Candidly Ernie

Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine talks in an exclusive interview

He’s 92, loves a hearty laugh, prefers to be called “Ernie” and is married to one of the most beautiful women in the world. 

His motto in life, and the title of his new biography in England, is “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, I Just Want to Keep My Nuts Warm.” 

Honestly, he saw it on a sign on a chestnut vendor’s cart years ago and that was it!

That is my take away from a recent interview with Academy-Award Winning Actor Ernest Borgnine

I recently traveled to Manhattan and sat down with the Connecticut native at the Waldorf Towers. He is a personal friend of my cousin Kathi Dugan, a retired Navy Captain. They are both Navy veterans who give of their time to help other veterans.

Ernie was born in Hamden in 1917 and later lived in North Haven and New Haven. In fact, he tells me that when he comes home, he likes to visit the pizza places in North Haven. 

He recently stayed with cousins in Middlefield and attended the 150th Anniversary of New Haven’s Hillhouse High School. I am told he managed to spend time with almost everyone at the event -- an example of how gracious this movie star is.

“Ernie’s the name. Everybody calls me Ernie, and if they call me Mr. Borgnine I don’t answer to that, because, hey, I’m a regular guy earning a living” he told me.

Before joining the Navy at 18, “Ernie” fondly recalls memories of riding the trolley, being in the Boy Scouts and swimming in the Quinnipiac River.

“This fellow always used to grow watermelons in the same place, and we’d wait, swim up there and throw the watermelons in the drink and off they’d go to the place where we were swimming and everybody would have a watermelon feast. It was wonderful, oh golly!” said Borgnine. 

He covers a lot of great stories in his book, “Ernie, The Autobiography.” One being how nervous he was showing up on the set of “From Here to Eternity,” his first major role. 
Borgnine says Frank Sinatra later admitted to him that he was also nervous. Sinatra’s career was stalled and he needed the movie to be a hit. The rest is history. It won eight Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for Sinatra.
Some other quick takes from my interview: 
Borgnine told me that as a Navy sailor, he had a pin-up picture of Bette Davis he admired. Years later, he was thrilled to act with her in a movie and got her to sign his picture!
Borgnine’s family changed their Italian name Borgnino to Borgnine, after his aunts felt that more people would like them if they appeared to be French.
Borgnine won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1955 for his role in “Marty.” He beat out James Cagney, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy for the honor, and the statue was presented to him by Grace Kelly. 
Years later, when he took a television role in “McHale’s Navy,” people in the film industry thought it was beneath him. He says, they believed that television wouldn’t last. “Ernie’s Navy” is something we’ll be hearing about in the future. 
Borgnine is passionate about remembering, and thanking, those men and women who have served our country. His new project involves having high school students visit veterans in hospitals and recording their stories so they will never be forgotten.
“These are the people who fought for us. They’ll never come out of those hospitals and if you can bring them a little joy, happiness, play cards, bring them candy, anything. Just talk, they’ll love you for it” said Borgnine.
And we love him for all of the joy he brings us.
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