Ernest Borgnine died over the weekend. He was 95, and he was one of those actors who just made Hollywood work.
Borgnine won a best actor Oscar for Marty in 1955, but was equally comfortable in supporting roles. He was featured prominently in four iconic movies that I’ll gladly stop and watch whenever I see them on TV: as the secretly delighted general in The Dirty Dozen, as the awesome Dutch Engstrom in The Wild Bunch, as the exasperated, then devastated, and ultimately heroic Rogo in The Poseidon Adventure, and as the cabbie in Escape From New York. In each role — and in the many others he played during an acting career that spanned 60 years — Borgnine always brought something special and memorable to his characters. Rogo’s intense, fuming responses to the constant chiding of Gene Hackman’s irreligious preacher and the whining of Red Buttons in The Poseidon Adventure are classic examples of an actor whose work can make a marginal plot more believable and a one-dimensional character much more intriguing.
In an era where there was a strict dividing line between movies and TV, Borgnine was equally comfortable on the big screen and the small screen. His starring role in McHale’s Navy, and his work in countless other TV series, helped to break down that barrier. Current stars who work regularly in both TV and film owe a tip of the cap to Ernest Borgnine.