And he was a big hit on television as well.
For more than a half-century he was the everyman, the tough guy, the ordinary Joe, the bellicose ethnic guy, the fall guy, the straight man, the repairman -- a consummate actor who could play just about every role just so long as it wasn't the leading man, the matinee idol or the guy who gets the gal.
Known for blustery, often villainous roles, he won the best-actor Oscar for playing against type as a lovesick butcher in “Marty” in 1955.
Borgnine died in 2014 at age 95.
Television fans loved Borgnine as the scheming Navy officer in the sitcom “McHale’s Navy.” But many also know Borgnine as the heavy who beats up Frank Sinatra in “From Here to Eternity.” You can be sure that he helped Frankie win that Oscar. And Borgnine was also one of the thugs who menaced Spencer Tracy in “Bad Day at Block Rock.”
He also played comedy in one of the greatest comedy-fests of all time, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
Borgnine was a proud Italian-American.
His parents were Charles, who emigrated from Ottiglio (AL), Italy and Anna, who emigrated from Carpi (MO), Italy.
As an only child, Ernest enjoyed most sports, especially boxing, but took no real interest in acting. At 18, after graduating from high school in New Haven, and undecided about his future career, he joined the navy, where he stayed for ten years until leaving in 1945. After a few factory jobs, his mother suggested that his forceful personality could make him suitable for a career in acting, and Borgnine promptly enrolled at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford.
After completing the course he joined the famous Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, staying there for four years, undertaking odd jobs and playing every type of role imaginable. His big break came in 1949, when he made his acting debut on Broadway playing a male nurse in "Harvey."
His movies read like a history of Hollywood: From Here To Eternity, Johnny Guitar, Bad Day At Black Rock, Marty, The Badlanders, Torpedo Run, Barabbas, The Oscar, The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, The Wild Bunch, Willard, Bunny O'Hare, The Poseidon Adventure, The Greatest, The Black Hole, Moving Target, The Genesis Code and Snatched.
Borgnine was always working somehow, somewhere in movies and on TV.
He was prolific -- a hard worker and an exceptionally accomplished actor.
Here's our review of Borgnine's autobiography as it appeared on this site on 2008:
I've been reading Ernest Borgnine's autobiography simply titledErnie and it's a remarkable story of an seemingly ordinary guy who became a major Oscar-winning Hollywood star.
I suppose you could say that Ernest Borgnine was the ultimate everyman -- the ordinary Joe (or in this case, Marty) who captured the imagination of audiences everywhere.
But beyond his Academy Award winning performance in Paddy Chayefsky's Marty, Borgnine has produced a huge and impressive body of work on both the big and small screen.
Yes, we wept at his impressive portrayal of Marty but we also gasped when he took on Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity … we were riveted by his compelling performances in The Dirty Dozen, Bad Day at Black Rock, and Ice Station Zebra … and we laughed at his television sitcom McHale's Navy.
Many of us loved all of Ernest Borgnine's portrayals, but what did we really know about the man behind the famous roles? In this book, for the first time, he tells us in his own words the fascinating story of his life in a witty, candid, and revealing manner.
This is an easy and fun read with with a good insight into the everyday workings of Hollywood. You'll learn about some of the people and moments that made the great movies and the TV shows that marked the golden age of television.
Borgnine reveals personal insights and stories about cinema's greatest icons-including Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Montgomery Clift, Gary Cooper, Janet Leigh, Raquel Welch, GeneHackman, Rock Hudson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Curtis, Alan Ladd, Glenn Ford, and Burt Lancaster. And with characteristic frankness, he also talks about his off-screen loves and passions.
Ernie's is a compelling story.