The Screen Actors Guild announced that Ernest Borgnine will be the recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award at the SAG Awards dinner in January 2011. The 93-year-old Borginine is still active: He appeared at a showing of a restored print of the 1954 A Star is Born back in April and has completed five films that will be released in 2010/11 and is signed to act in a sixth.
Most famous to the TV generation for playing Lt. Commander Quentin McHale in McHale’s Navy, Borgnine’s acting career stretches back to 1951. Five years later, he won a Best Actor Oscar playing the eponymous Marty (1955), one of the most famous and celebrated movies of the 1950s.
My friend Edward X. Young, a make-up artist who also is making a name for himself acting in indie horror films, had the honor of meeting Borgnine at a fan convention two years ago. What the beloved character actor told him may astound you. It certainly astounded Ed.
“I met Ernest Borgnine at The Chiller Theatre Convention at the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey on May 3, 2008,” Edward X. Young told me in an interview just after the announcement of the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award. “The legendary veteran actor was there representing his work in horror movies, such as The Devil’s Rain (1975) and Deadly Blessing (1981) and he was at a table adjoining that of his Poseidon Adventure (1972) co-star Stella Stevens.
“I was astounded at the vitality the then 91-year-old star, who spent all day greeting a virtually unending line of fans, signing autographs, posing for pictures, telling anecdotes, beaming that famous gap-toothed grin, and laughing out loud with that characteristic guffaw that could be heard from across the crowded ballroom. His energy and robust appearance seemed that of a much younger man. He sported full head of thick, white, wavy hair.”
The indie actor introduced himself to the legendary Oscar-winner.
“When I met Ernie, I told him I had to ask him a burning question.”
What was the question? And what was Ernie’s answer?
“Take no offense,” Edward X. Young told Ernest Borgnine, “but you are an old man.”
“I’m not offended,” Bognine said. “It’s true. I’m 91. I am old.”
“But you’re so full of energy,” Young told him, “and you look so young.”
“And I’ve got a full head of hair,” he said. “This is no toupee! Go on!” he urged Young. “Pull it!”
Borgnine began tugging at his “knotted and combined locks” [Hamlet, Act I., Scene v.] but they did not part.
“It’s all real,” the nonagenarian said. “You wanna check it ou?”
Young demurred. “I’m not going to pull your hair. I just want to know how you stay so young. Do you have some kind of secret?”
“Yes, I do,” Borgnine told Young. “And it is a secret. I’ll share it with you; but I don’t want these other people to hear it.”
According to Young, “He urged me to follow him to a corner, beckoned I come closer; and then whispered in my ear: ‘I masturbate all the time!'”
According to Young, “I looked at him to see if he was serious. He nodded his head, smiled that famous toothy grin, then laughed out loud and returned to the autograph table.”