Rest in peace, Ernest Borgnine, who died Sunday at age 95.
Talk about someone who made the most of a late start!
Ernest Borgnine was of the World War II generation and not only did he serve, but he served ten years! He was 34 years old by the time of his film debut in 1951's China Corsair. From there it didn't take him long to hit the big time.
He's unforgettable as bully Fatso in From Here to Eternity (1953) and was well on his way to being typecast before showing another side in Marty (1955), which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor as depicted up above.
Borgnine will be best remembered for those two films as well as his parts in classics such as Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and his four seasons starring in McHale's Navy on television.
After I heard the news on Sunday night I went digging for period articles about Ernest Borgnine's early career. Before Broadway.
While most of the articles I found only carried a brief mention the October 23, 1948 edition of The Charleston Gazette actually published a small feature (with photo!) titled "Borgnine, Now a Star, Started in Scout Play."
The Gazette is a West Virginian newspaper, notable because Borgnine got his start with Robert Porterfield's Barter Players based out of Abingdon, Virginia. I'm not familiar with the area myself, but I take it this would have been considered local news, at least to some degree.
The headline is a bit of a tease revealed in the article through a story about Borgnine performing as a clown in a Boy Scout circus back in 1934. Supposedly he got top billing and a star's dressing room and it "was enough to whet his appetite for show business."
It is reported that this is Borgnine's third year with the Barter Players and that he had previously "scored a notable success in the summer season as the Gentleman Caller" in their production of The Glass Menagerie.
The unsigned article refers to Borgnine's "diversified career in which he played everything from a spear carrier in Trojan Women to Father Time in Maeterlinek's Blue Bird."
Diversified career. I think they nailed the guy back in '48!
At the time of the Gazette article Borgnine was set to play the hero in the comedy Pursuit of Happiness.
To give a better idea of Ernest Borgnine's timeline, Louella Parsons' column appears on the same page. Her headline announced that "Ben Lyon Returns to England Soon" and she also mentions current releases The Stratton Story and Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (both 1949).
1948 may not be as far way back when as we usually discuss in this space, but it is a respectable distance to be discussing the beginnings of the career of a man we had with us until yesterday.
Turner Classic Movies, July 26 Marathon
Turner Classic Movies has announced that it will pay tribute to Ernest Borgnine with a 24-hour marathon of movies on Thursday, July 26.
The complete TCM Ernest Borgnine schedule for July 26 is as follows:
Note: All times EST
- 6 a.m. – The Catered Affair (1956) with Bette Davis and Debbie Reynolds
- 8 a.m. – The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) with Kim Novak and Peter Finch
- 10:30 a.m. – Pay or Die (1960) with Zohra Lampert and Al Austin
- 12:30 p.m. – Torpedo Run (1958) with Glenn Ford and Diane Brewster
- 2:30 p.m. – Ice Station Zebra (1968) with Rock Hudson and Patrick McGoohan
- 5:15 p.m. – The Dirty Dozen (1967) with Lee Marvin, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, George Kennedy and Telly Savalas
- 8 p.m. – Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine (2009) – hosted by Robert Osborne
- 9 p.m. – Marty (1955) with Betsy Blair and Joe Mantell
- 10:15 p.m. – From Here to Eternity (1953) with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra
- 1 a.m. – The Wild Bunch (1969) with William Holden, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson
- 3:30 a.m. – Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan and Lee Marvin
- 5:00 a.m. – Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine (2009) – hosted by Robert Osborne