Monday, April 26, 2010

"Ernie - the autobiography" by ernest borgnine

This may be one of the most unassuming and humble autobiographies you will ever read. If you're thinking of "McHale's Navy" in conjunction with this man, you need to rewind a little bit back to the days of "From Here To Eternity" and "The Catered Affair". And let's not forget Mr. Borgnines' Oscar winning performance in "Marty". This is no one dimensional actor. I say this, because Mr. Borgnine, like his pal Kirk Douglas, is still alive and well, with alot to say about things. As a matter of fact, as recently as 2008 he was still working with old pal Tim Conway doing voices for "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Born in Hamden, Conn. in 1917 to an Italian family, he soon found himself back in Italy, where his mother went after some domestic problems here in America. His early years there have colored his life in a very unique way. But true love never dies, and it wasn't long before Mr. Borgnines' mother returned to America, and her husband.

His parents struggled through the Depression with his Dad working various WPA/NRA jobs building roads and bridges. At home the family raised vegetables in the garden to supplement their food. The area was of mixed nationalities and he grew up with Polish, German, Italian, Irish and black freinds. As a member of the Boy Scouts he ended up only one badge short of becoming an Eagle Scout.

In 1935 he made a decision that would affect him for a long time. He joined the Navy in the middle of the Depression. He was sent to Newport, Rhode Island for boot camp. It was here that one of those strange coincidences in life occurred. He was selected to do a little boxing and knocked the other guy out. Blood was pouring from the man's mouth and ears. Mr. Borgnine never entered the ring again. Flash forward to the movie "From Here to Eternity" and the character played by Montgomery Clift. He plays a boxer who doesn't want to box anymore. Ernest Borgnine was the sadistic Fatso Judson who was hell bent on forcing him to box. Life imitates art - or is the other way around?

From bootcamp Mr. Borgnine went to sea on the USS Chaumont and through the Panama Canal to the West Coast and San Diego. It was in Balboa, Panama that he lost his virginity- kind of. He was so naive and inexperienced with the opposite sex that it is almost comical. And the way he is unafraid to laugh at himself is so refreshing and honest.

Eventually he was shipped to Hawaii, where he remained until 3 months before Pearl Harbor. Talk about timing! He describes a Japanese fellow who sold beer by the can on a corner in Honolulu. From that corner he made enough money to open a dance hall and brothel, just like the one in "From Here to Eternity", only the women were all Japanese. It is Mr. Borgnine's belief that this dance hall was probably the biggest windfall that the Japanese could have hoped for in gathering intelligence. From the loose lips of sailors the Japanese were able to piece together a picture of everything that came and went in Pearl Harbor. This information was all vital to the eventual surprise attack in December 1941.

Back home, he was called up again and served the entire war patrolling the docks of New York City on a private vessel that had been donated to the government. It was called the "Sylph" and stationed at 125th street on the Hudson River.

After the war ends he was discharged and went home. Clearly at loose ends, with no idea what to do, he remarks to his mother that "for 2 cents I'd go back in the Navy." She replied, "Son, have you ever thought of becoming an actor? You always like to make a damn fool of yourself, making people laugh. Why don't you give it a try?" And so he did.

Trying out his wings with the Yale School of Drama was not a good choice. They were more interested in academics than acting, so he left. Winding up in Hartford, he enrolled at the Randall School, where he finds himself launched into acting. He was 28 years old at the time.

His next move was to a stock company in Virginia. From there he went on to a false start in New York, where he was doing well, but didn't feel he had it quite right yet. So he returned to the stock company for more experience. While there his mother passed away and he returned to New Haven for her funeral. After returning to Virginia, to honor his committments, he moved on to Broadway. His description of Marlon Brando and his roommate Wally Cox riding a motorcycle through Manhattan will leave a lasting impression upon the reader. This is where he honed his acting experience. It is also where he landed his first movie role in "The Whistle at Eaton Falls." From there he bounced back and forth a bit until he finally hit his stride.

After 3 movies he was tapped to play the role that would make him famous. He was chosen to play opposite Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed and Montgomery Clift in "From Here to Eternity." If you have never seen this movie, you should. Working with no special effects or makeup, he played one of the most vile characters in film history- the sadistic Fatso Judson. After bullying Montgomery Clift for refusing to box they square off in an alleyway where Montgomery Clift fatally stabs him. This is the film that put him on the road to stardom.

"Bad Day at Black Rock" and his menacing portrayal opposite a one armed Spencer Tracy is one of the most unforgettable movies you will ever see. Spencer Tracy plays a disabled Veteran returning from the war. He is stopping at Black Rock to present a medal to a Japanese man's son who died saving Spencer Tracy's life. What he uncovers there in the form of Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan is shocking. The brief fight scene, in which Spencer Tracy uses Judo to throw Mr. Borgnine through a door, is one of the shortest and best fight scenes ever filmed. It is also a movie that cements his freindship for life with fellow Veteran Lee Marvin.

For me though, the best part of the book are the recollections of filming of one of my favorite movies, "The Catered Affair" with Bette Davis, in which he played Debbie Reynolds father, a hard working man who wants to own a taxi. But his wife, Ms. Davis, wants the money they have saved to pay for the wedding of their daughter.It is, in my opinion, one of the most engaging roles he ever played. Authored by Paddy Chayefsky, the characters are deeply painted portraits of life and the dreams that come true, as well as the dreams that get shattered. But when all is said and done, the dreams that do come true are often the most important ones.

In this candid autobiography, Mr. Borgnine takes you on a film by film journey through his remarkable career. Along the way he manages to give you a few of his thoughts on the world today as well as the world of yesterday. He revels in the fact that three generations of people now know him for completely different things. The World war Two crowd knows him as Fatso Judson in "From Here to Eternity"; the post war "baby boomers" remember him as the affable "McHale" of "McHale's Navy"; and now a whole new generation has come to know him as "Mermaid Man", the voice on "Sponge Bob Squarepants" in which he plays opposite his old McHale's Navy buddy Tim Conway, who is also one of the voices on the show.

This is a remarkable self penned book by an actor who has done it all without losing sight of who he is. And that is no small feat in an industry of egos the size of the ship "Poseidon." Thanks Mr. Borgnine!

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