With the passing of a true Hollywood giant, local resident Herbert “Bud” Wilkie took a moment to remember a different side of Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine.
Wilkie met the star at the height of his fame as they sailed to Australia together on the S.S. Monterey in late 1958.
Borgnine, who had already been in From Here to Eternity, and recently won an Oscar for the film Marty, beating no less than Frank Sinatra, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and the recently deceased James Dean.
“Ernest was the life of the party on the boat, he was a lot of fun,” Wilkie said, taking centre stage in the outrageous ceremony held while crossing the equator and generally spending a lot of time hanging out and making friends with the other passengers.
He was on his way to make a movie version of the Australian play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which was also released in the United States with a new name, Season of Passion.
Though already one of the biggest American stars, the unconventional leading man was still in the early stage of his six-decade career, a few years from becoming one of the biggest TV stars of the 1960s as Quinton McHale in McHale’s Navy.
Young Herbert Wilkie was similarly early in his career, on his way to work for a Sydney company that sent secretary Marjorie Thomson to pick him up at the dock.
As it turned out, Herbert and Marjorie hit it off in a big way.
When they got married a month later, Wilkie invited Borgnine to be his best man, but the star politely declined the opportunity, saying he was too busy filming.
Borgnine, who had served 10 years in the U.S. navy, earned a great many decorations, including the Second World War Victory Medal.
Borgnine practically started at the top, winning the Oscar for one of his early leading roles, then going on to dozens of big films including The Wild Bunch, Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, The Poseidon Adventure and Escape from New York.
However, he is best known to later generations for television roles in shows like Airwolf, The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., Murder, She Wrote and a reoccurring role as the voice of Mermaid Man on the wildly popular animated series, Spongebob Squarepants.
Within the last five years he became one of the oldest people ever to win an Emmy and Golden Globe, both for TV appearances.
Borgnine died on July 8, 2012 at the age of 95.
Herbert and Marjorie Wilkie are still happily married and are living in Parksville.