Oscar-winning film actor Ernest Borgnine dies aged 95

 

Oscar-winning film star Ernest Borgnine has died at the age of 95.

The beefy actor was known for blustery, often villainous roles, yet won the best actor Oscar for playing against type as a lovesick butcher in Marty in 1955.

His long-time spokesman Harry Flynn said Borgnine died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles yesterday with his family by his side.

Television fans loved Borgnine as the scheming officer in the TV comedy McHale's Navy.

He was also known as the heavy who beats up Frank Sinatra in From Here To Eternity and one of the thugs who menaces Spencer Tracy in Bad Day At Black Rock.

Then came Marty, a low-budget film based on a Paddy Chayefsky television play that starred Rod Steiger. Borgnine played a 34-year-old butcher who fears he is so unattractive he will never find romance. Then, at a dance, he meets a girl with the same fear.

The realism of Chayefsky's prose and Delbert Mann's sensitive direction astonished audiences accustomed to happy Hollywood formulas. Borgnine won the Oscar and awards from the Cannes Film Festival, New York Critics and National Board of Review.

Mann and Chayefsky also won Oscars and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hailed the 360,000-dollar Marty as best picture over big-budget contenders The Rose Tattoo, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, Picnic and Mister Roberts.

The Oscar made me a star and I'm grateful," Borgnine said in 1966. "But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldn't have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life."

Those "messes" included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman that lasted less than six weeks.

But Borgnine's fifth marriage, in 1973 to Norwegian-born Tova Traesnaes, endured and brought with it an interesting business partnership. She manufactured and sold her own beauty products under the name of Tova and used her husband's rejuvenated face in her ads.

Although still not a marquee star until after Marty, the roles of heavies started coming regularly after From Here To Eternity. The films included Johnny Guitar, Demetrius And The Gladiators and Vera Cruz.

Director Nick Ray advised the actor: "Get out of Hollywood in two years or you'll be typed forever." Then came the Oscar, and Borgnine's career was assured.

He played a sensitive role opposite Bette Davis in another film based on a Chayefsky TV drama, The Catered Affair, a film that was a personal favourite. It concerned a New York taxi driver and his wife who argued over the expense of their daughter's wedding.

But producers also continued casting Borgnine in action films such as Three Bad Men, The Vikings, Torpedo Run, Barabbas, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch.

Then he successfully made the transition to TV comedy.

From 1962 to 1966, Borgnine - a navy veteran himself - starred in McHale's Navy as the commander of a Second World War patrol boat with a crew of misfits and malcontents.

The cast took the show to the big screen in 1964 with a McHale's Navy movie.

Borgnine's later films included Ice Station Zebra, The Adventurers, Willard, The Poseidon Adventure, The Greatest (as Muhammad Ali's manager), Convoy, Ravagers, Escape From New York, Moving Target and Mistress.

More recently, Borgnine had a recurring role as the apartment house doorman-cum-chef in the NBC TV comedy The Single Guy. He had a small role in the unsuccessful 1997 movie version of McHale's Navy and was the voice of Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants and Carface on All Dogs Go To Heaven 2.

Ermes Efron Borgnino was born in Hamden, Connecticut, on January 24, 1917, the son of Italian immigrant parents. The family lived in Milan from two until seven, then returned to Connecticut, where he attended school in New Haven.

He joined the US Navy in 1935 and served on a destroyer during the war.

For a time he contemplated a job with an air conditioning company, but his mother persuaded him to enrol at the Randall School of Dramatic Arts in Hartford. He stayed four months, the only formal training he received.

His first marriage was to Rhoda Kenins, whom he met when she was a navy pharmacist's mate and he was a patient. They had a daughter, but the marriage ended in divorce after his Marty stardom.

Borgnine married Mexican actress Katy Jurado in 1959 and their marriage resulted in headlined squabbles from Hollywood to Rome before it ended in 1964.

In 1963 he and Merman startled the showbusiness world by announcing, after a month's acquaintance, that they would marry when his divorce from Jurado became final. The Broadway musical star and the movie tough guy seemed to have nothing in common, and their marriage ended in 38 days after a fierce battle.

"If you blinked, you missed it," Merman once cracked.

Next came one-time child actress Donna Rancourt, with whom Borgnine had a daughter, and finally his happy union with Tova.

During an interview a few years ago Borgnine complained that he wanted to continue acting but most studio executives kept asking: "Is he still alive?"

"I just want to do more work," he said. "Every time I step in front of a camera I feel young again. I really do. It keeps your mind active and it keeps you going."

AP

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