The star of TV shows like the 80's classic Airwolf and the TV comedy classic of the 60's McHale's Navy, Ernest Borgnine has passed away at age 95.
His career spanned more than six decades. He was an unconventional lead in many films of the 1950s, winning an Oscar in 1955 for Marty. On television, he played Quinton McHale in the 1962–1966 series McHale's Navy and co-starred in the mid-1980s action series Airwolf, in addition to a wide variety of other roles. He even guest starred on Magnum P.I. Borgnine was also known for his role as Mermaid Man in the animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants. Borgnine earned an Emmy Award nomination at age 92 for his work on the series ER.
In real life Borgnine did serve in the Navy during World War II just like his famous character McHale.
Borgnine joined the United States Navy in 1935, after graduation from James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut. He was discharged in 1941, re-enlisted when the United States entered World War II, and served until 1945 for a total of ten years.
Borgnine received the honorary rating of chief petty officer in October 2004 from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott for Borgnine's support of the Navy and naval families worldwide.
After the war was over, since he was not willing to settle for a dead-end factory job, his mother encouraged him to pursue a more glamorous profession and suggested that his personality would be well suited for the stage. He surprised his mother by taking the suggestion to heart, although his father was far from enthusiastic. In 2011, Borgnine remembered,
She said, `You always like getting in front of people and making a fool of yourself, why don't you give it a try?' I was sitting at the kitchen table and I saw this light. No kidding. It sounds crazy. And 10 years later, I had Grace Kelly handing me an Academy Award.
In 1951, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he eventually received his big break in From Here to Eternity (1953), playing the sadistic Sergeant "Fatso" Judson.
Borgnine built a reputation as a dependable character actor and appeared in early film roles as villains, including movies like Johnny Guitar, Vera Cruz and Bad Day at Black Rock. But in 1955, the actor starred as a warm-hearted butcher in Marty, the film version of the television play of the same name, which gained him an Academy Award for Best Actor over Frank Sinatra, James Dean (who had died by the time of the ceremony), and former best actor winners Spencer Tracy and James Cagney.
Borgnine's film career continued successfully through the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s, including Emperor of the North, The Vikings, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, The Poseidon Adventure, The Black Hole and Escape from New York. One of his most famous roles became that of Dutch, a member of The Wild Bunch in the 1969 Western classic from director Sam Peckinpah.
Of his role in The Wild Bunch, he later said, "I did [think it was a moral film]. Because to me, every picture should have some kind of a moral to it. I feel that when we used to watch old pictures, as we still do I'm sure, the bad guys always got it in the end and the good guys always won out. Today it's a little different. Today it seems that the bad guys are getting the good end of it. There was always a moral in our story."
Borgnine made his TV debut as a character actor in Captain Video and His Video Rangers, beginning in 1951. These two episodes led to countless other television roles that Borgnine would gain in Goodyear Television Playhouse, Short Short Dramas, The Ford Television Theatre, Waterfront, The Lone Wolf, Fireside Theatre, The O. Henry Playhouse, Frontier Justice, Laramie, The Blue Angels, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Run for Your Life, Little House on the Prairie's two-part episode - "The Lord is My Shepherd", The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., Highway to Heaven with old friend Michael Landon, Murder, She Wrote, Walker, Texas Ranger, Touched by an Angel and the final episodes of ER, among many others.
In 2009, at the age of 92, Borgnine earned an Emmy nomination for his performances in the final two episodes of the long-running NBC medical series ER.
In 1962, Borgnine joined the ranks of other sitcom stars such as John Forsythe, Andy Griffith, Danny Thomas, Alan Young, Robert Young, Fred MacMurray and Buddy Ebsen. That same year he signed a contract with Universal Studios for the lead role as the gruff but lovable skipper Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale in what began as a serious one-hour 1962 episode called Seven Against the Sea for Alcoa Premiere, and later reworked to a comedy called McHale's Navy, a World War II sitcom. The insubordinate crew of PT-73 helped the show become an overnight success during its first season, landing in the Top 30 in 1963.
Just like the McHale character, Borgnine was a longtime navy man in real life. He thrived on the adulation from fans for their favorite navy man, and in 1963 received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. At the end of the fourth season, in 1966 low ratings and repetitive story lines brought McHale's Navy to an end. Borgnine was not happy about the show's cancellation and was concerned about what television role he might play in the future. He also starred in the 1964 film version of the series and later appeared in a cameo performance in the 1997 remake.
Borgnine returned to a new contract with Universal Studios in 1983, for a co-starring role opposite Jan-Michael Vincent, on Airwolf. After he was approached by producer Donald P. Bellisario, who had been impressed by Borgnine's guest role as a wrestler in a 1982 episode of Magnum, P.I., he immediately agreed. He played Dominic Santini, a helicopter pilot, in the series which became an immediate hit. The show was cancelled by CBS in 1986.