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cover story

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still earnest about acting WRITTEN BY Lori Myers


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cover story ) ) ) ernest borgnine

ERNEST BORGNINE’S ROBUST LAUGH ECHOES THROUGH THE STERILE HALLWAYS OF THE FORMER HARRISBURG State Hospital, where his latest movie, Another Harvest Moon, is being filmed. He’s shaking hands, chatting with the crew, greeting visitors, still in his character’s pajamas (see pictures above). He’s comfortable, relaxed, and very much at home on this movie set. The laugh, the gap-toothed smile, the “I’m-one-of-the-guys” attitude. That was Borgnine years ago, and it’s Borgnine now at the age of 91. Borgnine’s latest movie relates the story of four friends coping with life in a nursing home. The film is star-studded with the likes of Anne Meara, Doris Roberts, Richard Schiff, Piper Laurie, and Cybill Shepherd rounding out the cast. In this heartfelt drama, Borgnine’s character, Frank, a World War II veteran, is forced to come to terms with his own mortality. role,” Borgnine says in typical

actor in 1956 for the film Marty and, at

stroke,” Borgnine says. “I said to myself,

complimentary fashion. “In the story,

the age of 91, is presently the oldest

‘This is going to be interesting.’ I took the

everybody wants to help each other and

living Best Actor award winner. Other

words of the author who wrote this thing

yet we’re getting in each other’s way by

memorable films include 1953’s From

and I played that, plus the ideas I had in

being too good and doing too much. At

Here to Eternity opposite Montgomery

my mind as to how a man would play a

the end you wonder how it’s going to turn

Clift and Frank Sinatra, 1967’s The Dirty

stroke. I don’t do research. It comes from

out. These are characters who, through

Dozen, and 1969’s The Wild Bunch.

inside.”

their own associations, find themselves.

The connection between him and his

I have a feeling that this will be a good

fans has remained strong and steadfast

little film.”

during Borgnine’s more than 50 years in

“I’ve never played a fellow that had a

Borgnine describes his character as a down-to-earth guy who has feelings for the people around him, and who takes pity on one lonely woman, played by Laurie. “She does a wonderful job with her

Borgnine’s uncluttered and natural

the spotlight, and has allowed him to

acting style has served him well. He was

make smooth transitions from stage, to

the winner of the Academy Award for best

movies, to television, and back to movies.

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Photograph credit MPTV. net

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McHale’s Navy cast in 1962. Shown are (back row) Yoshio Yoda, Tim Conway, Edson Stroll, John Wright; (seated) Billy Sands, Gary Vinson, Ernest Borgnine, Carl Ballantine, Gavin MacLeod.

It’s the rare star who can accomplish a feat

taking off.’ They called me in to the Pentagon

like that in a very fickle business.

to see the Secretary of the Navy, and he told

Boomers will especially remember Borgnine

had. He said everybody wants to join McHale’s

Quinton McHale in the black-and-white

navy.”

television sitcom McHale’s Navy, which ran from 1962 to 1966. “The first thing that pops in my mind about

Borgnine, in fact, has a special personal tie with the United States Navy. He had joined the fleet in 1935 and was discharged in 1941. But

that series is that we had a great cast,”

when the world went to war, Borgnine re-

Borgnine muses. “You don’t find anybody like

enlisted and served until 1945, reaching the

Tim Conway and Joe Flynn, who passed away,

rank of Gunner’s Mate 1st Class. It was his

unfortunately, at a very early age. And Carl

mother who suggested he give acting a try.

Ballantine, who was the fellow that was always

Borgnine dove into it with his usual gusto.

after something. It was all those fellows

They called me in to the Pentagon to see the Secretary of the Navy, and he told me that I was the greatest recruiter they ever had. He said everybody wants to join McHale’s navy.

me that I was the greatest recruiter they ever

as the irrepressible Lieutenant Commander

Borgnine and his fifth wife, Tova, have been

working together that created such a wonderful

married since 1972 and live in Beverly Hills

bunch of characters.”

whenever a movie contract doesn’t whisk them

But not everyone took kindly to the show’s

away to places like Harrisburg, Pa. One of the

plot, which presented the antics of the

actor’s goals was to star in 200 movies, a

conniving and fun-loving crew of PT-73, who

landmark he just attained in October 2007

turned out to be a constant source of comedic

when he got back in the saddle filming a

exasperation for Captain Binghamton (Flynn). “Of course, we did everything in the show

western entitled Death Keeps Coming. “It’s about this girl who’s had a curse laid

that we couldn’t do in a regular navy—the

upon her, and she becomes part of the devil and

British navy especially,” Borgnine recalls.

everything else,” Borgnine explains. “I tell you

“Britain didn’t show the series for a long time,

it’s rough, because having played the devil one

if ever, because of the fact that the admiralty

time, I know. That will be my 200th film, and I

was much against us. And the Navy here in this

don’t intend to stop there.”

country was against it for a while and suddenly they said, ‘Oh, wait a minute. This thing is

When he’s in between film and television roles, Borgnine also doesn’t stop being active

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10/7/2008

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cover story

) ) ) ernest borgnine

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Above left: Borgnine applauds after a performance by the U.S. Navy Band at a special concert celebrating the 231st birthday of the U.S. Navy at DAR Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C., October 14, 2006; Above center: Borgnine’s autobiography Ernie; Above right: A Mercedes Benz Smart Car similar to the one owned by Borgnine.

and enthralled with life. His self-written

With the writing done and some down

autobiography was just released in July of

time between pictures, Borgnine, even at 91,

this year and its simple title—Ernie—speaks

doesn’t allow moss to grow under his feet.

volumes about this down-to-earth man and

“At the present time I’m driving my little

actor. In it, he muses about his life, his loves,

Smart Car,” Borgnine says. “It’s for two

and his passion for acting. It’s a virtual

people and is built by Mercedes Benz. I tool

who’s-who of show business, with Borgnine

around the town in that thing and it gives me

telling tales of Bette Davis, with whom he

about 50-55 miles to the gallon, and I’m

starred in the film A Catered Affair, and

having a ball. It was a gift from my wife.”

personal insights about such legendary

And our gift? Why, it’s the fact that

Hollywood idols like Spencer Tracy, Raquel

Borgnine continues to share his talents and,

Welch, and James Stewart.

yes, that robust laugh. ) ) )

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10/7/2008

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Still Ernest About Acting