Sunday, July 8, 2012

So Long, Ernie!

I heard the sad news that Ernest Borgnine died today at the ripe old age of 95. What with this and the passing of Andy Griffith last week, we've lost two major stars of the classic TV era. Of course, apart from his starring role on McHale's Navy, Ernie was even more well known as a veteran character actor from the movies, earning an Academy Award for his poignant portrayal of the lonely New York butcher in the heartbreaking Marty, scripted by the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky.

It was just two years ago that Ernest Borgnine was a special guest at the Toronto Fan Expo, where he was signing autographs and chatting with his fans. Though I am certainly an avid autograph collector, I've made it my policy to only seek out celebrities that I actually really admire, which is why I attended the event that year specifically to meet Ernie, as well as Julie Newmar (the Catwoman on TV's Batman). As is often the case at Fan Expo, the longest line-ups of fans are usually found at the tables with the current crop of young actors and actresses from various sci-fi/fantasy movies and TV series. I feel sorry for the veteran performers who don't usually get as much traffic at their tables, although it works out well for me, as these are the only performers that I truly wish to meet.

As there were only a handful of people in line before me, I was able to meet Ernie fairly quickly. He greeted all of his fans with that familiar big gap-toothed grin and he was just so warm and inviting with everyone who came up to meet with him. Whereas some of the stars were not permitting photos to be taken (due to paid for photo ops being organized later in the day), Ernie was only too happy to pose for photos with his fans. I always ink up two originals of my caricatures so that I can present one to the star as a gift and get them to sign the second one for me, so that is what you see here in these pics that accompany this post. Ernie seemed genuinely delighted with my caricature of him in his role of TV's Quinton McHale.

Later in the day I noticed that there was nobody currently in line to see Ernest Borgnine, so I decided to use the opportunity to go up and chat with him some more, as I wanted to ask him about his costarring alongside Frank Sinatra in From Here To Eternity. He was happy to chat about his role in the film, adding that he thought Frank had a lot of courage to work for scale in that pic, as his career at that time needed a boost. He and Frank became good friends on that film (despite the fact that Ernie's character, "Fatso" beats Sinatra's "Maggio" to death!), and he said he was overjoyed when Frank earned the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year.

I've been fortunate enough to meet many film personalities that I've admired over the years, but Ernest Borgnine will always stand out among the rest, as he was honestly such a joyful and sweet man. In his honour, I just watched him again in Marty this evening - such a touching performance from a truly wonderful human being.


Mark Mayerson said...

Nice that you were able to spend time with him, Peter. I have to admit that I much prefer Borgnine's movie work to McHale's Navy. The show was typical of several '60s shows that were just flat out dumb. In movies, Borgnine showed intelligence and menace that were very different from McHale. Besides Marty, I love Borgnine in The Wild Bunch and a somewhat obscure Robert Aldrich film Emperor of the North, where Borgnine plays a real S.O.B. railroad conductor dedicated to ridding his train of hobos. The hobo he tangles with is Lee Marvin, and their final fight is a real white knuckle ride for the audience.

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...

I was looking at your post the caricature of Ernest just yesterday when the news broke. I just recent?ly saw him in the Paramount 100th anniversary photo smiling as usual.

Now there's a star I really would've liked to meet.

Pete Emslie said...

Mark, I must confess to a genuine fondness for 60's sitcoms, even the "flat out dumb" ones. :)
To be sure, The Dick Van Dyke Show and a few others were wittier I suppose, but I find most of them quite endearing nonetheless.

I watched Marty again last night after having not seen it in years. Ernie's performance just breaks my heart in that film. Such humanity in the acting and the brilliant script by Chayefsky.

Will Finn said...

Great image Peter. McHale reruns were in heavy rotation when I was little and I loved it. Ernest Bognine was great and the rest of the cast were favorites too. Thanks for sharing

Pete Emslie said...

Thanks Will,
Though McHale's Navy may have been somewhat derivative of the earlier Sgt. Bilko, I still find it a fun, enjoyable show too, and I like the testy relationship between McHale and Capt. Binghamton, played perfectly by Joe Flynn. And we also have this show to thank for launching the career of the brilliantly funny Tim Conway!

Thad said...

It's been a very sad month for the remnants of Hollywood's Golden Age, and it's not even half over.