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  • Carrie Specht

Classic Film Actor Ernest Borgnine Passes Away at Age 95


Although he was not a young man, it was a shock to many to hear of the passing of ninety-five-year old Ernest Borgnine. For some the surprise was due to the fact that the Academy Award winning actor was (to put it bluntly) even still with us. To others like myself the disbelief can be attributed to the elderly statesman of old Hollywood being so youthful and energetic that it seemed impossible he could ever die. Sadly, his time with us has ended but his work and artistry will live on through the many (we’re talking 200+) fine films to which he contributed his impressive talent.

I know I’m not alone when I say that I adore Ernest Borgnine. I’ve always been a huge fan of character actors (Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, John Carradine, etc.), particularly of the skilled thespian who has managed to eek out a sustainable career (let alone a living) through out their life time. Ernest Borgnine was one of these actors plus a whole lot more. He was that rare artist who devotedly tended his craft and ended up earning an Academy Award along the way. This honor came to him for his portrayal of the title character of Marty in 1955. And oddly enough, it was an award for Best Actor. No other character actor had ever done that. Others had been nominated (Frank Morgan, Barry Fitzgerald), but he was the only one to win. He was particularly proud of that distinction. I know, because he told me so himself.

I had the great fortune to speak with Ernest Borgnine just before he appeared on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) for a one-on-one interview with Robert Osborne scheduled to air on Borgnine’s 92nd birthday. I was still working full time as an Assistant Director on a TV show back then, so I had to arrange with my bosses to step away from my duties for the planned 15 minute phone call. Fortunately for me my bosses were also big fans of the actor. So, even though we were shooting on location that day an abandoned office was secured for my use and a landline was established. I’d say those were some pretty cool bosses.

I still remember quite vividly the conversation. Having never previously spoken with the man I was surprised to hear such a vibrant voice coming from the other end of the line. Borgnine was the epitome of the gracious movie star, and as gregarious as you hoped he would be. He was so responsive to questions, hopping from story to story, overflowing with anecdotes about every famous name you could possibly think of it was difficult to say goodbye at the end of our time together. And that’s when it slipped out that Borgnine was recovering from a broken leg. I was completely beside myself and in awe at how a man in his nineties could be so effusive and entertaining while recovering from such a debilitating injury. The answer of course was that it was Ernest Borgnine.

Months later I met Borgnine at the first TCM Classic Film Festival where I was able to obtain a quote for the book I’m working on to benefit the MPTF Retirement Community (Classic Visions). He was just as energetic as ever, greeting each and every fan with a warm smile that conveyed the joy overflowing from his heart. You could tell this man loved what he did for a living, and for his life. Of course, you probably already knew this from viewing his performances. Every performance Borgnine ever gave was from the heart, and it showed on screen. From his heartbreaking role as the lovelorn butcher in Marty, to the ex-cop Mr. Rogo in The Poseidon Adventure, to my favorite, the beleaguered taxi cab father in A Catered Affair.

With a career as diverse and far reaching as Borgnine’s there are literally hundreds of films in a multitude of genres in which the unique talent made an indelible impression. TCM will be giving you an opportunity to catch ten of these films when they remember Ernest Borgnine with a 24-Hour marathon Thursday, July 26 (link to the full schedule). I urge you to see as many as you can, but know that if you see even only one you’ll develop a sincere appreciation for the actor known as Ernest Borgnine, and want to see more.