Ernest Borgnine’s parents emigrated from Italy to Hamden, Connecticut, where he was born on January 24, 1917. His mother took him back to Italy when he was two, but several years later they returned to Connecticut, this time New Haven, where he completed his education through high school. From high school, he went into the Navy, starting out at the bottom and coming out 10 years later as a Gunner’s Mate 1st Class. Once he had his land legs back, Borgnine enrolled in the Randall School of Dramatic Arts in Hartford. From there, he broke into the professional ranks at the famous Barter Theatre in Virginia, where he painted scenery and drove a truck in addition to acting.
When Borgnine made his Broadway debut as the hospital attendant in Harvey, his career was officially underway. He made a motion picture with the famed Louis de Rouchemont, “Whistle at Eaton Falls,” and then, still in New York, he did more than 200 live television performances including such masterworks as “G. E. Theatre” and “Philco Playhouse.”
In the film “From Here to Eternity,” Borgnine played the brutal stockade Sergeant Fatso Judson and went on to become famous around the world for his Oscar®-winning portrayal of the Bronx butcher in “Marty.” Since then, he has done dozens of films for features and television. His favorites include “The Catered Affair” with Bette Davis and the classic “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
In the 1960s, “McHale’s Navy” set a standard for broad comedy and ensemble work. Later, as Dominic Santini on “Airwolf” for three seasons, Borgnine brought a reality to his role that few actors could equal. In the 90s, he added his own brand of humor as the doorman in “The Single Guy.”
His staggering number of film roles has made Borgnine something of an icon in the motion picture community. Titles like “The Vikings,” “Torpedo Run,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “Wild Bunch,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Poseidon Adventure” give only a sample of the dozens of films he has starred in. In the animation field, Borgnine can be heard on the Nickelodeon hit, “Spongebob Squarepants.”
Borgnine launched his eighties by portraying the legendary J. Edgar Hoover in a one-man feature motion picture, “Hoover.” He followed that with appearances on “JAG,” “Early Edition,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “Touched By An Angel,” “7th Heaven,” “Family Law” and “The District.”
In 2002 he celebrated his continuing good health by mounting a horse to ride in the Western feature, “Long Ride Home.” In 2004, at 87 years young, Borgnine guest-starred in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie, “Trail to Hope Rose,” in which he drove a team of horses. For that role, he received the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. In 2005 he was featured in an Adam Sandler picture, “Strange Wilderness.” Turning 90, he starred in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie, “A Grandpa for Christmas,” for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. After that, he was in another western for the ION Channel called “Aces ‘N Eights.” His autobiography, Ernie, hit the shelves in the summer of 2008.
Most recently, Borgnine starred opposite Doris Roberts in “Another Harvest Moon,” Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren in “Red,” lent his voice to the animated film, “The Lion of Judah” and starred in another Hallmark Channel Original Movie, “The Wishing Well.”
Borgnine has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from three separate institutions. He has also been recognized for his support of the Navy Memorial Fund with the Lone Sailor Award from the Memorial Foundation, and he is an Honorary Chief Petty Officer with the Navy Chiefs. He was elected Veteran of the Year 2000 by the Veteran’s Foundation, and was honored in May 2001 for a lifetime of artistic achievement by the National Film Theater of Great Britain. In 2002, he received a lifetime achievement award from his mother’s birthplace, Carpi, Italy. As he celebrated his 90th birthday, he was honored with the California Commendation Medal for his support of the military by the Commanding Officer of the California National Guard. In honor of his Italian parentage, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Borgnine maintains contacts with old shipmates from his destroyer days. Some 20 years ago, he acquired another Naval title: Honorary Flight Leader for the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels. Borgnine has flown with the Blues, and whenever they’re in the Los Angeles area, he fetes the current pilots and sometimes an alumni pilot or two at an intimate dinner.
In spite of his busy schedule, Borgnine makes time to go fishing in Alaska, stay active in several charities and is very proud to have been honored with the 33rd Degree of the Masonic Order of the Grand Cross. Borgnine lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Tova, the record-breaking television personality selling Tova cosmetics.