Tag Archives: Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine: A Fond Remembrance

 By Stacy Jenel Smith

Ernest Borgnine in The Hallmark Channel’s “Love’s Christmas Journey”

Ernest Borgnine will be remembered for his Oscar-winning performance in “Marty,” his popular TV series “McHale’s Navy” and his work in “From Here to Eternity,” “The Wild Bunch” and dozens of other films — but I’ll remember him best in his latter day role as the Great Old Guy.  He loved to tell his stories and show off his vigorous enthusiasm for life even in its waning years, and it was a gift to take in that energy whenever the chance came along.

The 95-year-old charmer was still working — and quite capable of working a room — pretty much to the end.  I asked him, just before his last birthday in January, what was the secret to his robust longevity. 

 “My secret is: keep laughing.  That’s the idea,” Borgnine replied, in one of his big jovial declarations.  “If you can keep laughing and keep smiling, one way or another, by golly, you’re bound to find other people around you laughing, too.”

He went on, “I’ve had my times when I just felt terrible, just awful, you know?   But hey, there’s always something that comes along that makes you feel good.  That’s what matters, really — it’s how you approach life.  You can be like the people who go around with a cloud over their heads for the rest of your days and it’s terrible.  Or you can wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, man!  I’m alive and God has had a good look at me and blessed me.'”

Among his recent work was his portrayal of a man whose wife was dying in the final episode of “ER.”  He played it with such honest simplicity, it was a four hankie job, for sure.

“It was hard in the sense that it never happened to me and to make it look like it was real, I had to really dig into my heart and my head,” said Borgnine, who is survived by his wife of 39 years, Tova.  Their marriage was his fifth, and he made it clear that with this one, he’d gotten it right.  “We thank our lucky stars, because after all this time and everything that’s happened, we love each other all the more every day,” he said in ’09. 

Borgnine won an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor on a Series that year — while returning “ER” stars George Clooney, Eriq LaSalle and Noah Wyle did not.  When I pointed that out to him, he smiled and said with a twinkle, “I know.  I shouldn’t gloat, believe me.”  (Michael J. Fox won that year.)

Later, when Borgnine made his notorious remarks against the gay love story in “Brokeback Mountain,” I was among the many who cringed as if it had been our own elderly relative who’d said it.  He’s not a mean guy, we wanted to say.  He’s from another time…  We wished he hadn’t’a.  But he had.

Borgnine said that of all his many movie production memories, none surpassed his experience in making the 1977 miniseries, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  He played the Roman Centurian in the production that starred Robert Powell — and recalled that while they were shooting the crucifixion sequence, at one point he was required to look at a dot positioned for correct eye line as if he were viewing Jesus on the cross, and then he would react. 

He asked director Franco Zeffirelli if someone could read the line, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” so that he could get into the moment for his performance.  Then, he said, “They turned the camera and I looked up at the dot…but suddenly I saw the head of Jesus Christ, and it fell to one side as he died.  I started crying like a baby.  When they finished shooting, I looked around and everybody was crying.'”

However, he added with a slight laugh, “Zeffirelli said, ‘Ernesto, that was very good.  Can you try one without so many tears?’

“That’s been written about in books,” added Borgnine, who came out with his autobiography in 2008.  “It’s the one thing I carry with me the rest of my life.'”

In the last couple of years, Borgnine took on a number of smaller roles in fare such as The Hallmark Channel’s “Love’s Christmas Journey.”  And then there was his final starring vehicle — writer-director Elia Petridis’ indie film, “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez.”  The dramedy, which has been seen by festival audiences, has him as an old man bitterly disappointed that he never became famous — who suddenly finds himself the center of attention among the Latino workers in his nursing home when they learn of an incident in his past. 

“I doubted very much if I could pull off something like this,” he admitted.  “Carrying a picture is a whole lot different than just being in a picture.  You have to think ahead to where things are going at all times.  But this young man was so enthusiastic and confident, it made me feel confident.  He said, ‘No one else in the world can do this.  You’re brilliant.’   He was just a dream to work with.  I learned so much.  I can’t say enough,” he said of Petridis. 

Borgnine got an extra job while in the midst of shooting – performing the marriage ceremony for Petridis and his fiancee. “The state of Washington allows this kind of ceremony, so, so help me Hanna, that’s what happened.  It was wonderful,” he said.

He confessed he loved it when crew people on his movies asked questions about the old days in Hollywood.  He would regale them with tales of the times when the studios cranked out Westerns by the dozen.  

“We need those Westerns again.  Doggone it, I miss that so much.  I used to have so much fun making Westerns,” he told me. 

“I’ll never forget the time when we had visitors from France and England out on one of those sets, standing behind the camera, ready to watch me do a scene where I get on a horse.  I came out and said, ‘Okay, where’s the ladder?’  Ha, ha.” 

As a put-on, prop people brought out a ladder, much to the surprise of the onlookers, and Borgnine climbed up saying, “John Wayne uses one of these.  Didn’t you know?  Well, I’m not going to let out any trade secrets.”                             

With that, Borgnine burst into one of those big laughs of his that made you want to join in. 

Hey man!  You were alive, and God blessed us all.

Ernest Borgnine Too Busy Working to Figure Out 95th Birthday Plans

Ernest Borgnine Hallmark Channel photo

Ernest Borgnine just wapped his starring role in the feature “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez” and he has a four-hour television movie event coming up Saturday night (11/5) with the Hallmark Channel’s “Love’s Christmas Journey.”  Not bad for 94 years old. 

 “I feel great.  I’m going to be 95 in January,” he lets us know. As for special birthday plans?  “The family hasn’t figured it out yet.  All I know is, it’s probably going to cost me money,” quips the Oscar winner, laughing.   

Borgnine had to mine his talent for writer-director Elia Petridis “Vicente Fernandez” dramedy, which has him as an old man bitterly disappointed that he never became famous — who suddenly finds himself the center of attention among the Latino workers in his nursing home when they learn of an incident in his past.  “I doubted very much if I could pull off something like this,” he admits.  “Carrying a picture is a whole lot different than just being in a picture.  You have to think ahead to where things are going at all times.  But this young man was so enthusiastic and confident, it made me feel confident.  He said, ‘No one else in the world can do this.  You’re brilliant.’  He was just a dream to work with.  I learned so much.  I can’t say enough,” he says of Petridis. 

Meanwhile, there’s “Love’s Christmas Journey,” the latest in the Hallmark Channel’s enormously popular “Love Comes Softly” movie series of 1800’s prairie family romance tales.  With JoBeth Williams, Charles Shaughnessy and Sean Astin also in the cast, the story has Borgnine as a mystery man named Nicholas who gets the town talking.  “I had a ball with it.  It turned out to be just fun.  When they said, ‘There’s going to be four hours,’ I said, ‘Are you going to show it all at once?’  They said, ‘All at once.’  So you’d better get a lot of popcorn and settle in.” 

Borgnine is also fronting a Turner Classic Movies cruise coming up Dec. 2 — and he’s hoping “Vicente Fernandez” will be ready to show.  Where does he get all his energy?  What’s his secret at almost 95?

“My secret is: keep laughing.  That’s the idea,” Borgnine replies.  “If you can keep laughing and keep smiling, one way or another, by golly, you’re bound to find other people around you laughing, too.  I’ve had my times when I just felt terrible, just awful, you know?   But hey, there’s always something that comes along that makes you feel good.  That’s what matters, really — it’s how you approach life.  You can be like the people who go around with a cloud over their heads for the rest of your days and it’s terrible.  Or you can wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, man!  I’m alive and God has had a good look at me and blessed me.'”

 

Injured Scott Hamilton Confers With Surgeons

Scott Hamilton

Scott Hamilton is conferring with surgeons “to get as many opinions as possible” before he decides what course to take with his latest physical challenge.

“In December I took a fall and tore up my shoulder so I have to have surgery. I’ve never had that happen before,” says the beloved Olympic Gold Medal-winning skating great. Having completed his latest turn as rinkside commentator for NBC last month, he reports, “With my responsibilities with the Olympics, January and February were almost gone so today was the first day I was back on the ice and my shoulder was really limiting me. I’m hoping to get it repaired this month. I can’t sleep so it’s time to get it fixed.”

If anyone can make that happen, it’s Scott, a survivor of testicular cancer and a brain tumor. He talked to this column last year about his amazing journey from pot-bellied and unhealthy shape back to performance-ready form after five years away from the ice – thanks to grueling hard work. The public will get a chance to see some of that journey tonight (3/8) on the Bio Channel’s two-hour special, “Scott Hamilton: Return to the Ice.”

“I figured if I’m going to put myself through this much agony, I might as well document it,” says the 51-year-old Hamilton with a laugh. “I never anticipated going back to skating ever, but I was letting myself fail physically. I wasn’t pushing myself to be as healthy as I could be. The first six months back were frustrating because I didn’t have anything. I was trying to get my body to get to the point where I could try stuff,” he explains, “but there were elements that were a part of this process that weren’t ever in my skating career before – fear and uncertainty. I’d go to do something and I’d almost start laughing because I couldn’t figure out how to make my body do it.”

Finally Hamilton was back to skating an hour a day and he performed for the first time at his 10th annual cancer-fundraising show “An Evening With Scott Hamilton and Friends.” Now his shoulder injury has him sidelined once again for a few months.

Jason Dolley

A LITTLE OLDER, NOT EXACTLY WISER:  

Disney Channel heartthrob Jason Dolley, 18, takes a step toward maturity with the April 4-debuting “Good Luck Charlie” – about a household in which the teenagers take care of their baby sister while the parents are away at their respective jobs.

“They’re sort of going for a ‘Full House’ kind of feeling with this show,” says Dolley, “something families can watch together. It definitely resembles a classic family sitcom. We get to have, like, family dynamic stuff that goes on. The things that come up on the show are real-life conflicts. I think it’s a balance of things that kids will like and adults will like. It’s awesome.”

Dolley, who played the mop-haired Newt Livingston on the Channel’s very broad, very kid-oriented “Corey in the House” – and goofed around in a chicken suit in its “Hatching Pete” movie last year – admits he was anxious to get back in the game. “’Corey in the House’ ended kind of abruptly and I was kind of disappointed that it was over. Working at the Disney Channel was so awesome, I was like, ‘I want to get in there and do more of that.’ Then this script came to me and it’s a more grown-up character and a more authentic show and I thought, ‘Wow, this is the best of both worlds.’”

But his new character isn’t exactly a model of responsible near-adulthood.

“P.J. is the oldest brother in the household. His heart’s in the right place, but I guess it’s like his little brother puts it: ‘He’s not very “thinky.”’ P.J. easily misses things. He’s not dumb, but he’s a little bit in his own world.”

THE SHAPE OF THINGS: Julie Benz is proud to have the body to play a stripper on “Desperate Housewives” at age 37. The former “Dexter” leading lady tells us, “I’m an exercise junkie. I also feel like, my mentality is, I embrace who I am and where I’m at. I don’t consider myself be to be extremely thin. I’m very physically fit, but I’m not like this anorexic thinness. I’ve got these thighs and I’ve got this a– and I love to eat.”

AWARD TO THE WISE: Sure, there are lots more disappointed Oscar nominees than there are winners this morning, but those illustrious nominations still mean an awful lot. Ernest Borgnine, who was selected to receive the Publicists Guild’s Special Award of Merit in recognition of his long career at the organization’s 47th Annual Awards Luncheon last week, points out, “I didn’t win the Emmy last year (for his guesting on “E.R.”). But I always feel like if you’re nominated, they’re at least thinking of you. I thought being nominated was just as good,” claims the 93-year-old Borgnine. The Oscar winner for “Marty” (1955) does go on to say, however, “I do have that big golden fella that I won and nobody can take that away from me.”

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster