Remembering Ernie Borgnine

(in honor of the passing of actor Ernest Borgnine the other day at age 95, here is a piece I wrote about him on October 14, 2010)

The Importance of Being Ernest

The eyebrows have long ago gone gray but are still as bushy as the Serengeti. The nose is bulbous, the smile as gap-toothed as ever. The voice still sounds like it's coming out of a cement mixer.

Ernie Borgnine was never an attractive man, unless you're one of those who like creatures that are so ugly that they're cute, like a koala bear.

Yet here Borgnine is, 93 and still we see his mug on the big screen.

Borgnine is one of those actors who was always old. "McHale's Navy" debuted almost 50 years ago and Ernie looked old then.

It's been 55 years since Borgnine made his mark in the film "Marty," in which he played the title character, a warm-hearted butcher who was also a shameless mama's boy. The film was an adaptation of the great teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and earned Borgnine the Academy Award for Best Actor---beating out the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Cagney and Spencer Tracy, no less.

From then, Borgnine made a living in film playing rough-and-tumble characters in movies like "The Dirty Dozen," "Ice Station Zebra," "The Flight of the Phoenix," and "The Vikings."

Never more rough-and-tumble was he than in Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" in 1969, where he famously played Dutch, one of the bunch.

Kids of my generation were likely introduced to Borgnine by watching "McHale's Navy," a TV comedy (1962-66) that featured an all-star ensemble cast, with Borgnine playing gruff Lt. Commander Quinton McHale. The role earned Borgnine an Emmy nomination.

Fun fact: "McHale's Navy" started as a one-hour serious episode called "Seven Against the Sea" for the "Alcoa Premiere."

Borgnine also played legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in a TV movie, and Ernie was likely the only actor available who didn't require makeup artists to recreate Lombardi's gapped front teeth.

Borgnine was also married VERY briefly---we're talking about one month---to singer Ethel Merman, which I didn't know until I looked it up.

Why all the love for Ernie Borgnine today? Two reasons.

Number one, Borgnine is in the new film "RED," starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and the still stunning Helen Mirren. The movie opens on October 15.

Second, the Screen Actors Guild announced in August that it will be honoring Ernie on January 30, 2011 during the Academy Awards Show with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

I'd say he's due. After all, as recently as 2009 Borgnine was still earning award nominations; he was recognized for a guest appearance on "ER" with an Emmy nomination. He was 92.

Borgnine is still feisty. Tired of being asked about the key to his longevity, Borgnine said during a TV interview recently that he stays young by masturbating twice daily. You heard me.

"I answered that question one time on Fox News," Borgnine told WENN. "This fella kept bothering me all morning: 'What do you do to keep yourself so worked up?' Finally, I got sick and got tired and I forgot that I was miked. I reached over and replied, 'I masturbate a lot!'

"I'll tell ya, everybody dropped on the floor. They couldn't believe it: 'At 93, what the hell?' Listen, hey who cares?"

But seriously, folks, Borgnine does have a secret, sort of, for still doing it seven years shy of 100.

"I keep active but I'm the laziest man in the world," he says. "If I don't have to move I don't move. I also gave up meat about 35 years ago."

Ernie Borgnine, a national treasure who'll finally get his props in January.

I know I'll be watching.


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