My Interview With Ernest Borgnine, Recalling Career, His Connecticut Roots

Ernest Borginine died Sunday at the age of 95. Here is my interview with the Hamden-born, Connecticut-raised actor in 2010.



Ernest Borgnine, who turns 94 in January, is having the time of his life.

With a new film out this month (and several others in the can), the Hamden-born, Connecticut-raised actor is finding no lack or work, or awards.

In January, the Oscar-winning actor will receive the prestigious Screen Actors Guild Award. (Betty White won it last, for 2010.) And on Saturday he returns to his home state to talk about his life on stage, screen and television at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

"Isn't that something," he says of the SAG Award in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.

"All good things come to those who wait, I'll tell you," he says with his unmistakable husky voice, energy, regular-Joe speech and easy laugh. "Actually I feel quite humble about the whole thing."

Last year, Borgnine earned an Emmy nomination for the final episode of TV's "ER." Earlier this year, he starred in the Hallmark Channel movie, "The Wishing Well."

And as for his role in the current film "Red"starring Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, Borgnine says simply, "Wow. I just saw a screening and I want to tell you, I don't get excited about movies any more but, boy, this is one of the finest pictures I've seen in a long time. My wife says this will make more money than 'The Poseidon Adventure.' "

Younger audiences may know the actor not from the more than 200 TV shows and films he made over 60 years — including such memorable ones as "From Here To Eternity," "Flight of the Phoenix," "Marty, "The Catered Affair," "The Dirty Dozen,""The Wild Bunch,""The Vikings," "Ice Station Zebra" and "Bad Day at Black Rock" — but rather as the sidekick in the '80s TV series "Airwolf." Even younger ones may recognize the voice of aging superhero Mermaid Man in Nickleodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants."

When his upcoming projects are mentioned — including his appearance in Connecticut where he will reminisce about his career with the center's executive director Jerry Goehring — he says: "It keeps me busy and always thinking. I still have all my marbles even though it may not always sound like it."

He gives another self-deprecating chuckle. He clearly enjoys telling and re-telling the stories of his life, many of them recounted in his 2008 autobiography "Ernie" (Citadel Press).

Growing Up In Connecticut

Borgnine speaks fondly of his Connecticut days, of growing up in Hamden, North Haven and New Haven, the only child of immigrant parents from Capri and Ottiglio, Italy. He was born Ermes Effron Borgnino.

His maternal grandfather was Count Paolo Boselli, the financial advisor to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy.

"I'm a count of no account," he says laughing.

"We had a lot of land around us," he says of growing up in the state in the '20s and early '30s. "We used to go work for the farmers picking peaches and apples and trying to make a buck. I was a Boy Scout, too. We also went to a lot of movies, just about every one we could. I would go with my mother and they would have 'plate day' and 'bowl days.' "

After graduating from Hillhouse High School in 1935, Bognine was at a loss with what to do with his life. Driving around in a produce truck, he saw a poster that said, "Join the Navy and See the World." So he did, and spent the next five years as an apprentice seaman. Two months after he left the Navy in 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed. He re-enlisted and served for another five years.