Graduating from high school, Borgnine joined the American navy in October 1935. After six years into service, he was discharged in 1941 only to be re-commissioned in January 1942, following Pearl Harbour attack. Finally, in 1945 he was released off his duty.
After serving in Navy, Borgnine returned to his parents’ house. Jobless and clueless about his future, he took up work at a local factory. However, this did not last long. It was on the insistence of his mother that Borgnine considered a career in stage seriously.
Borgnine enrolled himself at an acting institute. Graduating from there, he worked as an intern at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. Borgnine’s first ever stage performance was in the State of the Union. Though he had a short role, his artistic talent and skills won him a lot of applause.
Following his stage debut, Borgnine received a number of roles. He essayed the role of a Gentleman Caller in Tenessee William’s ‘The Glass Menagerie’.
In 1949, he made his Broadway debut with the play ‘Harvey’ in the role of a nurse. In the decades that followed, he left an indelible impression on stage as a character actor. He acted in various plays, staging different roles and characters.
The year 1951 marked the beginning of a new era in his career. From being a stage actor, he moved on to television and subsequently films. He made his debut on television in a negative role on ‘Captain Video’. His stunning performance won him a role in the flick, ‘The Whistle at Eaton Falls’ which marked his debut in films.
Following his television and film debut, he moved to Los Angeles. His brilliance in acting won him several roles in television series, the most prominent being Quinton McHale in the 1962-66 television series ‘McHale's Navy’, Dominic Santini in ‘Airwolf’, Manny Cordoba in ‘The Single Guy’ and narrator in ‘Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders’.
In 1953, he starred in the film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ as Sergeant ‘Fatso’ Judson. The film marked his breakthrough in cinema. Following this, he starred in negative roles in a number of films such as ‘Johnny Guitar’, ‘Vera Cruz’ and ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’.
In 1955, he saw a new height in his career with the film ‘Marty’. The film, based on the television play with the same name, had him in the role of a warm-hearted butcher. His brilliant portrayal won him an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Actor.
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His film career went to new heights for the next three decades. He portrayed various characters in films such as ‘The Flight of the Phoenix’, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, ‘Ice Station Zebra’, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’and so on.
In 1999, he gave his voice for animated sitcom, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’. In the new millennium, audience saw him play Godfather Mariano in ‘The Kiss of Debt’. He starred in two other films including ‘Castle Rock’ and ‘Hoover’.
A bevvy of films followed from 2000 to 2012. Though his acting was lauded and appraised in all, the 2007 film, ‘A Grandpa for Christmas’ can be tagged as his best film of the decade. He was nominated for Golden Globe Best Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television for portrayal of the character of Bert O’Riley. With this, he became the oldest Golden Globe nominee ever.
In 2008, he published his long-awaited autobiography ‘Ernie’. Published by Citadel Press, the book is a recollection of his life, highlighting the lows and highs of his career and personal life.
In 2009, at 92, he received his third Emmy award nomination for his guest appearance in the long-running medical series ‘ER’. His outstanding performance was lauded by all.
In 2010, he made his last appearance on television as himself in a sketch on Saturday Night Live. In 2012, he came up with his final film starring as Rex Page in the film ‘The Man Who Shook The Hand of Vicente Fernandez’.
In more than six decades of film and television career, he gave several stellar performances. However, his best came in the American romantic drama, ‘Marty’ in 1953. The film had him play the titular role of an Italian American butcher who is constantly harassed by family and friends for his bachelorhood. His performance won him an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe Award.
He won his second Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a mini-series five decades after his first nomination for the 2007 film, ‘A Grandpa for Christmas’. In the film he played Grandpa Bert to his 10 year old niece Becca whom he meets after Becca’s mom is hospitalized following a tragic car accident.
Awards & Achievements
In 1997, he was honoured with the Lone Sailor Award and in 2007 received the California Commendation Medal.
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He was twice nominated for Golden Globe Awards, wining it once for his Oscar-winning performance in ‘Marty’. He even won a BAFTA for the same.
Borgnine was nominated for Emmy Awards four times in various categories.
In 2009, he won the Lifetime Achievement award in Rhode Island International Film Festival.
In 2011, he won Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement award.
Other than films and television, Borgnine received his 50-year pin as a Freemason in Abingdon Lodge No. 48, Abingdon, Virginia.
In 1991, he received the Grand Cross of the Court of Honour.
Personal Life & Legacy
Borgnine married five times in his lifetime. His first wife, Rhoda Kemis bore him a daughter before separating in 1958.
He then married Katy Jurado who remained his legal wife from 1958 until 1963. His marriage to his third wife Ethel Merman lasted for merely 32 days.
He then married Donna Rancourt who bore him a son and two daughters. After seven years, the two divorced and Borgnine married TovaTraesnaes who remained with him until his death.
He breathed his last on July 8, 2012 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California due to kidney failure. He was 95 at the time of his death.