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Should SAG be honoring Ernest Borgnine?

August 19, 2010 |  3:11 pm

Ernest Borgnine Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine ("Marty") is to receive the lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild on Jan. 30, six days after he turns 94. In making the announcement, SAG president Ken Howard said, "Whether portraying brutish villains, sympathetic everymen, complex leaders or hapless heroes, Ernest Borgnine has brought a boundless energy which, at 93, is still a hallmark of his remarkably busy life and career. It is with that same joyous spirit that we salute his impressive body of work and his steadfast generosity."

While Borgnine's work ethic is admirable — he has three films due out this year — his personal politics are less than laudable. Four years ago, he waded into the discussion about the merits of the movie "Brokeback Mountain," the first film to feature A-list talent in a gay love story. As Borgnine told Entertainment Weekly, "I didn’t see it and I don’t care to see it. I know they say it’s a good picture, but I don’t care to see it." Then he added, "If John Wayne were alive, he’d be rolling over in his grave!"

Such sentiments were widespread enough in Hollywood to cause "Brokeback Mountain" to stumble in the home stretch of the awards derby. The film was the front-runner after having been named the best picture of the year by 23 award groups, including the Producers Guild, BAFTA, Indie Spirits, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., New York Film Critics Circle, the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and the Golden Globes (where "Crash" wasn't even nominated).

Then "Brokeback Mountain" lost all four of its SAG Awards bids and would go down to defeat in these same races at the Oscars. The SAG ensemble prize was claimed by best picture winner "Crash," the SAG lead actor award went to eventual Oscar champ Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") over Heath Ledger and supporting actress was taken likewise by Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener") over Michelle Williams. Supporting actor nominee Jake Gyllenhaal was beaten by Paul Giamatti ("Cinderella Man") at SAG while both of them lost to George Clooney ("Syriana") at the Oscars.

While academy voters rewarded "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee and screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana as well as composer Gustavo Santaolalla, they could not award this breakthrough film the best picture prize. How many of them were like Borgnine and didn't even watch it? 

Photo: Ernest Borgnine holds his best actor Oscar for "Marty" at the Academy Awards in 1956. Credit: AMPAS

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