Lesser Known Facts About the Life of Connecticut's Ernest Borgnine

Atop the old Greyhound bus station in Hartford during the 1940's could be found the Randall School of Dramatic Arts. It was here that Connecticut natives Ernest Borgnine and Ted Knight first honed their acting skills.

Knight and Borgnine — both World War II combat veterans — went on to star in many movies and TV shows. Knight, of Terryville, is best known as bumbling newscaster Ted Baxter of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" during the 1970's. Borgnine, who lived both in Hamden and in North Haven, became most famous in his role as Lt. Commander Quinton McHale in the TV sitcom, "McHale's Navy." Both actors used the G.I. Bill to attend Randall.

Interestingly, both Knight and Borgnine were multi-lingual; Knight was fluent both in Polish and in German — the latter coming in handy when he played a German officer on several occasions in the hit TV series "Combat" in the 1960's. Borgnine, who actually lived with his mother in Italy for a couple of years, could speak fluent Italian. His given name was actually Ermes Effron Borgnino.

Knight's career was cut short by cancer. He died in 1986 at age 63. Borgnine, however, lived to be 95, dying earlier this week on July 8. Borgnine, an Oscar winner in 1955 for his role in the movie "Marty," is the first and only Best Actor Oscar winner to be alive into his 90's. He started acting rather late, taking his first role at age 34 in 1951 and continued acting right up to this year; in fact, Borgnine was nominated for an Emmy for a role he played on "ER" when he was 92!

Here are some other interesting and less publicized facts about Ernest Borgnine's life, according to the Internet Movie Database site (IMDB):

Borgnine was in the Navy for 10 years before he began to study acting. His first 5-year stint ended in 1941. During that time, the gap-toothed native of Hamden went from 135 lbs. to 235 lbs. Then, after the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941, he rejoined for the duration of the war, patroling the Atlantic coast looking for German U-Boats. Undoubtedly, his naval experience proved useful for his starring role in "McHale's Navy" from 1962- 1966. Late in life, the U.S. Navy made him an Honorary Chief Petty Officer — an honor that pleased him greatly.

Ernest was the very first center square on "Hollywood Squares" when that show debuted in September of 1965. He was a regular for years.

His car license plate in California is BORG9.

Borgnine was married five times. He married Broadway star Ethel Merman in 1964. The temperamental Merman minded that Ernie got more attention when they were out in public, and the marriage lasted only 32 days. Borgnine said that their marriage was the "worst mistake" in his life. Merman, in writing about their marriage in her autobiography, included a one page chapter on their marriage: she deliberately left the page blank! He has been married to his fifth wife, Tova, who is 25 years younger, for the last 39 years.

Tortilla Flats, a well-known Manhattan restaurant, has had a major preoccupation with Ernest Borgnine since the 1980's. Many of the restaurant walls are covered with his photos; additionally, the wait staff undergoes rigorous Ernest Borgnine trivia training as part of the job! Borgnine has visited the establishment several times.

Borgnine was quite conservative. He has been a lifelong member of the Republican party. His conservative outlook can be seen in some of his better known quotations. For example, here is what he had to say regarding Clark Gable's famous expletive in "Gone With The Wind":

"Ever since they opened the floodgates with Clark Gable saying, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," somebody's ears pricked up and said, "Oh, Boy, here we go!" Writers used to make such wonderful pictures without all that swearing, all that cursing. And now it seems that you can't say three words without cursing. And I don't think that's right."

Here's what Borgnine had to say about the 1960's counterculture: "I hate hippies and dope heads. Just hate them. I'm glad we sent the men off to war. They came back with a sense of responsibility and respect."