One of the truly great character actors of the last century has passed. According to IMDb, “Ernest Borgnine, the rugged, stocky actor with a brassy voice and the face of the local butcher, died today in Los Angeles at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of renal failure. He was 95.”
A few years ago at Outfest, I had the good fortune to meet this great actor and good man. He was attending the screening of a film in which, I believe, he played a bit part. He was a real class act, agreeing to pose for pictures with volunteers and other festival patrons. When I told him how much I enjoyed his performance in Marty (for which he won an Oscar) — and how that film has stood the test of time, moving us still today, his face lit up in a smile. “We made a good picture”, he said.
This the concluding scene from that very, very good picture.
He didn’t always play lovable butchers, playing heavies in such films as From Here to Eternity, Bad Day at Black Rock and The Wild Bunch. And although he was, in life, a nice guy, on screen he made the malice of this dark characters readily manifest.
To my father’s generation, he was one of the most ubiquitous and versatile character actors on the big screen and the lead in the TV series, McHale’s Navy for which he won an Emmy nomination. My generation got him in TV movies and mini-series. And my nieces and nephews know him primarily as Mermaidman on the long-running cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants. This first generation American (his parents were born in Italy) has indeed had a distinguished career.
Ernest Borgnine has been gainfully employed in the entertainment industry for over six decades — and leaves behind an incredible body of work, including a number of classic films. He will be missed, but his performances will endure.
FROM THE COMMENTS: “He”, observed ohiochili, “could make you believe he was a saint or a scumbag.” Yes, he could.