9 Things You May Not Know About Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine on AIRWOLF on getTV

Ernest Borgnine had been an actor for over thirty years before he accepted the role of Dominic Santini in Airwolf. Santini is a war veteran and aviator who owns a Van Nuys, California-based charter service called Santini Air. Borgnine described the character as a stalwart, happy-go-lucky guy who helped people in distress. He accepted the role for those reasons and because he admired the dramatic and adventurous elements in Airwolf. Here are even more facts about Ernest Borgnine whose portrayal of Santini can be seen every weekday on getTV.

1.     From Borgnino to Borgnine

Ermes Effron Borgnino was born on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut. His father Camillo was a railroad brakeman and his mother Anna was said to be the daughter of a Count. Ernest’s parents separated when he was 2, and his mother took him to live in Italy for a few years before returning to Connecticut to finish school. The Borgninos later reconciled and changed the family name to Borgnine.

2.     From vegetable truck driver to gunner’s mate.

Ernie, as he liked to be called, graduated from New Haven High School in 1935. He worked as a vegetable truck driver for a few weeks before enlisting in the Navy as an apprentice seaman. Borgnine was discharged two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and promptly reenlisted. He spent his time in the war working as a gunner's mate on a destroyer.

3.     His mother thought he was a natural.

After his stint in WWII, Borgnine returned home unsure of what he was going to do. It was his mother who gave him the idea to go into acting when she told him, "You're always making a fool of yourself in front of people." That comment turned into a career that lasted over six decades and for more than 115 movies.

4.     His big break.

Borgnine continued his acting apprenticeship for several years after the war and made his Broadway debut playing the hospital attendant in a production of Harvey. Work in the movies and television started coming his way in 1951. Two years later, Borgnine got his big break when he was cast in Fred Zinnemann’s From Here To Eternity.

5.     He was the heavy with a heart.

Borgnine was comfortable playing the heavy and was called upon to do so throughout his movie career. It was common to see Ernie playing tough military roles or gruff police officers. Ironically, it was his role as a shy, big-hearted Bronx butcher that earned him the recognition of his peers. Playing Marty Piletti in Delbert Mann’s Marty (1955) earned Borgnine the Academy Award for Best Actor. During his acceptance speech, Borgnine thanked his mother for giving him the idea to go into the acting profession. His portrayal of Marty also opened the door to leading man roles.

6.     A boy changed his mind about television.

Once his movie career was flourishing, Borgnine vowed not to work on a TV series. He later wrote in his autobiography that he changed his mind when a boy came to his door selling candy. That boy didn’t know who Ernie was. When asked who he did like, the boy admitted to being a fan of both James Arness of Gunsmoke and Richard Boone of Have Gun, Will Travel. From that day forward, TV was never off limits for Ernest Borgnine.

7.     He was the first center square.

During premiere week in October 1966, Borgnine became the first center square celebrity on The Hollywood Squares game show. The spot would later belong to Paul Lynde who, as Borgnine described, could easily come up with one liners. Borgnine would always joke that his being the first ever center square would no doubt be a winning trivia question.

8.     A hall of fame cowboy.

Ernest Borgnine was inducted into The National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1996. The actor called the honor “another Academy Award” because it was the realization of a childhood dream. In his acceptance speech, Borgnine reminisced about watching great cowboys on the silver screen and believing every word they said. His own memorable Western vehicles include The Wild Bunch, Vera Cruz, Johnny Guitar, and Hannie Caulder.

9.     The fifth time’s the charm.

Borgnine was married five times. He was first married to Rhoda Kemins from 1949-1958. In 1959, Ernie married actress Katy Jurado, a union that lasted 4 years. Then in 1964, he married actress Ethel Merman who filed for divorce after only 32 days. Borgnine was later married to Donna Rancourt from 1965 to 1972. But it was his 1973 marriage to Tova Traesnaes that would endure. Ernie and Tova remained together for 38 years, until his death in 2012.


Be sure to tune in to see Ernest Borgnine on Airwolf each weekday at 2 pm ET/11 am PT on getTV.

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