Image Credit: Everett CollectionVeteran actor and Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild during the group’s annual awards presentation on January 30, 2011. It’s about time. After all, the 93-year-old actor who won an Oscar for his heartbreaking portrayal of a loveless mama’s boy in 1955’s Marty and who’s graced both the big and small screens with his smiling, gap-toothed mug is an overlooked Hollywood treasure. In announcing their decision to honor Borgnine, SAG president Ken Howard said, “Whether playing brutish villains, sympathetic everymen, complex leaders or hapless heroes, Ernest Borgnine has brought a boundless energy which, at 93, is still a hallmark of his remarkably busy life and career. It is with that same joyous spirit that we salute his impressive body of work and his steadfast generosity.”
Borgnine may not be much of a household name these days, but if you grew up in the ’70s like I did, he seemed to be everywhere. By then, the man born Ermes Borgnino had already earned his stripes as a serious dramatic heavyweight in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, lent his merry girth to the hit ’60s TV show McHale’s Navy, blown the Mexican army to kingdom come in Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 blood bath The Wild Bunch, and even been married to Broadway belter Ethel Merman for a very short month in the mid-’60s. But in the ’70s, Borgnine grew into a warm, ubiquitous — and always welcome — presence: Like a celebrity passenger on Aaron Spelling’s The Love Boat, on which he appeared more than once by the way, Borgnine’s presence in any Hollywood cast meant that even if the movie was terrible, there’d at least be one person having a blast. Take his turn as the gruff cop married to an ex-showgirl aboard a doomed, upside-down luxury liner in 1972’s disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure. Or, better yet, his curmudgeonly, gabby cab driver in John Carpenter’s awesome 1981 futuristic action flick, Escape From New York. Everywhere you seemed to look during that period — whether it was switching channels from Airwolf to Murder, She Wrote to Magnum, P.I. — Borgnine was there, smiling that picket-fence smile like the kindly old guy behind the counter at a Greek diner.
In anticipation of his big honor, check out a couple of classic Borgnine scenes from The Wild Bunch (the greatest shoot-out of all time), The Poseidon Adventure, and of course, Marty…Congrats, Ermes!