LOS ANGELES – Ernest Borgnine, the beefy screen star known for blustery, often villainous roles, but who won the best-actor Oscar for playing against type as a lovesick butcher in Marty in 1955, died Sunday. He was 95.
His longtime spokesman, Harry Flynn, told The Associated Press that Borgnine died of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife and children at his side.
Borgnine, who endeared himself to a generation of baby boomers with the 1960s TV comedy McHales Navy, first attracted notice in the early 1950s in villain roles, notably as the vicious Fatso Judson, who beat Frank Sinatra to death in From Here to Eternity.
Then came Marty, a low-budget film based on a Paddy Chayefsky television play that starred Rod Steiger. Borgnine played a 34-year-old who fears he is so unattractive he will never find romance. Then, at a dance, he meets a girl with the same fear.
The realism of Chayefskys prose and Delbert Manns sensitive direction astonished audiences accustomed to happy Hollywood formulas. Borgnine won the Oscar and awards from the Cannes Film Festival, New York Critics and National Board of Review.
Mann and Chayefsky also won Oscars, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hailed Marty as best picture.
The Oscar made me a star, and Im grateful, Borgnine told an interviewer in 1966. But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldnt have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life.
Those messes included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman that lasted less than six weeks.
But Borgnines fifth marriage, in 1973 to Norwegian-born Tova Traesnaes, endured and brought with it an interesting business partnership. She manufactured and sold her own beauty products under the name Tova and used her husbands rejuvenated face in her ads.
Although still not a marquee star until after Marty, the roles of heavies started coming regularly after From Here to Eternity. Among the films: Bad Day at Black Rock, Johnny Guitar, Demetrius and the Gladiators, Vera Cruz.
Even after his Oscar, producers continued casting Borgnine in action films such as Three Bad Men, The Vikings, Torpedo Run, Barabbas, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch.
Then he successfully made the transition to TV comedy.
From 1962 to 1966, Borgnine – a Navy vet himself – starred in McHales Navy as the commander of a World War II PT boat with a crew of misfits and malcontents.
Borgnines later films included Ice Station Zebra, The Adventurers, Willard, The Poseidon Adventure, The Greatest (as Muhammad Alis manager), Convoy, Ravagers, Escape from New York, Moving Target and Mistress.
Borgnine had a recurring role as the apartment house doorman-cum-chef in the NBC sitcom The Single Guy. He had a small role in the 1997 movie version of McHales Navy. And he was the voice of Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants and Carface on All Dogs Go to Heaven 2.
I dont care whether a role is 10 minutes long or two hours, he remarked in 1973. And I dont care whether my name is up there on top, either. Matter of fact, Id rather have someone else get top billing; then if the picture bombs, he gets the blame, not me.