"I keep telling myself, 'Damn it, you gotta go to work,'" Borgnine said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. "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," became the oldest actor ever nominated for a Golden Globe and received the lifetime-achievement award last year from the Screen Actors Guild.
Borgnine was playing another nasty character opposite Spencer Tracy in "Bad Day at Black Rock" when he auditioned for "Marty." In a 2004 interview, Borgnine recalled that Chayefsky and "Marty" director Delbert Mann thought of him as an actor whose lone screen specialty was to "kill people."
With his beefy build and a huge orb of a head that looked hard enough to shatter granite, Borgnine naturally was cast as heavies early on, notably as Sgt. Fatso Judson, the brute who beat Frank Sinatra's character to death in 1953's Pearl Harbor saga "From Here to Eternity."
He married five times, but his liaisons were notoriously unsuccessful — none more so than his 39-day marriage to Ethel Merman. After his fourth, in 1965, Borgnine was accused by his estranged wife Donna Rancourt of plotting to murder her and of hiring two “hit men” to carry out the plan.
There are hundreds of excellent remembrances of Borgnine on the web today, and practically all of them focus on a different role he played, because there's so many to choose from-- the taxi driver in Escape From New York? The main character on the TV show McHale's Navy? The voice of Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants?
He made the move to films and then television in 1951, racking up more than 200 credits in projects ranging from the era of live television drama to the children's cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants." He starred in the 1962-66 sitcom "McHale's Navy," was one of the original celebrities on the game show "The Hollywood Squares" and played William Holden's right-hand-man in Sam Peckinpah's revisionist Western "The Wild Bunch." He also was a regular on the 1980s television drama "Airwolf" and a frequent guest star on a variety of shows.
Borgnine won an Oscar for his role as Marty in the 1955 film of the same name, and was a star of the small screen during the 1960s as the scheming Navy officer in the comedy McHale's Navy. In the 80s, he came to the attention of a new generation of TV viewers as Dominic Santini in the hit series Airwolf.
A hefty, sweet-faced man with heavy eyebrows and an exceptionally wide, gap-toothed grin, he had something of the look of a big friendly dog, or a small friendly bear, which he turned to good, ironic advantage playing bullies and villains in adult dramas — in the pre-porn sense of the word — such as "From Here to Eternity" (a breakthrough role in 1953) and "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955), in which he is thrashed by one-armed hero Spencer Tracy. But his sweetness won out over the course of his career.
Borgnine graduated from New Haven's high school in 1935 and worked a stint selling vegetables off the back of a truck before enlisting. It was while he was pondering his future as a vegetable salesman (at the same time fully aware of how lucky he was to have a job in those lean years) that Borgnine's gaze fell upon a U.S. Navy recruiting poster. Not long thereafter he was in the Navy, an experience that he still credits with making a man out of him. It also provided a fertile atmosphere for the development of his future character in television's McHale's Navy.
Ermes Efron Borgnino was born in Hamden, Connecticut, on 24 January 1917, the son of Italian immigrant parents. For five years from the age of two, he and his family lived in Milan before returning to the US. He joined the US Navy in 1935 and served on a destroyer during the war. He weighed 135 pounds (61 kilograms) when he enlisted. He left the Navy 10 years later, weighing exactly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) more.
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Had the actor come to fame before World War II, he would have been just another goon in the background. Instead, he came up at a time when audiences had tired of pretty faces and wanted something rawer, lumpier, more real. Rod Steiger starred in the original 1953 teleplay "Marty," but when it came time for the 1955 film version, director Delbert Mann cast about for a lead who really looked like he could have been a butcher from the Bronx. Borgnine played the role -- an unpretty man finding love with an unpretty woman (Betsy Blair) -- with a decency and tenderness that still disarms a modern viewer.