Volume LVIIIFebruary 2011Number 1

A Modern-Day Renaissance Man: Brother Ernest Borgnine

A successful actor on both television and the big screen, Bro. Ernest Borgnine's career has spanned more than six decades. So has his Masonic journey.

He was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on Jan. 24, 1917, in Hamden, Conn., to Charles and Anna, who had emigrated from Italy. Growing up, Ernest enjoyed most sports, especially boxing.

After graduation from James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn., Ernie worked a few factory jobs and drove a vegetable truck. At age 18 and undecided about his future career, Borgnine joined the U.S. Navy in 1935. He was honorably discharged in 1941, but re-enlisted when the United States entered World War II and served until 1945 (a total of 10 years), reaching the rank of Gunner's Mate 1st Class. He served aboard the destroyer USS Lamberton (DD-119). His military decorations included the American Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, and the World War II Victory Medal.

After the war was over, Ernie's mother suggested that his strong personality could make him suitable for a career in acting. With help from the G.I. Bill, he enrolled at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, Conn. After completing the course, he auditioned and was accepted to Robert Porterfield's famous Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., where he stayed for four years. At first he took odd jobs painting scenery, working as a stagehand and driving truck before getting a shot at playing in numerous classics such as "State of the Union" and "The Glass Menagerie." He traveled with the company to entertain the U.S. servicemen in Germany and Denmark. His big break came in 1949, when he made his Broadway debut playing a male nurse in "Harvey."

In 1951, Bro. Ernie (he joined the fraternity in 1950) moved to Los Angeles to pursue a movie career, and made his film debut as Bill Street in "The Whistle at Eaton Falls." Ernie made his TV debut in "Captain Video and His Video Rangers" in 1951. His career took off in 1953 when he was cast in the role of Sgt. "Fatso" Judson in "From Here to Eternity." After numerous supporting roles in a steady string of dramas and westerns, in 1955, Bro. Ernie starred as a warm-hearted butcher in the film version of the television play "Marty." His performance gained him an Academy Award for Best Actor despite strong competition from James Dean, Frank Sinatra and former best actors Spencer Tracy and James Cagney. He also won the British Academy Film Award for best foreign actor, Golden Globe Award for best actor in a motion picture drama, National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Award for best actor and New York Film Critics' Circle Award for best actor. Years later, reflecting on his mere $5,000 salary for playing the lead in "Marty," he said, "... I would have done it for nothing."

Bro. Ernie performed memorably in such films as "The Catered Affair" (1956) and "Emperor of the North" (1973). He is the only actor to star in all four of "The Dirty Dozen" films (1967, 1985, 1987 and 1988). On television, he is best known for playing LCDR Quinton McHale in the popular series "McHale's Navy" from 1962-66. One of his most famous film roles became that of Dutch, a member of "The Wild Bunch" in the 1969 western classic.

In 1984, he co-starred as Dominic Santini in the TV action series "Airwolf," and in 1995, he was cast in the comedy "The Single Guy" as doorman Manny Cordoba. In 1996, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla.

His career includes appearances in more than 200 motion pictures, five television series, dozens of made-for-TV movies and guest appearances, as well as voice overs in animated films such as "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2" (1996) and "Small Soldiers" (1998). Since 1999, he has voiced the character Mermaid Man in the animated TV series, "SpongeBob SquarePants," a role which reunited him professionally with good "McHale's Navy" buddy, Tim Conway.

In 2007, Bro. Ernie starred in the Hallmark original movie, "A Grandpa for Christmas." He received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for his performance. At 90, he was the oldest Golden Globe nominee ever.

His 2008 autobiography, "Ernie," is a New York Times best seller.

In 2009, at age 92, Bro. Ernie starred in the last two episodes of the long-running NBC medical series "ER." His performance garnered his third Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. In August of that year, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival at the Providence Screening of his new film, "Another Harvest Moon."

In October 2010, Bro. Ernie appeared as himself in a sketch on "Saturday Night Live" and appeared in his latest movie, "Red," which was filmed earlier that year.

Most recently, on Jan. 30, 2011, at the age of 93, he received the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award given annually to the actor who fosters the "finest ideals of the acting profession" for his career and humanitarian accomplishments.

Bro. Ernie also has been awarded several honorary doctorates from colleges across the United States; a street was named in his honor in his hometown of Hamden, Conn.; there is a Mexican-themed restaurant in New York City with a shrine dedicated in his honor; and he has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

When not acting, he actively supports numerous charities and speaks tirelessly at benefits throughout the country.

An active Freemason, Bro. Ernie is a 60+-year member of Abington Lodge No. 48, Abington, Va., and is also a member of Hollywood Lodge No. 355, Los Angeles. He said he has always been proud to be a Freemason, and to have been honored with the 33º of the Masonic Order. He has served as the Honorary Chair of the Scottish Rite Ritecare program, which sponsors 175 childhood language disorders clinics, centers and programs nationwide.

From 1972-2002, Bro. Ernie marched in Milwaukee's annual Great Circus Parade as the "Grand Clown."

In 1996, he purchased a bus and traveled across the U.S. to see the country and meet his many fans. He also served one year as the Chairman of the National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans, visiting patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers. Bro. Ernie has volunteered to be the Stories of Service national spokesman, urging his fellow World War II veterans to come forward and share their stories. He still maintains contacts with old shipmates from his Navy destroyer days, and was recognized for his support of the Navy Memorial Fund with the Lone Sailor Award from the Navy Memorial Foundation. In 2000, the Veterans Foundation elected him Veteran of the Year.

On Oct. 15, 2004, Bro. Ernie received the honorary rank of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry D. Scott-the U.S. Navy's highest ranking enlisted sailor at the time-for Bro. Ernie's support of the Navy and naval families worldwide.

On Feb. 5, 2007, he received California's highest civilian honor, the California Commendation Medal. It was presented to him by Major General William H. Wade II, Adjutant General and Commander of the California National Guard, for a lifetime of exceptionally meritorious service as well as recognizing Bro. Ernie's "heartfelt advocacy on behalf of military personnel and veterans on many fronts, including the California National Guard."

"Regardless of his fame and success, he continues to demonstrate great humility, a heart for charity and a sincere love for the Craft and his fellow man," R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon said in explaining why he honored Bro. Ernie with The Pennsylvania Franklin Medal at the December 2010 Quarterly Communication.

After receiving the award, Bro Ernie, in a hand-written note to Grand Master Sturgeon, said, "I cannot, in simple language, say what is in my heart, to thank you and my Brothers for the honor you bestowed on me. What a tribute, and what a moment that was, with all the super Brothers from different parts of the world! ... I shall always try to live up to the great standards it represents! Sure was a great moment for me, and I thank you again for being such a great Mason and Brother."

Bro. Ernie has been married to Tova Traesnaes since Feb. 24, 1973. Tova is QVC's on-camera spokesperson for her own Tova Cosmetics line. The couple resides in the same Beverly Hills home that he bought in 1965. Despite his accomplishments and advanced years, Bro. Ernie has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Sources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Borgnine, freemasonsfordummies.blogspot.com, imdb.com/name/nm0000308/, webpages.marshall.edu/~will2/freemasonry.html.

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