Ernest Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917, in Hamden, Connecticut. His parents were Charles who had emigrated from Ottiglio (AL), Italy and Anna who had emigrated from Carpi (MO), Italy.
As an only child, Ernest enjoyed most sports, especially boxing, but took no real interest in acting. At 18, after graduating from high school in New Haven, and undecided about his future career, he joined the navy, where he stayed for ten years until leaving in 1945. After a few factory jobs, his mother suggested that his forceful personality could make him suitable for a career in acting, and Borgnine promptly enrolled at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford. After completing the course he joined Robert Porterfield's famous Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, staying there for four years, undertaking odd jobs and playing every type of role imaginable.
His big break came in 1949, when he made his acting debut on Broadway playing a male nurse in Harvey. In 1951 Borgnine moved to Los Angeles to pursue a movie career, and made his film debut as Bill Street in The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951). His career took off in 1953 when he was cast in the role of Sgt. "Fatso" Judson in From Here to Eternity (1953). This memorable performance led to numerous supporting roles as "heavies" in a steady string of dramas and westerns. He played against type in 1955 by securing the lead role of Marty Piletti, a shy and sensitive butcher, in Marty (1955). He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, despite strong competition from Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, James Dean and James Cagney.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s Borgnine performed memorably in such films as The Catered Affair (1956), The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Emperor of the North Pole (1973). Between 1962 and 1966 he played Lt. Quinton McHale in the popular TV series McHale's Navy (1962). In early 1984 he returned to television as Dominic Santini in the action series Airwolf (1984), and in 1995 he was cast in the comedy The Single Guy (1995) as doorman Manny Cordoba. He also appeared in several made-for-TV movies.
Ernest Borgnine has often stated that acting is his greatest passion, and he's still working today. His amazing 51-year career includes appearances in over 100 feature films and three television series, as well as voiceovers in animated films such as All Dogs Got to Heaven 2 (1996) and Small Soldiers (1998).
He is married to Tova Traesnaes, who heads her own cosmetics company. They live in Beverly Hills, where Borgnine assists his wife between film projects. When not acting, he actively supports numerous charities and speaks tirelessly at benefits throughout the country. He has been awarded several honorary doctorates from colleges across the US as well as numerous Lifetime Achievement Awards. In 1996 he purchased a bus and travelled across the U.S. to see the country and meet his many fans. On December 17, 1999, he presented the University of North Alabama with a collection of scripts from his film and television career, as he is good friends with alumni and actor George Lindsey.