8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter
Ernest Borgnine's career shows that an actor can work with everyone from Frank Sinatra to SpongeBob SquarePants (as the voice of Mermaid Man). The Italian-American native of Connecticut and World War II vet, who died July 8 at 95, got his big break in 1951 when he was cast in From Here to Eternity as the unpleasant Sgt. "Fatso" Judson who enjoyed whacking Sinatra's Angelo Maggio. Within four years, Borgnine had the lead role in 1955's Marty, which won him the best actor Oscar over Sinatra and James Dean. But starring in the early ABC sitcom McHale's Navy made Borgnine a household name, as did his well-publicized but disastrous 32-day marriage to his third wife, Broadway belter Ethel Merman. "Lovebirds were released … Everyone was enthralled. Biggest mistake of my life," wrote Borgnine of the wedding in his autobiography. He went on to have five wives total (his widow is the facial cream maker Tova) and well over 100 major credits (among them: The Wild Bunch, The Poseidon Adventure, Airwolf). His last was the indie The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez, which screened in May at the Newport Beach Film Festival. In the film, which writer-director Elia Petridis describes as "a Western that takes place in a nursing home," Borgnine plays an actor despondent over a botched audition he felt ruined his chance of a film career decades before. Petridis grew so close to the actor that Borgnine, who was ordained online as a minister, presided over the director's marriage. "He had a childish wonder to him," says Petridis, "and a blue-collar ethic. He just loved to go to work."