When actors give us memorable performances, it is hard to imagine anyone else who can play the role of which we remember for. It is no different for when it comes to Ernest Borgnine. However, it might have never come true if it were not for his mother's suggestion to try acting. After serving in World War II, when Borgnine couldn't find work that satisfied him, his mother suggested to try acting because it was a "legitimate way" of making a fool of himself. He used the GI Bill to study acting at Randall School of Dramatic Arts.
Once he graduated, Borgnine's physique cast him as characters who were known as "heavies" especially in "From Here to Eternity" (1953). When he played the sadistic Sgt. "Fatso" Judson, he made such an impression on screen that years later, when Borgnine was stopped by a police officer, the officer recognized him as as "the man who killed Frank Sinatra."
But "Marty" (1955) was a game changer. The role initially intended for Rod Steiger, who portrayed Marty in the teleplay. But because Steiger was otherwise preoccupied with "Oklahoma" (1955), both directer Delbert Mann and writer Paddy Chayefsky flew on location to audition Borgnine. They were skeptical over their choice because his onscreen reputation was to play characters who killed people.
Although Borgnine showed up in full cowboy costume for "Black Rock" (1955), he delivered a stunning reading in an authentic Bronx accent that left both Chayefsky and Borgnine in tears. He was immediately cast. As the shy butcher Marty, he revealed that he was a perfectly layered actor. Ten years later, after the life-changing conversation he had with his mother, Borgnine was handed the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Marty.
After his Academy Award win, Borgnine's career opened a lot of opportunities. He was able to star in a number of westerns, which happened to be his favorite genre of films. And in 1962, he starred as McHale in the tv comedy, "McHale's Navy" which fit with his own background of serving in World War II.
Spanning over a seven-decade career, Borgnine has left his mark on each generation including the most recent when he lent his voice for the character "Mermaid Man" in the popular children's show, "Spongebob Squarepants." Even at 94, Borgnine insisted that he would never retire because being on movie sets made him feel young again. He appeared as a cameo appearance in the action movie "Red" (2010), where he played a retired spy, Henry.
In 2011, Borgnine was the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild: Lifetime Achievement Award. His last film to complete was "The Man Who Shook The Hand of Vicente Fernandez" (2012) but he will never be forgotten for his contribution to both film and tv.
It is interesting to note that what Borgnine wanted as a legacy, was quoted in the book, "25 Years of Celebrity Interviews from Vaudeville to Movies to TV, Reel to Real" by David Fantle, as saying,
"I'm 81 years old and I like to speak my mind. As a legacy, on the day I die, I'd like to have a newspaper publish all the things that I find wrong in the United States today. And my first would be to get rid of the politicians."