“I vowed that I’m going to live to 2013,” Ernest Borgnine told critics gathered at a Hallmark TCA session five years ago. “After that, I don’t give a damn.”
Borgnine, who passed away Sunday at 95, missed his target by about six months. He wowed critics five years ago when he appeared at press tour to promote Hallmark’s “A Grandpa for Christmas.” His good spirits, enthusiasm and vigor made us all doubt that he was 90.
News of his passing comes on the heels of Andy Griffith’s death last week. Both headlined TV shows in the ’60s, with Borgnine starring as a PT boat skipper in McHale’s Navy (1962-’66), along with co-stars Tim Conway and Joe Flynn. Borgnine’s long time publicist, Harry Flynn, mentioned in reports on his death, represented Michael Landon and many other Hollywood-based TV stars.
My old pal Gene Trindl was buddies with both Borgnine and Flynn and took the shot of Borgnine above for a TV Guide cover. Gene used to have nothing but good things to say about the Oscar winner. The two were neighbours in Studio City and Gene could always count on Borgnine if he had some photo idea he wanted to test out on a subject.
Borgnine, who sat next to his co-star, 11-year-old Juliette Goglia, made that Hallmark press session extra memorable. Here are a few exchanges from that day in July of 2007:
QUESTION: Juliette, what of Ernie’s work had you seenbefore?
JULIETTE GOGLIA: Well, you know, my favorite, everyone
my age watches “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” And he was
Mermaid Man.He’s the voice of Mermaid Man.So that
is my favorite.
QUESTION: Over here in back on the left. Juliette,
how old are you?
JULIETTE GOGLIA: I’m 11 years old.
QUESTION: Have you ever encountered people this old in your regular life?
JULIETTE GOGLIA: He’s the oldest man I’ve ever met,
but he’s seriously one of the most energetic people
I’ve ever met.
QUESTION: Did you have any preconceived idea of whatold people were like?
JULIETTE GOGLIA: Well, I guess I thought that they
would be grumpy or something because they’ve been
around for so long, but he’s not like that at all.
He’s not like that at all. He’s just so much fun to be
ERNEST BORGNINE: Tell them the truth now. Tell them
QUESTION: How old are your grandparents more or less?
JULIETTE GOGLIA: Less just a little bit. My grandma
ERNEST BORGNINE: A kid.
QUESTION: Mr. Borgnine, to go off topic a little bit.
Tim Conway was here the other day talking to us.
ERNEST BORGNINE: He was?
QUESTION: He was, yeah. He was with a group of
pioneers of late night. But he was talking about
“McHale’s Navy,” how he had been a DJ and you had kind
of reluctantly dragged him onto that show. Is that
your memories of Tim Conway, and what were your
memories when you first met him, and what did you think
of him as an actor?
ERNEST BORGNINE: The very first time I ever saw Tim
Conway was when we were shooting the scene, and he came
in as the ensign, he’s hanging on this rope on this
boat and it’s come in, and suddenly the boat stopped
and he kept going right into the drink, and that was my
first time that I ever saw Tim. Well, you know,
believe it or not, over the years we always kept in
touch, and believe it or not we now play in “Sponge
Bob.” I play Mermaid Man and he plays Barnacle Boy.
Top that one.
QUESTION: And I don’t know whether this is apocryphal or
not, but was it your mother who suggested that you be an
ERNEST BORGNINE: My mother, I came back after 10 years
in the Navy, and one day, I was just hanging around the
house, doing nothing. She said, “Well” — one of those
wells — “are you going to get a job or what?” And so,
okay, I went out, looking for work. And I saw all of
these young, old men walking into these factories in New
Haven, Connecticut. I said, “That’s not for me. I want
to — I want to do something else. I don’t know what.”
But one day I went home, and I said, “Mom, for two cents,
I’ll go back in the service and do my other 10 years and
get a pension. At least I’ll have something.” And out
of the clear, blue sky she said, “Have you ever thought
of becoming an actor? You always like to make a damn
fool of yourself in front of people. Why don’t you give
it a try?”
And I looked up, and I saw that golden light, and I said,
“Mom, that’s what I’m going to be.” I didn’t know where
to start, what to do, or anything else. And 10 years
later, Grace Kelly handed me an award.
QUESTION: Where do you keep your Oscar? I imagine it’s
traveled around over the years. And does it seem more
valuable to you as time goes on? Is it sort of an
occupied jewel spot?
ERNEST BORGNINE: I get the greatest kick in the world
when people come to my home. They spot it up there up
over the television set. It’s about the only good place
there is along with my mother and dad’s picture and my
sister. I keep it up there. And I hand it to them. I
hand it to some. “Oh, my goodness. And it weighs a lot.
Oh. Oh, isn’t this wonderful.” They get more of a kick
out of it than I do, believe me.
But I can’t ever forget the moment that I received that.
I was proud. It did me — I don’t know. It hit me.
Boy, all I could do was thank my mother and father, and I
think I forgot most of the people that helped me along.
But I couldn’t think of anybody but my mother and father
at that moment, and I thank them, and that was it. And
I’ve been living happily ever since.
Before Borgnine died, I wrote a piece for The Canadian Press on why I thought the death or Griffith and other TV stars hits many Boomers like a death in the family. Borgnine certainly had the same effect, enduring through other shows, too, including Airwolf and The Single Guy as well as appearances on The Simpsons, ER and even a SNL “What’s Up with That?” sketch. You can find that story here.