Ernest Borgnine, who died Sunday at the age of 95, led a pretty remarkable life. He won an Academy Award in 1956, a year in which his fellow best actor nominees were James Cagney, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy. He was married to Ethel Merman, his third of five wives, for about a month, less time than it took for Kim Kardashian to separate from Kris Humphries. Even more impressive, he remained happily wedded to his fifth wife, Tova Borgnine — the widow he sadly now leaves behind — for nearly 40 years.
But what ultimately may be the most awe-inspiring thing about Ernest Borgnine is how prolific he was. He remained an active, steadily working actor well into his 90s; his capacity to pop up randomly in various movies and TV shows became one of his trademarks. It was simultaneously a pleasant surprise and no surprise at all to see him in contemporary films like “Red” or voicing the Mermaidman in “Spongebob Squarepants.” He was Borgnine, and Borgnine did nothing better than happily show up for work long after less hearty actors had retired.
Most of Borgnine’s obituaries mentioned the big roles for which he was best known, like “From Here to Eternity,” the aforementioned “Marty,” McHale’s Navy” and, yes, “Spongebob.” But with roughly 200 credits on his resume, most tributes to him barely scratched the surface. So here’s a salute to eight of his smaller roles, which, again, barely scratches the surface. Got a favorite Borgnine moment? Please, share it in the comments.
Borgnine in “Willard”
In this 1971 precursor to “Ben,” he gamely attempted to beat the heck out of some rats with a chair after the skeevy suckers ruined what otherwise seemed like a lovely dinner party. Of course, Borgnine’s character deserved it for being Willard’s lousy boss, but still ... gross.
Borgnine on “The Love Boat.”
He serenaded his “Poseidon Adventure” co-star Shelley Winters, then whisked her away on a Venetian gondola. This is back when TV shows understood romance, people.
Borgnine on “Magnum, P.I.”
A YouTube commenter wonders if the scene below explains all the “Magnum, P.I.” references on the TV show “My Name is Earl.” If so, it only deepens the Borgnine legacy.
Borgnine in “Escape from New York”
As chauffeur to Kurt Russell’s Snake, he played a cabbie named, appropriately, Cabbie.
Borgnine in “Real Men Don’t Eat Gummy Bears”
I have never seen this 1989 movie, in which Borgnine apparently stars as a bishop in a story that, based on this synopsis., involved a lot of hilarious misunderstandings. But its title demonstrates that Borgnine would not be frightened away by even the most ridiculous-sounding projects. (Also, for the record, John Hillerman of “Magnum, P.I.” fame was in it, which adds additional credence to the “My Name is Earl”/“Magnum”/Borgnine conspiracy theory (see above).)
Borgnine on “Early Edition”
Yes, Borgnine once shared a screen with Coach Eric Taylor, Kyle Chandler, back when he was playing Gary Hobson, a man who mysteriously received an advance copy of the next day’s newspaper and used that information to prevent horrible events from happening. No, this TV show didn’t air in the 1950s; it ended its run — quaintly enough — in 2000. Anyway, you can see Borgnine in the clip below at around the 19-minute mark, while you can view Chandler making adorable facial expressions at pretty much any moment in this video.
Borgnine on “The Simpsons”
In the classic episode, “Boy-Scoutz N the Hood,” Borgnine played himself as a celebrity dad leading the Junior Campers on a dangerous expedition. Sadly, no clip exists online, a fact that distresses both me and this Forbes writer. I can, however, treat you to this fantastic musical number from the same episode, even though Borgnine isn’t in it. Sorry, it’s the best I can do. (Thanks for nothing, Internet!)
Borgnine in “Red”
In a film about old folks who demonstrate they still have what it takes, it was only appropriate that Borgnine, then 93, would play the guy who controls the documents that explain everything.