Ernest Borgnine, the rough-hewn actor who seemed destined for tough-guy characters but won an Academy Award for embodying the gentlest of souls, a lonely Bronx butcher in the 1955 film Marty, died on Sunday (July 8, 2012) in Los Angeles. He was 95.
Mr. Borgnine made his first memorable impression in films at the age of 37, appearing in From Here to Eternity as Fatso Judson, the sadistic stockade sergeant who beats Frank Sinatra's character, Private Maggio, to death. But Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote Marty as a TV play, and Delbert Mann, who directed it, saw something beyond brutality in Mr. Borgnine and offered him the title role in the film.
The 1950s had emerged as the decade of the common man, with Willy Loman of Death of a Salesman on Broadway and the likes of bus driver Ralph Kramden (The Honeymooners) and factory worker Chester Riley (The Life of Riley) on TV. Mr. Borgnine's Marty Pilletti, a 34-year-old blue-collar bachelor who still lives with his mother, fit right in, showing the tender side of the average guy next door.
Mr. Borgnine received the Oscar for best actor for Marty.
He won even wider fame as the star of the ABC sitcom McHale's Navy (1962-66), originating the role of an irreverent con man of a PT boat skipper.
He wrote in his autobiography, Ernie, that he had turned down the role because he refused to do a TV series but changed his mind when a boy came to his door selling candy and said, although he knew who James Arness of Gunsmoke and Richard Boone of Have Gun, Will Travel were, he had never heard of Ernest Borgnine.
Over a career that lasted more than six decades, the burly, big-voiced Mr. Borgnine was never able to escape typecasting completely, at least in films. The vast majority of the characters he played were villains.
He also had military roles. One of his best known was as Lee Marvin's commanding officer in The Dirty Dozen, about hardened prisoners on a World War II commando mission.
He worked in virtually every genre. Filmmakers cast him as a gangster. He was in westerns like Sam Peckinpah's blood-soaked classic The Wild Bunch.
He played gruff police officers, like his character in the disaster blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure, and bosses from hell, as in the horror movie Willard.
Mr. Borgnine's menacing features seemed to disappear when he flashed his trademark gaptoothed smile, and later in life he began to find good-guy roles, like the helpful taxi driver in Escape From New York and the title role in A Grandpa for Christmas, a 2007 television movie.
McHale's Navy and the 1964 film inspired by it were his most notable forays into comedy, but in 1999 he began doing the voice of a recurring character, the elderly ex-superhero Mermaidman, in the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants. He played that role until last year.