From ‘Marty’ to ‘McHale’s Navy’ to ‘SpongeBob,’ Ernest Borgnine’s done it all
BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – At 93, Ernest Borgnine is happy to share the secret of his success with anyone who asks.
“I’m the laziest man in the world. No really, I’m the laziest guy in the world,” the robust Borgnine said during a recent press conference for his new film, “Red.” “Simply because if I don’t have to move, I don’t move. But when it comes to working, and I’m in front of people like you, the bread and butter of our institution, we go on from there. This is what it’s all about, and it’s always my pleasure to sit down and talk to (the press).”
Flattery, the wily old actor knows, is the name of the game.
In a wide-ranging chat with journalists during a press event at the Four Seasons Hotel, hosted by Summit Entertainment, Borgnine waxed on about three highlights of his long and storied acting career – his Oscar-winning turn in the 1955 classic “Marty,” his tour of duty on the TV sitcom “McHale’s Navy” and his giddy gig as the voice of Mermaid Man on the animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“Marty,” Borgnine allowed, was the role that made his career.
“For a long time I was cast as nothing more than killers. I was sticking pitchforks in Lee Marvin’s back, I was doing every kind of awful thing,” he said. “Anyway, came a time I was making a picture down in Mexico with director Bob Aldrich (‘Vera Cruz,’ 1954), and they asked if he knew anyone who’d be right for ‘Marty.’ And he said, ‘I only know one fella and that’s Ernie Borgnine.’ And they went, ‘come on. Ernie Borgnine’s a killer.’ He said, ‘No, don’t kid yourself. He’s an actor.’ And he convinced them, and they called me in.
“When we finished ‘Marty,’ we did the whole thing in 14 shooting days. We did all our work here in New York and we went home,” he continued. “And we found out to our dismay that, holy mackerel, they (the studio) wanted to take a tax loss. They only wanted to make half the picture and then shelve it. But the tax man said, ‘no, no, no, I’m sorry but they passed a law where you have to finish the picture, show it one time and then you can take your tax loss.’ So I made the picture for $5,000, believe it or not, with another promise of $5,000 more, which I never saw, if I signed a seven-year contract with (producers) Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster, so there we were.
“We finished ‘Marty,’ and the first thing you know, there was a fellow named Walter Seltzer, who I’ll never forget, who was instrumental in showing the picture, not to the big hoi-poloi but to bootblacks and to barbers and to manicurists and he worked up from there. And the first thing you know they found out about it at Toots Shorr and the boys coming in from the New York Yankees. And Joe DiMaggio was heard to say, ‘hey, this is a good picture, isn’t it.’ It came out and we won everything in sight.”
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