2010 Interview: Ernest Borgnine Receives York Rite Medal Of Honor
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Oscar-award winning actor Ernest Borgnine died Sunday at age 95.
In July 2010, Borgnine was in Pittsburgh to receive The York Rite Medal of Honor during the 53rd General Assembly of the Sovereign College.
While he was in town, he sat down with KDKA-TV to talk about receiving the award as well as his great career.
“I have never heard of this award, but there’s only one other person that’s ever received it and I happen to be the second one. Goodness, I can’t make out why they [would] ever [give] me anything like this or what, but everybody says you’re deserving or this or that. I did nothing more than what a good Mason should do,” Borgnine said.
When asked what acting meant to him, Borgnine jokingly said it was about the money. However, he had a far more persona reason and it was all thanks to his mother.
“My mother once told me, she said, ‘If you can make one person happy in a span of 24 hours, you’ve accomplished a great deal.’ When I came out of the service, I put 10 years in the Navy during World War II and stuff, I came home and I was pretty disgusted with everything and I said, ‘Well I’m going to go back into the service and do my other 10 years and get a pension so at least ill have something. Then, out of the clear blue sky she said, ‘Have you ever thought of becoming an actor. You always like to make a darn fool of yourself in front of people, why don’t you give it a try?’” Borgnine said.
“Then, 10 years later, they’re handing me an Academy Award. Believe me, I don’t know how it happened or what, but people seemed to like what I do and they get great pleasure out of it. So number one, it gave me great pleasure to make people get great pleasure and what more could you possible say? That’s all that’s needed isn’t it?”
Borgnine may be best known for playing the role of “Fatso” in the 1953 film “From Here to Eternity.” Borgnine reflected on the role and talked about some of the backlash he received from playing the villain.
“I remember making $700 a week and poor Frank Sinatra was making $125, believe it or not. He had no voice, he had lost his voice and was in bad shape, but he did want to play that part. The head of the Columbia studio said he’s not right for the part. He finally got it. I don’t why or how or what happened, but he got it. He came out with an Oscar and the fellow at Columbia said, ‘See? That’s the greatest bit of casting I’ve ever done in my life,’” Borgnine said.
“As far as playing a villain, I got more kinds of threats. I remember one time I made a U-turn on the Los Angeles streets and the cop pulled me over and said, ‘You can’t do this.’ I had this card and my driver’s license and I showed him the card. He looked at it and he looked at me and looked at the card and said, ‘Hey Joe guess what? I caught the son of a gun – he didn’t say son of a gun – that killed Frank Sinatra’ and gave me a citation.”
Borgnine went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of Marty in the 1955 movie by the same name.
“It was part of my life. I’ve always been that kind of person that was laid back. I was afraid to – not afraid or ashamed- but I was just one of those guys that stood there in the corner and hey, that’s Marty. When I saw this part I said, ‘My God, I’m going to relive my life again. So, when they gave it to me and a lot of people don’t know this, but Marty was actually made to be a tax loss. They only wanted to make half of the picture and then shelve it. And then the tax man said no, you’ve got to make it all, show it one time and then you can put it on the shelf. So, I made $5,000 for the entire picture with a promise of $5,000 more if I signed a 7-year contract, which cost me a half a million dollars to get out of. It was a wonderful picture and it was easy to make. We made the whole thing in 14 shooting days,” Borgnine said.
“We walked away with everything. I got an Academy Award, which was unheard of that an actor of my ilk would get something like that being a character actor.”