Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine had a special connection to the Central CoastWith his booming voice, broad, big-shouldered build and gap-toothed grin, Ernest Borgnine could play a scheming military man, a blustery thug and a rumpled cab driver with equal aplomb.
A prolific character actor whose film and television credits included “McHale’s Navy,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Wild Bunch” and “From Here to Eternity,” Borgnine was best known for his Oscar-winning role in the 1955 film “Marty.” He played the title character, a shy, lonely butcher who develops a tender relationship with a plain-looking schoolteacher (Betsy Blair) despite the objections of his friends and family members.
Younger audience members might recognize him as the voice of Mermaid Man on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” He also appeared in “The Dirty Dozen” and “Escape from New York.”
Borgnine also had a special connection to the Central Coast. In 1997, the then-80-year-old actor received the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s highest honor, now known as the King Vidor Career Achievement Award.
In true Photos from the Vault fashion, I thought I’d share a couple of articles chronicling Borgnine’s visit to the Central Coast. The first was published Oct. 31, 1997,
SLO film fest opens in style
By Glenn Roberts Jr.
SAN LUIS OBISPO — As a teen-ager, Karin McAuliff worked at the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo, wearing a uniform and selling tickets, popcorn and sodas.
On Thursday she was back again, only this time she was elegantly dressed and sipping wine with a friend as they waited for show time.
The San Luis Obispo Film Festival is here again, and it opened in a big way Thursday night as legendary Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine accepted the festival’s King Vidor Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.
Moviegoers, garbed in their fanciest finery, socialized in the lobby before the awards ceremony, which was followed by an airing of “The Catered Affair,” a 1956 film starring Borgnine.
In the film, Borgnine plays a cab driver in Bronx who argues with his wife over whether to spend hard-earned money on a new taxi or their daughter’s wedding.
The film festival is “a great opportunity for everyone in the community to get together and really celebrate something they have in common, which is film,” said Pilar Lawson, events coordinator for the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center.
Borgnine, who enjoyed a steak dinner with Alex Madonna and his wife, Phyllis, before he arrived at the theater, stayed in one of the all-rock rooms at the Madonna Inn.
“They put me in the cave,” he joked.
Borgnine said he was impressed with the decor inside the theater. “It reminds me of an old theater in Hamden, Connecticut (his hometown).”
George Sidney, an accomplished director, and Delbert Mann, who directed Borgnine in “Marty, ” the film that earned him an academy award for best actor, sung Borgnine’s praises during the awards ceremony.
Sidney called him “Hollywood Royalty” and said he is “always available for every time someone is in trouble.”
After a short montage of the many films he has acted in, Borgnine, 80, told the audience that he wishes Hollywood offered more work to those over the age of 50.
“We have a lot to give. By gone it, I want to work. Do I look 80? Of course not.”
He also had some choice words about brainless action films: “Unfortunately, these days everyone wants to see Bam! Bang ‘em up! Shoot ‘em up! It’s a great spectacle, but is it really theater?”
Borgnine said his acting career has been richly rewarding. “It’s everything I could ever ask for. It makes me feel good to know I brought a little happiness to somebody.”
He later asked the theater workers to turn up the lights so he could see the audience.
“That’s it put up the lights, ” he said. “I’d like to see who I’m talking to.”
Los Osos resident Jeff McKeegan, at the festival with Los Osos resident Anne Allen, said he looked forward to seeing Borgnine.
“I grew up on ‘McHale’s Navy,’” he said. The popular television series starred Borgnine in its leading role.
Allen said of Borgnine, “There’s always been a sweetness to his character a tough guy with that sweetness.”
The film festival continues through Nov. 9.
The Tribune also published an interview with Borgnine, on Oct. 29, 1997.
BORGNINE TO BE HONORED AT FESTIVAL
By Carol Roberts
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Ernest Borgnine’s film, television and stage career is legend.
Who over 55 can forget the exchange in the Academy Award winning classic “Marty, ” between Borgnine — in the title role as the shy butcher — and his pal Ange?
The lines, repeated just about every night the pair got together in the movie, were echoed for years by real-life undecided pals: “What do you feel like doing tonight, Marty?” And, the reply: “I don’t know what do you feel like doing, Ange?”
And, who can forget the blustery but fun-loving Borgnine as McHale in “McHale’s Navy?”
But it’s “Marty” and the dozens of other movies Borgnine has made that prompted the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival to honor him at its opening Thursday with the King Vidor Memorial Award. It will be presented by Delbert Mann, who directed “Marty” in 1955.
Unfortunately, Borgnine won’t be in town long. He has to leave for Florida this weekend to start filming a one-man show on J. Edgar Hoover.
The man has always enjoyed acting, from his Broadway debut as a hospital attendant in “Harvey,” and his first movie, “China Corsair” in 1951 to the doorman “Manny” on TV’s “The Single Guy” earlier this year.
There have been dozens of plays, films and TV shows. But Borgnine doesn’t seem to be looking back much.
Politics, a recent vacation, current acting projects and marriage were on his mind when recently contacted by phone.
“Nah, I’m not busy, ” said the 80-year-old actor from his home overlooking the San Fernando Valley. “Just reading the morning paper and having a cup of coffee.”
The son of Italian immigrants, Borgnine is warm, open and peppers his remarks with words and phrases like “helluva” and “darlin.’”
There is some of the Bronx’s “Marty” in his speech and he comes across as an ordinary guy who values his wife and kids more than his career credits. But he is proud of his acting career and the great people he has worked with, especially Mann.
“He is one sweetheart of a man, ” Borgnine said. “He was an acting lesson every day I worked with him.”
Here are some other things Borgnine had to say:
On current projects: “A lot of people didn’t know what J. Edgar Hoover was really all about. They either hated him or liked him very much. He refused to play political games. No one was more conscious of his image than Hoover was.”
The script calls for Borgnine to tell the world to forget about the lurid details of Hoover’s life based on hearsay, innuendo, allegations and suppositions.
“How could Hoover possibly have been a transvestite or cross dresser in that bright red dress when he dedicated so much to the FBI? He put his heart and soul into the FBI and wanted everyone else to do the same. He speaks right out. I’ll do that. I think I can bring out something of him in a good light.”
This isn’t Borgnine’s first one-man film venture.
“I once did a show called “I’m Gonna Make You An Offer …’ a dissertation on these United States as seen through the eyes of a capomafioso, head of the mafia. The college kids ate it up. We took on everything, ” he said happily. “We talked about hospitals, doctors, lawyers. We even took on corn flakes.”
On marriage, family and fun: “I’ve been vacationing in my 40-foot motor home at the Grand Canyon. I drove myself, read 4 1/2 books and sat and marveled, wondered and thought about the great forces behind that whole thing. It is amazing the beauty that comes forth. Imagine the millions of years it took to evolve and we want everything in one day.”
His wife Tova was busy with her cosmetics company and in New York to talk about her new book. “It’s about marriage and about me, ” he said as laughter rumbled through the line.
But the five-times-married Borgnine takes the past quarter century with Tova seriously. He attributes their successful union to communication, and when they are apart “we wouldn’t let a day go by without calling each other. Then there’s the fact that we love each other. It hasn’t all been fluff, but through the years on the whole it has been a wonderful marriage.”
He met Tova on a blind date arranged by comedian Marty Allen. “She told me she showed up, ” said Borgnine, “because she wanted to be able to tell her grandkids some day that she’d had dinner with Ernest Borgnine.”
She has a son and Borgnine has two daughters and a son from previous marriages.
His son Christopher “is trying to follow in the old man’s footsteps. He’s gonna be all right. I tell him “it’s a long, hard row to hoe. Sharpen your tools. When you’re asked one day to perform and you can do it then you’ve got it made.’”
Christopher also is writing and appearing on stage. “He played with me on (TV’s) “The Single Guy’ once. We see all our kids all of the time and we spend holidays together.”
On today’s movies: “I hate ‘em. But I loved that one with the Australian piano player (“Shine’) and the one “Sling Blade’ (that) won for best writing. What beautiful things. And they were made on a shoe string. They could show Hollywood how to make pictures again.”
He doesn’t care much for a lot of special effects or films where guns and violence dominate. “Now it’s the all mighty dollar. Make it quick and get the hell out. We made wonderful pictures with a moral to boot. Now there’s no morality. They’re gulping each other’s jaws and calling it kissing.”
His own favorite films? “There are so many favorites I’ve been in. I liked making “The Wild Bunch’ and “The Poseidon Adventure.’ After I won the Academy Award my next picture was a musical, “The Best Things in Life are Free’ with Dan Dailey and Gordon MacRae. We had a wonderful time. I sang and danced and carried on like a fool.”
And what did he think of Rod Steiger getting an Emmy as “Marty” on TV? “Rod may have got the Emmy but Ernie got the Oscar. I had wanted to play Judd in “Oklahoma,’ a part he got. That’s when they had the idea of him playing “Marty’ in the movie, until someone mentioned me. I read for the part while I was doing “Bad Day at Black Rock.’”
“McHale’s Navy” was fun especially with the tourists who came by to watch the filming, and “The Lone Sailor” award from the Navy Memorial Foundation is one of his most prized honors. Secretary of the Navy John Warner told Borgnine the actor was the best recruiting officer the Navy ever had.
“I told him that as McHale I got to do everything I couldn’t do in the real Navy, like surf boarding behind my PT boat.”
On his favorite books: “Anything to do with ships, the Army or the Navy. I read all of W.E.B. Griffin’s books. I love the adventure and his style of writing.”
On his favorite cause: “I’m a 33rd degree Grand Cross in the Masonic Organization. It truly is a brotherhood of man. We take care of all kinds of children paying to set their bones and repair their burns without costing them a penny.”
On politics: Neither Democrat nor Republican, Borgnine said he has never had political ambitions.
“I hate politicians. We elect them to represent us, the people of America. Then they make their way into Congress and the Senate and they represent the party. They’re not worried about us. Where the hell are the people we elected to work for us?”
He isn’t much of a campaign contributor. “If a man wants to get elected let him do it on his own. He’ll get my vote if he’s honest no matter what party he belongs to.”
On life: “I’m not gonna tell you much more because I’m writing a book. What the heck, life has been fun. If you can make one person happy in a day … well, that’s what counts.”
Want to see Ernest Borgnine in action? Cable network Turner Classic Movies will run a 24-hour marathon featuring his films, starting at 6 a.m. on July 26 with “The Catered Affair.” See the TCM website for details.
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