Sunday, July 08, 2012

Ernest Borgnine 1917 - 2012

Ernest Borgnine, the larger-than-life actor with the affable gap-toothed grin and known for often villainous roles, has died. He was 95.

He had so many memorable castings, both dramatic and comedic, that it's hard to know where to start. He was Fatso Judson, the sergeant who beat up Frank Sinatra's Maggio in From Here to Eternity. He was Marty the bachelor, still living at home; the role for which he won the Academy.

Borgnine played a 34-year-old butcher who fears he is so unattractive he will never find romance. Then, at a dance, he meets a girl with the same fear.

"Sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts," Marty movingly tells his mother at one point in the film. "And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it. I chased after enough girls in my life. I-I went to enough dances. I got hurt enough. I don't wanna get hurt no more."

It doesn't get much more self-effacing than that.

There was The Dirty Dozen, Mister Roberts, Bad Day at Black Rock, Willard, Ice Station Zebra, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Wild Bunch. There was also McHale's Navy, and -- later -- Spongebob Squarepants and The Single Guy. There were dozens of cameos in television shows over the decades, from The Love Boat to Walker,Texas Ranger to Touched by an Angel.

For me his most memorable role was that of the sadistic Depression-era freight train conductor in Emperor of the North.

At the time I saw it -- 1973 -- I was 14 years old and had no concept that a person could be so cruel. My mom took pains to explain that train conductors did not act like that then; that they in fact were kind toward the disadvantaged.

Borgnine, to my own delight, identified the film as one of his favorites in this tribute.

Borgnine's biggest kick, however, was going out and meeting people - even making a documentary about himself driving around the country in a big bus: "See, this is what it's all about - living!"

Ernest Borgnine knew what it was all about.


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