the greatest Simpsons episodes ever. And oh yeah, he starred in a lot of crap too.

The remarkable Oscar-winning actor passed away today at the age of 95, and without overreacting about someone I have never know, Ernest Borgnine was somewhat of a hero of mine. He served in the Navy during World War II, and got into acting because he was in his late 20’s and with little direction in his life. Borgnine also married five times, including marriages to Oscar nominee Katy Jurado and to Ethel Merman, but the final marriage, to QVC cosmetics pitchwoman Tova Traesnaes, lasted almost forty years.

I first got a good look at him in 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, where as Mike Rogo (a cop with an ex-hooker for a wife!) he was the cantankerous contrarian to Gene Hackman’s saintly figure. When asked what would happen if a plan failed, Rogo retorted, “Then we’ll open our hymn books and sing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’!”. Only Borgnine could convincingly say such a line while turning fear into sarcasm.

While The Poseidon Adventure was one of my all-time favorite films growing up, another Borgnine film, 1955’s Marty, resonates with me to this day. Written by the legendary Paddy Chayefsky and based on a TV play starring Rod Steiger, Marty stars Borgnine as a loveable loser, who at 35 is looking for a better life yet is hesitant about having his heart broken yet again. You can feel the humanity in Borgnine when he yells at his mother, calling himself a “fat, ugly man”, and when he comforts a homely young woman who was dumped by her blind date. Moreover, you feel the sheer joy in Borgnine when he’s so happy that he has a girl that he practically skips the way home, and the sorrow when his family and friends get jealous of the girl and try to get Marty to dump her. In my weaker moments I see a lot of myself in the character, and thanks in no small part to Ernest Borgnine, there are worse characters to empathize with. People often forget that Borgnine was an Academy-Award winning actor, and when he won it for Marty, he absolutely deserved it.

Ernest Borgnine lived such a long, rich life that while it’s sad to see him go, it’s great to be reminded of his long career, and of the countless anecdotes of how he was such a nice guy. In the mid 1990’s documentarian Jeff Krulik (Heavy Metal Parking Lot) traveled with Ernie on a bus driven by Borgnine. The resulting documentary, Ernest Borgnine On The Bus, is a great intro to someone I have never met, but who I consider to be a hero of mine.

1 comment:

  1. For those of you who might be too young to remember his earlier movies,I suggest you rent/buy THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE..WILLARD..EMPEROR OF THE NORTH and of course,THE WILD BUNCH...A very gifted actor.No matter if it was a comedy or action or drama..RIP..