Ernest Borgnine

  1. Rod Steiger, Oklahoma! 1954.    He saw both but director Fred Zinnemann wanted actors rather than singers. Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Paul Newman, Dale Robertson, Robert Stack, plus singers Vic Damone and Howard Keel, as Curly… Ann Blyth, Ailene Roberts, Eva Marie Saint, Joanne Woodward plus  singers: Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell… or even Piper Laurie  for Laurey…  and Brando, Steiger, Lee Marvin  or Eli Wallach for poor Jud Fry – “a bullet-coloured, growly man,” as Curly called him. However, the musical’s parents had casting approval – Rodgers and Hammerstein, agreed only about Steiger.  And Oklahoma was played by… Arizona.

  2. Sam Levene, Sweet Smell of Success, 1956.    Burt Lancaster’s company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, had steered Borgnine to receiving his Marty Oscar from Grace Kelly on March 21, 1956. Now, Lancaster tried to force him into a support role.  Borgnine simply refused – and sued HHL for loaning  him out to films  for  $75,000,  while paying him just $17,000.  Lancaster continued  channeling the dreadful moguls he had escaped by forming his own nest when firing Alexander Mackendrick (who directed so brilliantly) from the 1959 HHL production of The Devil’s Disciplel!

  3. Mel Ferrer, Fraulein, 1957.   According to the LA Times in June 1956, Borgnine and Ursula Thiess were due for Berlin, Cologne and Munich locations as the GI and the woman (a Nazi’s fiancee) who saved his life during WWII. They became a very different couple:  Ferrer and South African Dana Wynter. Thiess was Robert Taylor’s wife from 1954 until his 1969 death.
  4. Sidney Poitier, The Long Ships, 1964.    He passed on Prince Aly Mansuh because he’d been there and got The Viking tee-shirt… Plus: “I was walking around 10th Avenue, wondering why I got into this business – it seemed Charlton Heston got all the good parts. Then I spot this vendor selling chestnuts. There was a sign on his cart: ‘I don’t want to set the world on fire, I just want to keep my nuts warm.’ I wanted that as the title of my memoir … but they said it wouldn’t sell in the Midwest.”
  5. Anthony Quinn, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968.  Habemus papam!” “We have a pope!”  But which one?  Richard Burton. Or – and you won’t believe this – Ernest Borgnine or Lee Marvin? For Pope Kiril I, the first  Eastern Rite priest to be elected Pontiff (in 400 years)  from the Morris West novel which predated by a full decade  such the election of an East European pontiff, in Karol Wojtyla, Pope John-Paul II.  Quinn survived all the Zorba the Pope taunts and had “a kind of mental illness experience that people get when they are overcome by religion.”  Marvin was the sole contender to refuse the because he was not satisfied with the script.  And he was right., It was an almighty flop for MGM, barely screened in the UK at all!
  6. James Gregory, Beneath The Planet of the Apes, 1970.    The mask, morethan the suit had already put Orson Welles off playing gorilla General Ursus.“You can‘t act witha mask,” he thundered.
  7. Marlon Brando,The Godfather1971.
  8. Ben Johnson, The Getaway, 1972.   Rare villainy from Johnson – as the parole board chief freeing Steve McQueen after sexual favours from his (soon to be) wife, Ali MacGraw  – as long as he robs a bank for him. Johnson won his Oscar in 1972 (for The Last Picture Show,made by Peter Bogdanovich, first director assigned to this Walter Hill scriptr). Or  17 years after Borgnine won his for Marty.
  9. Steve McQueen, The Towering Inferno, 1974.    Borgnine, surviving producer Irwin Allen’s Poseidon Adventurers in 1972, was to be the fire chief – with McQueen as the architect.”The firechief had ten pages in the first draft,” recalledUK director John Guillermin,”but Steve had tremendous instinct for the heart of the picture and said: If somebody of my calibre can play the architect, I’ll play the fire chief.”Withhis cut of the action, McQueen made $12m.
  10. Guy Marchand, Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate), France, 1981.    French scenarist Alain Corneau planned Jim Thompson’s novel, Pop 1280, as his directing debut in the early 70s (and in the US) with Warren Oates, LQ Jones and Ernest Borgnine. (Viva Peckinpah!). A decade later, Bertrand Tavernier made it his way… with Marchand in what would have been Borgnine’s role. At age 94, Ernie received the Screen Actors’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2011.

  11. Donald Pleasence, Double Target, Italy, 1987.   Borgnine passed the explosive (ie Bruno Mattei) Saturday Nightr B-movie to Pleasence. And a bunch of ther B-stalwarts: Miles O’Keeffe, Bo Svenson, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, Luciano Pigozzi, Mike Monty and Massimo Vanni. Borgnine kept working up to his death at 95.
  12. David Huddleston,The Big Lebowski, 1997.  In his making of book, ex-Coen Brothers assistant Alex Belth said the titular casting of the fat, wheelchair-bound Pasadena tycoon(Jeff Bridges was the son, remember) was among the final decisions made before shooting. The Coens aimed high – Marlon Brando! – then chewed through Borgnine, Robert Duvall (not seduced by the script), Andy Griffith (great idea!),  Gene Hackman (on a break), Anthony Hopkins (not keen on playing Americans), author Norman Mailer, George C Scott, longtime right vleft political adversaries William F Buckley and Gore Vidal…. And even the Bible thumping televangelist Jerry Falwell!
  13. Danny De Vito, Hercules, 1997.   Being a man of certain experience, standing and fame, De Vito refused to audition for Philoctetes. Borgnine, Edward Asner, Red Buttons and the inevitable unknown (Dick Latessa) were not so shy.   Only Buttons knew the score. “I know what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna give this part to Danny De Vito!”



 Birth year: 1917Death year: 2012Other name: Casting Calls:  13