Unhandsome and stout, Mr. Borgnine was typecast as a film villain for a decade, notably as the sadistic nemesis of Frank Sinatra's character in "From Here to Eternity." But he surprised audiences and critics with his gentle performance as a lonely Bronx butcher in the Paddy Chayevsky-penned 1955 film "Marty." He won an Academy Award for his portrayal. He also won a Golden Globe and awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
From that point on, the actor was rarely unemployed, ricocheting between bad guys ("Bad Day at Black Rock," "The Wild Bunch") and regular Joes with big hearts ("The Catered Affair," "Escape From New York," "The Dirty Dozen"). He was the star of the hit television comedy "McHale's Navy" from 1962 to 1966. The roughhewn features and nothing-fancy manners that prevented him from being a leading man in his youth seemed to ensure his durability as a character actor.
Mr. Borgnine eschewed stage acting as tedious. "Once you create a character for the stage, you become like a machine," he told The Washington Post in 1969. In films, "you’re always creating something new." He made one appearance on Broadway, opposite Helen Hayes in Mrs. McThing in 1952.
Ermes Effron Borgnino was born on Jan. 24, 1917, in Hamden, CT. He joined the Navy at 18 and served for 10 years. During World War II he was a gunner’s mate. He was encouraged to try acting by him mother. He studied at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, then moved to Virginia, where he became a member of the Barter Theater in Abingdon.
Mr. Borgnine was married five times, including a notoriously brief 1964 union with Broadway star Ethel Merman that lasted barely a month. He is survived by a daughter, Nancee, from his first marriage; a son, Christopher, from his second marriage; and two daughters, Sharon and Diana, from his fourth marriage.