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The Softer Side of Ernest Borgnine

by Legacy Staff

It’s interesting to see which of Ernest Borgnine’s movies and TV shows his fans remember him by—and not surprising that they love his lighter roles, just like we do.

The Associated Press obituary for Ernest Borgnine led with a statement about the Oscar-winning actor’s usual character—the “heavy”—and called him a “beefy screen star known for blustery, often villainous roles.” But the performances his fans are remembering in the wake of his death July 8, 2012, are more than just the tough-guy parts. Borgnine’s career was varied indeed, with memorable roles in comedy, romance, and even children’s television—and that’s why his fans loved him.

The day after Borgnine’s death, we’re reading condolences shared in the online Guest Book. It’s interesting to see which of Borgnine’s movies and TV shows his fans refer to as they mourn his loss—and not surprising that they love his lighter roles, just like we do.


Many messages left in Borgnine’s Guest Book recall one of his most famous roles:

“To The Family of Ernest Borgnine-Please know that he was loved and I have the memories of ‘McHales Navy’ to last forever. I know your memories will hold you now and forever as well. God Bless you and your family and thank you for sharing him with us all these years.”

~Marie St.Clair, Snellville, Georgia

In 1960s sitcom “McHale’s Navy,” Borgnine played a commanding officer who was far from a tough guy, leading a group of rather relaxed sailors on an island paradise.

Other fans refer to the role that won Borgnine a best-actor Oscar, that of a lonely man who finds love:

“You will be missed. Marty was one of the best movies I ever saw, and will never forget the great job you did in it.”

~Jim Greco, Spring Hill, Florida 

Younger fans—and parents of younger fans—remember Borgnine’s voiceover work on cartoon favorite “Spongebob Squarepants.” Borgnine voiced superhero Mermaid Man, Spongebob’s idol.

“Ernie was an eternally youthful man. Even when performing the voiceover for his elderly Mermaid Man character, he had to “sound older” (with a raspy voice) at the age of 95! We will miss his joyful exhuberance. Lord bless his entire family.”

~Donna Evers, Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey

But Borgnine’s longest-running role wasn’t in a movie or a TV series—it was a once-yearly turn as the Grand Clown of Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade. Borgnine wore the makeup and the funny shoes for 30 parades.

You will be dearly missed Ernie, in all of your roles, but I remember you most, as a clown, in the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. May the good Lord hold you in His embrace.


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