How lucky I was to have worked with Mr. Borgnine on Escape From New York. He made time for everyone on the set and was a true, genuine human being. He had great stories to tell about his past roles, a quick wit and a strongman's grip of a handshake.
His infectious smile always brightened up everyone. You couldn't help but like him because he loved people. He was a big teddy bear at heart.
Born Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden Connecticut from Italian parents who immigrated to America, he started off in his youth focused on boxing and entered the navy when he was 18 where he spent ten years in the service including serving his country during World War II. After being honorably discharged, he was employed in various factory jobs when one day, on the advice of his mother, she told him to take up acting because he had a boisterous voice.
Having enrolled in the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, Connecticut and later Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia working every odd job to support himself, he got his big break on Broadway in the play, Harvey playing a male nurse.
It wasn't long until he made his way to Hollywood and got his first feature role as Bill Street in, A Whistle At Eaton Falls, but what put him on the map was playing Frank Sinatra's antagonist, Sgt. Fatso Judson in From Here To Eternity.
His meaty roles portraying bad guys in westerns and dramas garnered him a chance against typecasting as the shy butcher, Marty Piletti in the film Marty of which he won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1955.
Many people remember him as Lt. Commander Quinton McHale in the comedy series, McHale's Navy. Very few people know that the original pilot for the show was quite serious. It was presented on Alcoa Theater hosted by Fred Astaire in 1962. The story entitled, Seven Against the Sea, dealt with a PT boat crew and their combat missions against the Japanese during World War II. At the end of a harrowing, but successful mission where they were to be decorated, all they wanted to do was have the luxury of taking a bath.
For every generation, there is a film that we will remember him by. The roles he played are etched in our minds. Dutch Engstrom from the Wild Bunch, Colby Trimble in Bad Day At Black Rock, Donnegan in Vera Cruz, Ragnar in The Vikings, Cabbie in Escape From New York, Al Martin in Willard, General Wordon in The Dirty Dozen, Trucker Cobb in The Flight of the Phoenix, Boris Voslov in Ice Station Zebra, Harry Booth in The Black Hole, Rogo in The Poseidon Adventure and Shack in Emperor of the North where he fought the other toughest guy on Earth on top of a moving freight train, Lee Marvin.
You have to appreciate the man's work playing our hero, Dominic Santini in Airwolf and you cannot have a smile burst across your face when he voiced the character, Mermaidman on Spongebob.
He was a real man and a class act, the likes of which we will never see again.
Rest In peace, Mr. Borgnine and thank you for your great work. We will always remember you.