Ernest Borgnine interview,

Ernest Borgnine interview, “A Grandpa for Christmas,” The Hallmark Channel 

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(Caveat: I came into the conversation while Mr. Borgnine was in the midst of discussing the first time he attended the Academy Awards; specifically, his attire.) 

Ernest Borgnine: I tell you, man, they were the hottest thing I ever wore in my life! I swore I'd never wear 'em again! But it was wonderful, it really was. And for the first time in my life, I got to say hello to Clark Gable…and I took a picture with him! I don't know whatever happened to it, but we took a picture together. 

Reporter: Years ago, were you friends with the other Oscar-winning actors, and did you socialize with them, go to their homes? 

Ernest Borgnine: Oh, sure. Not everybody, of course. 

Reporter: Who were your friends? 

Ernest Borgnine: Well, most of my generation has passed away. 

Reporter: But who were some of your friends? 

Ernest Borgnine: Everybody from Lee Marvin on up and down, y'know? I've met 'em all, and worked with most of 'em. The woman I loved the best was Bette Davis. She was marvelous. 

Reporter: I think everybody loves her. 

Ernest Borgnine: Yeah, sure. She was a great gal.  

Reporter: Do you have a memory of working with an actor or actress that really stands out in your mind as something really outstanding? 

On the new Poseidon Adventure: "Did you see the new one? Did you like it? (without waiting for an answer) It's digitalized, right? There you go. It's phony! It wasn't worth a dime."

Ernest Borgnine: Spencer Tracy. And, of course, Bette Davis, but (to another reporter, who was getting a bit too close with his recorder) say, could you, uh, pull that back a little bit? I'm afraid I'm gonna take a bite out of it! (cackles) 

Reporter: Could you tell me what happened with…do you remember the experience that you had? 

Ernest Borgnine: It doesn't happen…it's just…you're in awe, you know? With Spencer Tracy, the first time I ever worked with Spencer Tracy, he was supposed to come in, and I had done this scene where I'd knocked him off the road, and he was one-armed in that picture ("Bad Day at Black Rock"), and he's getting out of the jeep and coming across, and just before we started the scene, Walter Brennan came by and said, "Do you mind very much if I watch this scene? I understand you're a pretty fair country actor!" (stammers for several seconds to imitate his reaction to this request) Oh, golly! But we started the scene, and Spencer Tracy's in the jeep, and he starts coming toward me, and I forgot every line, including my name and everything else, and all I could see were these Oscars coming right to me. And I said, "Omigod, what am I thinking?" And, suddenly, it blossomed out, and I said, "Well, if it ain't Old Man Macreedy!" And we did our scene and everything else, we finished it, went through the door, they said "cut, print, OK." Walter Brennan went by and said I was OK, and then Spencer Tracy came out and said, "You know, I like the way you act." I said, "What's that, sir?" He said, "You look a man right in the eye when you talk to him, don't you?" I said, "Well, that's the general idea!" You know, a lot of people look at your forehead, or they look away. They don't look you in the face. I like to look a person right in the eyes when I talk because that's an association. 

Reporter: What do you think about modern technology in movies? 

Ernest Borgnine interview, “A Grandpa for Christmas,” The Hallmark Channel Ernest Borgnine: What technology? There's no technology. It's all fake! It's all computerized! For instance, did you ever see the old "Poseidon Adventure?" Did you like it? 

Reporter: Sure. 

Ernest Borgnine: Did you see the new one? Did you like it? (without waiting for an answer) It's digitalized, right? There you go. It's phony! It wasn't worth a dime. 

Reporter: Let me ask you: you and Jack Lemmon are two of the most prolific actors as far as someone with such a great range. 

Ernest Borgnine: You put me in a good range, there, buddy. 

Reporter: Well, I mean, the breadth of comedy and drama that both of you have done, and that you continue to do, do you have a preference? Is there one that gives you more satisfaction? 

Ernest Borgnine. No, I love it all. Well, especially comedy. I love to do comedy in particular. 

Reporter: Why is that? 

Ernest Borgnine: I don't know. It's just…when you hear that audience laugh, there's nothing like it. Believe it or not, I did "The Odd Couple" with Don Rickles on the stage, and we knocked 'em dead. We really did. Because we played it right from the heart. We didn't play it for laughs. The laughs were already there. The comics play it for laughs, but it's no good. You've gotta play it with all honesty, deep in the heart and from the head, and then you've got it made. But comics are different, they want to laugh. But they'll get the laugh if they just play it honestly! 

Reporter: Do you have a favorite movie that you were in? 

Ernest Borgnine: Nope. All the ones I've made, 189 of them, are all my favorites. 

Bullz-Eye: Very diplomatic of you. 

Ernest Borgnine: (laughs) Yeah! 

Reporter: Even the movie version of "McHale's Navy?" 

Ernest Borgnine: Even the movie version of "McHale's Navy!" Or the second one, that I wasn't in! (laughs) 

Reporter: Is there a part that you're looking forward to playing in the future? I mean, do you have a fantasy about a part that you'd like to play? 

Ernest Borgnine: I don't know. I'll take anything that comes along, y'know? 

Reporter: But is there anything that you've always dreamed of being in? 

Believe it or not, I did "The Odd Couple" with Don Rickles on the stage, and we knocked 'em dead. We really did. Because we played it right from the heart. We didn't play it for laughs. The laughs were already there. The comics play it for laughs, but it's no good. You've gotta play it with all honesty..."

Ernest Borgnine: I always wanted to do one thing: I wanted to play Pancho Villa, the great bandit, and everything else that he was in Mexico. But I wanted to play him the way that he really was. He was a man who didn't know how to write his name until he happened to be in jail one time, and a young man taught him how to do it on a typewriter. Can you imagine that? And this young man and he, they were both dressed up, as a professor and a scholar, and they came along and they walked out of the prison. That's how he escaped! (cackles) And he was a womanizer, but he was not a drinker. He didn't get drunk and everything else, like Wallace Beery played him. He was a man who was truly a patriot. I had a chance one time. I almost got it one time, when Elia Kazan had me read for him as one of the owners of a big, uh….what the hell do you call it?...the farms down there in Mexico. And he was making a picture for Marlon Brando called "Viva Zapata," and there was a part there of Pancho Villa. And I took this script home, and I saw it, and my eyes opened up, and I said, "Omigod, I'm gonna ask if I can read for Pancho Villa! Maybe they haven't cast it yet!" So the next morning, I went in, and I said, "Sir, I have one question to ask you." He said, "What is it?" And he was smoking that stogie. And I said, "Can I read Pancho Villa for you?" And he looked over at a bunch of fellas at a table over there, and they nodded their heads, and he said, "Yeah, go ahead!" So I read it, and I gave him all the ho-hos and the ha-has, and I slammed the script down. And he said, "OK, now read for the land owner." Yeah, he'd already cast it. He'd made a mistake. He would've liked to have had me, but Alan Reed played it, so that was it. (sighs) But I take 'em as I come along. 

Reporter: Did you ever think of producing your own projects? 

Ernest Borgnine: Never. Never. Although I do have a production company. But I've never really…I like to get myself in front of the camera rather than behind the camera. Because I watched (Sam) Peckinpaugh one time, and we were in Albuquerque making "Convoy," and we were supposed to be in the place for five days. Thirty-five days later, we were still there, and the producer said, "Please, Sam, what are we doing here so long? We've gotta move it, y'know? Why are we here so long?" And Sam looked up at him and said, "I don't like people looking over my shoulder." And he went away. And three days later, we were finished. (cackles) Can you imagine? 

Bullz-Eye: Not really! By the way, I just wanted to say that I'm from Virginia, and I understand you've got a bit of a Virginia connection. 

Ernest Borgnine: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I worked there in the Barter Theater. I also belong to the Masons in Virginia: No. 48, in Abingdon, Virginia. I was the only actor ever to join the Abingdon lodge; that's my mother lodge. I've been a Mason now for over 55 years, and I've got the highest you can possibly get: the 33rd degree, the Grand Cross. At one time, there were only Gene Autry, Gen. (Jimmy) Doolittle, and myself in California. It's quite an honor.