THE IMPORTANCE OF SEEING ERNEST
A Rollicking Good Time with Marty, Fatso, Coley, Dutch and McHale.
Hal Drucker | Jul 12, 2012, 4:28 p.m.
To Ernie Borgnine, even Jack the Ripper must have been a “wonderful person.”
He has died on screen 29 times; been shot, stabbed, kicked, punched through barroom doors by Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper; pushed in front of moving subway trains, devoured by rats and a giant mutated fish; blown up in spaceships, melted down into a Technicolor puddle, jumped into a snake pit, and perished from thirst in the Sahara Desert. He bounced around a capsized ocean liner, beat Frank Sinatra to death, impaled Lee Marvin with a pitchfork, and had his way with Raquel Welch.”
I was primed to interview Ernest Borgnine five years ago when I profiled Tim Conway, who for six seasons was Borgnine’s inept second-in-command on ABC’s McHale's Navy. “I run into Ernie fairly frequently,” Conway told me at the time. “He has a great feeling for seeing and being with people. He travels around the country in a trailer, stops at little towns, jumps in, speaks to people, and moves on. He loves to do that kind of thing. “
Henny Youngman once asked me, how much I would pay him for the interview I requested of him. He was serious.
How much will you pay me for the privilege of being interviewed by me? I was not serious.
When I met Youngman in front of New York’s Friar’s Club, he gave me my comeuppance, sized me up and asked. “Was that suit made to order?" Before I could reply, he said, “Too bad you weren’t there.”
If Ernest Borgnine billed me for his 60 minutes of time, I would almost - but not quite - have been tempted to send him a check. Spending one hour with the Oscar-winning actor (and his affable press agent Harry Flynn) at Manhattan’s San Carlos Hotel, as I did last August 13, was a tonic for the soul. Borgnine was so effusive in his praise for every person we mentioned at our meeting, I have little doubt he would have regarded Attila the Hun as “a wonderful person.”
I know what you’re going to say next, dear senior reader: “I didn’t know Ernest Borgnine was still alive.”
Well, at 91, he is not only alive and kicking, he’s kickin’ a_ _.
“How old are you?” he asked me.
I’ll be 77 next week.
“Oh to be 77 again. I’d be a bat out of hell at 77.”
“You definitely look 20 years younger,” I said to him. “How come you look so damn good?”
“I try not to stop. I just finished a picture, Another Harvest Moon with Piper Laurie and Anne Meara, last month. And despite my age, I feel like a young buck. But,what the hell. That’s what life is all about. If you stop and disintegrate in a chair, you might just as well quit. So you keep going, your mind is going and [he knocked wood) you’re all set. Say, I’ve got a lot to look forward to. I want to live until I’m 113, [citing the Guinness Book record for longevity] but I definitely do no want to live one day longer.