Born Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, CT, to Italian immigrants, Ernest Borgnine spent five years of his early childhood in Milan before returning to the States for his education. Following a long stint in the Navy that ended after WWII, Borgnine enrolled in the Randall School of Dramatic Art in Hartford. Between 1946 and 1950, he worked with a theater troupe in Virginia and afterward appeared a few times on television before his 1951 film debut in China Corsair. Borgnine's stout build and tough face led him to spend the next few years playing villains. In 1953, he won considerable acclaim for his memorable portrayal of a ruthless, cruel sergeant in From Here to Eternity. He was also praised for his performance in the Western Bad Day at Black Rock. Borgnine could easily have been forever typecast as the heavy, but in 1955, he proved his versatility and showed a sensitive side in the film version of Paddy Chayefsky's acclaimed television play Marty. Borgnine's moving portrayal of a weak-willed, lonely, middle-aged butcher attempting to find love in the face of a crushingly dull life earned him an Oscar, a British Academy award, a Cannes Festival award, and an award from both the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review. After that, he seldom played bad guys and instead was primarily cast in "regular Joe" roles, with the notable exception of The Vikings in which he played the leader of the Viking warriors.
In 1962, he was cast in the role that most baby boomers best remember him for, the anarchic, entrepreneurial Quentin McHale in the sitcom McHale's Navy. During the '60s and '70s, Borgnine's popularity was at its peak and he appeared in many films, including a theatrical version of his show in 1964, The Dirty Dozen (1966), Ice Station Zebra (1968) and The Wild Bunch (1969). Following the demise of McHale's Navy in 1965, Borgnine did not regularly appear in series television for several years. However, he did continue his busy film career and also performed in television miniseries and movies. Notable features include The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Law and Disorder (1974). Some of his best television performances can be seen in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Ghost on Flight 401 (1978), and a remake of Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1979). In 1984, Borgnine returned to series television starring opposite Jan Michael Vincent in the action-adventure series Airwolf.
That series ended in 1986; Borgnine's career continued to steam along albeit in much smaller roles. Between 1995 and 1997, he was a regular on the television sitcom The Single Guy. In 1997, he also made a cameo appearance in Tom Arnold's remake of Borgnine's hit series McHale's Navy.
At age 80 he continued to work steadily in a variety of projects such as the comedy BASEketball, the sci-fi film Gattaca, and as the subject of the 1997 documentary Ernest Borgnine on the Bus. He kept on acting right up to the end of his life, tackling one of his final roles in the 2010 action comedy RED. Borgnine died in 2012 at age 95.