As he contemplated what to do after the war, Borgnine’s mother suggested acting.
“She said, `You always like getting in front of people and making a fool of yourself, why don’t you give it a try?’” Borgnine recalled last year, shortly before receiving his SAG lifetime honor. “I was sitting at the kitchen table and I saw this light. No kidding. It sounds crazy. And 10 years later, I had Grace Kelly handing me an Academy Award.”
Mann and Chayefsky also won Oscars, and modest, gentle “Marty” claimed the best-picture prize over big-budget contenders “The Rose Tattoo,” “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” “Picnic” and “Mister Roberts.”
“The Oscar made me a star, and I’m grateful,” Borgnine said in 1966. “But I feel had I not won the Oscar I wouldn’t have gotten into the messes I did in my personal life.”
Those messes included four failed marriages, including one in 1964 to singer Ethel Merman that lasted less than six weeks.
But Borgnine’s fifth marriage, in 1973 to Norwegian-born Tova Traesnaes, endured and brought with it an interesting business partnership. She manufactured and sold her own beauty products under the name of Tova and used her husband’s rejuvenated face in her ads.
During a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Borgnine expressed delight that their union had reached 34 years. “That’s longer than the total of my four other marriages,” he commented, laughing heartily.
Borgnine played a sensitive role opposite Bette Davis in another film based on a Chayefsky TV drama, “The Catered Affair,” a film that was a personal favorite. It concerned a New York taxi driver and his wife who argued over the expense of their daughter’s wedding.
Among Borgnine’s other films were “Three Bad Men,” “The Vikings,” “Torpedo Run” and “Barabbas,” “Ice Station Zebra,” “The Adventurers,” “Willard” and “The Greatest” (as Muhammad Ali’s manager).
More recently, Borgnine had a recurring role as the apartment house doorman-cum-chef in the NBC sitcom “The Single Guy.” He had a small role in the unsuccessful 1997 movie version of “McHale’s Navy.” And he was the voice of Mermaid Man on “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Carface in “All Dogs Go to Heaven 2.”
“I don’t care whether a role is 10 minutes long or two hours,” he said in 1973. “And I don’t care whether my name is up there on top, either. Matter of fact, I’d rather have someone else get top billing; then if the picture bombs, he gets the blame, not me.”
He didn’t win that second time, but Borgnine was as gracious as could be about it.
“Hey, I already got one,” Borgnine said. “I was nominated and I think that’s wonderful. You don’t have to win them all.”