From the S&S archives: Ernest Borgnine: The Heavy
ERNEST BORGNINE put in heavy duty with the Navy. Over 10 years he gained 100 pounds.
He entered the service in 1935 as a 134-pound 18-year-old. He came out a decade later at a hefty 234.
"I ate my way through the Navy," recalled the husky 51-year-old actor over a light lunch at his Roman hotel.
At 210 he's still far from being a shadowy six-footer even though he took off 60 pounds for his rugged role as Fat Cat in the screen version of Harold Robbins' "The Adventurers," being filmed, among other locations, in Rome.
"I still love the Navy," asserted the former gunner's mate from New Haven, Conn., who made "McHale's Navy" one of television's classic comedy series. "Everyone should put in a service stint, not because of the implications of war, but for the great opportunity to become a man and to prepare for a good solid civilian career.
"And in times of danger it teaches you how to live together as a closely knit group."
ACADEMY AWARD-winner Borgnine also patterned one of his great screen interpretations — as the sadistic sergeant in "From Here to Eternity" — after a gunner's mate first-class who used a billiard cue to wake up young Ernie and his mates with a sharp smack on the most sagging part of their hammocks.
"I hated his guts and vowed someday I'd get him. I never did, so I did the second best thing by portraying him in all of his viciousness in. `From Here to Eternity.' "
Ernest, christened Ermes (for Hermes, but his Italian-born mother couldn't pronounce her "h's in English), was all set to go back into the Navy after World War II because he couldn't stand the confinement of civilian work.
But his mother wisely suggested to her restless son, "Have you ever thought of becoming an actor?"
"I'd always admired actors," stated Borgnine, "and I suddenly realized that acting was exactly what I wanted to do, although I'd never given it a thought before."
So after 10 years of "hard work and struggle," Ernie had his Oscar for his title role in the memorable "Marty."
Although a first-generation Italo-American like Marty, Borgnine — whose mother was a countess — is "anything but like that big dumb cluck."
"I relied strictly on Paddy Chayefsky's script," explained Borgnine. "After all, it was his life he had written about."