“I wasn’t trying to set the world on fire”: Remembering Ernest Borgnine

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Ernest Borgnine in 1956 with his Oscar for "Marty"

Ernest Borgnine in 1956 with his Oscar for “Marty”

His rough mug may fool you into thinking he was a gruff individual until he smiled.

Though Ernest Borgnine could play an evil villain in films, Borgnine broke hearts playing the gentle butcher with his Academy Award winning performance in “Marty” (1955).

Borgnine wasn’t your typical movie star: slightly heavy, not handsome and gapped teeth.

“The trick is not to become somebody else. You become somebody else when you’re in front of a camera or when you’re on stage. There are some people who carry it all the time,” he said about his career. “That, to me, is not acting. What you’ve gotta do is find out what the writer wrote about and put it into your mind. This is acting. Not going out and researching what the writer has already written. This is crazy.”

His acting career started when his mother suggested acting as a possible line of work when he left the Navy after 10 years of service, according to a USA Today article.

“She said, ‘Have you ever thought of becoming an actor,” Borgnine was quoted in the article. “You always like to make a damn fool of yourself in front of people. Why don’t you give it a try?’ “

My first encounter with Borgnine was in “From Here to Eternity,” as he played the mean spirited Fatso Judson, who kills Frank Sinatras character. His performance was frightening and stuck with me.

Borgnine could be rough, like in the "Emperor of  North Poll" (1973) as he strangles Lee Marvin.

Borgnine could be rough, like in the “Emperor of North Poll” (1973) as he strangles Lee Marvin.

Over the years, the more I saw of Borgnine, the more I was impressed.

His role as Debbie Reynolds father and Bette Davis’s husband in the “The Catered Affair” is sympathetic, as he tries to pay for a wedding that is more than his family can afford.

And he could be completely adorable, like here with Jimmy Durante in 1956.

And he could be completely adorable, like here with Jimmy Durante in 1956.

But even after his heyday, Borgnine stayed involved in Hollywood with, recently going on the Turner Classic Movie Cruises, showing up at film festivals and even doing voices on “Spongebob Square Pants.”

Borgnine’s Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies was one of my favorites. He is like a regular old man you may meet in the grocery store.

“I wasn’t trying to set the world on fire; I was just trying to keep my nuts warm,” Borgnine chuckled to Osborne as he related a sign on a street vendor’s cart to his life philosophy.

After six decades of entertaining us with his gap-toothed grin, Borgnine left us on July 8.

“I was a character actor. Do I look like a good-looking man? No,” USA Today quoted him saying from a 2011 interview. “But, see, I keep working when the rest of the boys are retired.”

Ernest Borgnine in 2011 after being given his Lifetime Achievement award at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Ernest Borgnine in 2011 after being given his Lifetime Achievement award at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

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4 thoughts on ““I wasn’t trying to set the world on fire”: Remembering Ernest Borgnine

  1. Excellent post.

    He had an amazing range of characters. A raging beserko Viking to the sweetest, gentlest soul, high comedy to the darkest drama. A solid soul devoid of the tricks of reinvention.

    Thank you for honouring his memory.

    Like

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