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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

TCM’s "Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine" Premieres Monday 1/26

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Ernest Borgnine (or Ernie, as he prefers to be called). It was a conversation full of laughter and plenty of vim and vigor. All from a 91-year-old man laid up recovering from leg surgery! We talked about his career, his long awaited self-titled autobiography and the upcoming airing of his TCM interview with Robert Osborne.

Ernest Borgnine is a rare and unusual actor. He is somewhat of a bull in the china store when compared to the likes of, say a Laurence Olivier or Cary Grant. Suave, sophisticated, and debonair – Borgnine is not (“Bad Day At Black Rock, “The Vikings”). Nor did he ever strive to be. It just wasn’t in his nature. According to the man himself, he holds a lot of respect for such actors, but “wouldn’t switch (careers) with anyone. Greg Peck comes to mind or Brando, but who else could do those rolls?”

The same can be said of Borgnine. After all, who wouldn’t envy the breadth of his career? Although early on it seemed difficult for the naturally good natured man from Connecticut to shake the image of the disturbingly sadistic Fatso character he portrayed in “From Here to Eternity”, Borgnine established his ability to go beyond typecasting in “Marty”, his Oscar winning performance as the gentle butcher who feels he’s too ugly to deserve love. Ever the quintessential character actor, Borgnine continued to swing the pendulum of character type throughout his career, mastering the nuances of a beleaguered cabby in the quiet drama “The Catered Affair”, as well as personifying the desperate qualities of the rough hombre in one of Sam Pekinpaw’s bloodiest Westerns, “The Wild Bunch”.

After more than fifty years in the thespian trade, there’s not much Borgnine hasn’t done in the field of entertainment with the exception of vaudeville (for which Borgnine was glad to have missed). He believes it is more than just dumb luck that has guided his enduring career; it’s more about, “what you put in, you get back”. And there aren’t many actors he hasn’t worked with over the years, although he, “would have liked to work with Orson Welles and Peter O’Toole”. But he did confess that he, “never enjoyed working with someone as much as Bob Mitchum”. He was, “Very aggravated and annoyed that the Academy didn’t respond to a request for a lifetime achievement award to Robert Mitchum”. It was a great personal disappointment that his good friend was not honored before his death.

As for his autobiography titled, “Ernie”, Borgnine says he was just “lazy till now for writing”. He always questioned, “Who would want to read about it”. Finally, a publicity man bullied him into doing it, and the decision proved to be a very fulfilling experience, resulting in a very enjoyable book. It’s an exceptionally easy read that carries the friendly tone of talking with one’s grandfather. A nicer Hollywood memoir has yet to be written. For who but Borgnine could have lived such a varied yet normal life amongst the rogues and ruffians of show business.

As for the man himself, well, Borgnine is just as he seems: a basic tradesman who has dedicated his life to his profession. This still vital and active living legend recently completed his 200th movie and, in his own words, “has no intentions of retiring”. As Borgnine puts it, he “feels he still has so much to give. Work is the most precious thing – keeps me getting out and going.” If indeed that is the case, then Ernest Borgnine’s busy schedule combined with the high demand for his talents will keep this workingman’s actor going for a long time to come.

Ernest Borgnine, one of the most prolific talents in the history of movies, will celebrate his 92nd birthday on Jan. 24. Two days later (Monday, Jan. 26), Turner Classic Movies will premiere the all-new special “Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine”, featuring an in-depth conversation hosted by Robert Osborne. He freely discusses everything from his more than five decades in front of the camera to his unbelievably short marriage to Ethel Merman. The original production will be followed by such Oscar-winning Borgnine classics as “Marty” and “From Here to Eternity”. The following is the complete schedule for TCM’s Monday, Jan. 26 tribute to Ernest Borgnine (all times EST):

8 p.m. PRIVATE SCREENINGS: ERNEST BORGNINE (2008) premiere, 9 p.m. “Marty” (1955) starring Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell and Joe De Santis, 11 p.m. PRIVATE SCREENINGS: ERNEST BORGNINE (2008) encore screening, Midnight “The Last Command” (1955) starring Sterling Hayden and Anna Maria Alberghetti, 2:45 a.m. “From Here to Eternity” (1953) starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed, 5 a.m. “Torpedo Run” (1958) starring Glenn Ford, Diane Brewster and Dean Jones.

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