Ernest Borgnine, who is exuberantly entering his seventh decade of creating memorable characters and award-winning performances, will receive Screen Actors Guild (SAG)’s most prestigious accolade – the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award – for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment. Borgnine, who has performed in more than 200 motion pictures, five television series and dozens of television films and guest appearances, will be presented the Award, given annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession,” at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards(R), which premieres live on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT, 6 p.m. MT.
In making today’s announcement, Screen Actors Guild National President Ken Howard said, “Whether portraying 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 has been the recipient of industry recognition, critical praise and audience approbation throughout his career. He first drew the public eye in 1953 with his portrayal of the vicious Sergeant “Fatso” Judson, who beat Frank Sinatra’s Maggio to a pulpy death in the Oscar(R)-winning film “From Here to Eternity.” He was memorable as one of the thugs who threatened a one-armed Spencer Tracy in “Bad Day at Black Rock,” then did a 180-degree turn in 1955, starring for director Delbert Mann and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky as the title character in what was to be the year’s best picture Oscar winner, “Marty.” His touching performance as the lonely butcher won Borgnine an Academy Award(R), a BAFTA and a Golden Globe(R). He would receive a second Golden Globe nomination some 52 years later for the title role in the telefilm “A Grandpa for Christmas” and an Independent Spirit Award nomination in 1989 for his Mafia boss in “Spike of Bensonhurst.”
During the ’50s, Borgnine performed frequently on such Golden Age of Television masterworks as “G.E. Theatre” and “Philco Playhouse,” but it was the 1962-66 broad ensemble comedy “McHale’s Navy” that would cement his presence as a household name and earn Borgnine his first Emmy(R) nomination in 1963. The Television Academy would again nominate Borgnine in 1980 for his portrait of World War I soldier Stanislaus Katczinsky in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (again under Delbert Mann’s direction) and just last year for his guest role as a devoted husband coming to terms with his wife’s imminent death in the final episode of “ER.”
Borgnine was also the recipient in 1999 of a Daytime Emmy nomination for his voice work as Carface in the animated “All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series” and the same year began his continuing run as the voice of semi-retired aquatic superhero Mermaid Man in the Nickelodeon smash-hit “SpongeBob SquarePants,” bringing him a whole new legion of young fans. He’s also played an animated version of himself on “The Simpsons.”
Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on Jan. 24, 1917 in Hamden, Conn., son of Italian immigrants Charles (fka Camillo) and Anna Borgnino and grandson of Count Paolo Boselli, financial advisor to Italian King Victor Emmanuel. When he was 2, his parents separated, and he moved to Italy with his mother until the family reunited in Connecticut when Borgnine was 5. After he graduated high school in 1935, finding factory work and driving a vegetable truck did not suit him, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was discharged in October 1941, but a few months later, when the United States entered World War II, he re-enlisted and served until 1945, rising to the rank of Gunner’s Mate 1st Class. After the war, at his mother’s suggestion and with funds from the GI Bill, he enrolled in the Randall School of Dramatic Arts in Hartford, and then honed his craft at the famed Barter Theatre in Abington, Va.. There where he painted scenery, worked as stagehand and drove a truck yet-again, eventually getting a shot at acting in numerous classics. He even traveled with the company to entertain U.S. servicemen in Germany and Denmark, in the role of Guildenstern in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Borgnine’s big break came in 1949, when he won the role of the hospital attendant in a Broadway production of “Harvey.” His success in live television prompted a move to Los Angeles, where in 1951, he made his motion picture debut in “The Whistle at Eaton Falls.” The staggering catalog of his 200 motion pictures since includes such classics as “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford; “Vera Cruz,” with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster; “The Catered Affair,” opposite Bette Davis; legendary ensemble pieces like Robert Aldrich’s “The Dirty Dozen” and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”; and large-scale productions like “The Vikings,” “Torpedo Run,” “Emperor of the North,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “Flight Of The Phoenix,” “Escape from New York” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” He portrayed controversial FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover in the 1983 telefilm “Blood Feud” and again in the feature “Hoover,” which he also executive produced. He also played real-life boxing coach Angelo Dundee opposite Muhammad Ali (as himself) in “The Greatest.” His latest film “Red,” starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox, opens in October.
Besides “McHale’s Navy,” Borgnine’s television credits include starring as seasoned police office Joe Cleaver in “Future Cop” (1976-77), as veteran aircraft owner Dominic Santini “Airwolf” (1984-86), and as doorman Manny Cordoba in “The Single Guy” (1995-97). Among his telefilms and miniseries are “Jesus of Nazareth”; “The Trail to Hope Rose,” for which, at age 87, he drove a team of horses and was honored with the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; and this year’s “Wishing Well.” He had a recurring role on “The Commish” and guest starred in numerous series, including “JAG,” “Early Edition,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Touched By An Angel,” “7th Heaven,” “Family Law” and “The District.” He even appeared in the first “Center Square” in the “Hollywood Squares” when the game show premiered in 1965.
Borgnine has received Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Columbia College Hollywood, Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Lakeland College in Mikwaukee and the University of Northern Alabama. Still deeply connected to Navy years, he maintains contacts with old shipmates from his destroyer days. He was recognized for his support of the Navy Memorial Fund with the Lone Sailor award from the Navy Memorial Foundation and was named an Honorary Chief Petty Officer by the Navy Chiefs. Some 20 years ago, he acquired another Naval title: Honorary Flight Leader for the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team: The Blue Angels. In 2000, the Veterans Foundation elected him Veteran of the Year. As he celebrated his 90th birthday, he was honored with the California Commendation Medal for his support of the military by the Commanding Officer of the California National Guard. In 2009, he participated in a special tribute to the Navy at the National Memorial Day Parade presented by the American Veterans Center in Washington, D.C.
In 1985, Borgnine received the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Golden Boot Award for his work in film and television Westerns. In 1990, he was named Honorary Mayor of Universal City, where “McHale’s Navy” was filmed. In 1997, the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival honored him with the King Vidor Memorial Award. The National Film Theatre of Great Britain honored him in May 2001 for a lifetime of artistic achievement. In 2009, he received a special tribute at the Almera, Spain International Film Festival and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival, which screened his then-latest feature “Another Harvest Moon,” in which he starred opposite Piper Laurie, Anne Meara and Doris Roberts.
In 2002, Borgnine received a lifetime achievement award from his mother’s birthplace, Carpi, Italy. In honor of his Italian parentage, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. For a quarter century, he marched as the Grand Clown in “The Great Circus Parade” in Milwaukee. A Freemason for 60 years, he is proud to have been honored with the 33rd Degree of the Masonic Order of the Grand Cross. He was honorary chair of the Scottish Rite RiteCare Program, which sponsors 175 childhood language disorders clinics, centers and programs nationwide, and narrated “On the Wings of Words,” a film about the RiteCare Program.
Borgnine’s 2008 autobiography, “Ernie” was a “New York Times” bestseller. He lives in Beverly Hills with his wife of 37 years, Tova, QVC’s on camera spokesperson for Tova cosmetics,
The 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be produced by Jeff Margolis Productions in association with Screen Actors Guild Awards(R), LLC. Jeff Margolis is the executive producer and director. Kathy Connell is the producer. JoBeth Williams, Daryl Anderson, Scott Bakula, Shelley Fabares and Paul Napier are producers for SAG. Gloria Fujita O’Brien and Mick McCullough are supervising producers. Benn Fleishman is executive in charge of production. Rosalind Jarrett is the Executive in Charge of Publicity. Jon Brockett is the Awards Coordinating Producer.
Screen Actors Guild is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents more than 125,000 actors who work in film and digital theatrical motion pictures and television programs, commercials, video games, industrials, Internet and all new media formats. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO.