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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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The last three ladies have obviously not read a lot of the replies here--Mr. Borgnine's OPINION,if that's what you label it, is important because he did not see a film that was voted on by members of ampas for awards and Mr. Borgnine is a member of ampas. That's why it's different. And his opinion about Brokeback Mountain is really ignorant at worst and baseless at best because: HE HASN'T SEEN IT. I invite him to do so at the Gene Autry Center for Western Heritage on December 11th for the 5th Anniversary screening. Only after he's seen it will I consider changing my mind about his homophobic comments.

This award is not about personal or political beliefs. It is about honoring a man whose skills have offered a huge body of excellent work in his field. Is he out there marching or demanding "punishment" for gays? No, he was asked his opinion and he gave it. Since when are acting awards determined by your personal & political opinions?
Awards like this are not about awarding or punishing for opinions. They are about honoring the person for his body of work.
You need to get a grip & back off.
Grats Mr Borgnine you deserve the honor.

This is a country of free speech, if the Gays and Lesbians say what they feel, why can't Borgnine.

I don't always agree everybody's lifestyle or comments, but that doesn't mean they get deprived of an award because they said what they feel. It is their right.

Borgnine is much older then me, but he has paid his dues, in this field, much more then many that have gotten Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAG awards!

So, stop trying to stir up trouble, and give the man the SAG award. I may not agree with his comments, and many of them over the years I don't, but he has earned this and I appreciate all that he brings to his acting roles.

At age 94, get off his case. My Grandfather is set in his ways also!

I'm pleased that Mr. Borgnine is going to be honored with this award, and think it is long overdue. I'm still waiting for the Academy Awards to give him an honorary lifetime achievement award; I thought it unconscionable when they failed to introduce him last year as an Academy Award winner from 1956 when he was brought in to make a presentation. This man has been around longer than anyone else, except for Eli Wallach and Kirk Douglas, and is still performing.

Rick Delano is someone who is so afraid his child is gay because he wants to be an actor, so he spends all day long trolling discussions like this.

True, Clueless, there are worse, but the people who you want to cut a break, the ones "given their age and the times they grew up in," are still the ones most likely to use their attitudes in the voting booth to deny gay people their rights and such. If someone gay is the same age as Mr. Borgnine, I wonder what they think? Just because I have taken issue with what Mr. Borgnine said publicly twice now, does not mean I dislike the man. And I never once said he did not deserve this SAG honor. But given the opportunity to write about the implications of attitudes such as his, I have done so. Your question of "In what way could one be more tolerant" is always appropriate, but if one is on the receiving end of the "intolerance" I suppose you are more less likely to do so. Many people who have posted comments to this article have said alot worse things, but that's what a public figure's more benign statements do--give cover to others with even worse views. Thank you.

Well, Martin P., I get that. But my point is more that--as I'm sure you pretty much know--that there are worse homophobes breathing oxygen than Ernest Borgnine. And given his age and the times he grew up in, given that he speaks openly in a positive way about people who were gay makes me want to cut him a break. I would say that just because he recoils at the idea of gay cowboys doesn't make him an irredeemable homophobe. It's a blind spot at worst.

I think anyone who wants to cut another person down for their lack of enlightenment should ask themselves, "In what way could I be more tolerant?" From what I read on Internet forums everywhere (just for starters), we all need a boatload of work in that direction.

Jimmy Z, thanks for contributing zero to enlightenment.

Clueless, thanks for writing some comments and opinions that are sensible. The only thing I would say is that just because someone works with gay people, doesn't mean they're not homophobic. Racists have worked with black people and anti-semites with Jews, for example. Parents have experienced homophobia with their own children that they have presumed to love "before they found out they were gay." Phobias are based in irrational fears. And a fear does not always equate with hate.

Here we go again. The last Tom O'Neil posting I read came out after this, but it was his equally hilarious freakout over "The Daily Show" winning an Emmy, which made Tom himself sound like a right-wing nut job.

I disliked Brokeback Mountain, and not because it was about gay cowboys. I disliked it because it was like watching grass grow. I'll grant you that Heath Ledger gave a very moving performance and I think he should have won "Best Actor," but that's it. And this is not a special case; I think all Ang Lee's movies are elegaic and as boring as f***. And I say that having interviewed him and sensing that he's a lovely man. (Maybe I'll make an exception for Sense and Sensibility.)

I also hated Crash, by the way. If I were to pick the best movie that year, I would have gone with either Capote or Good Night and Good Luck. Thank god I'm not in a position for anyone to care about my opinions, however, or I'd still be living them down.

I think that Tom O'Neil is great at making mountains out of molehills. One comment about one movie does not a homophobe make—and put me on the side of people who think Borgnine's body of work is what should determine a lifetime achievement award. And anyone who can call Marty overrated—with a straight face no less—is in no position to criticize another's tastes. It's a great movie, it just doesn't speak to YOU. That may well be my problem with Brokeback, but . . . nah, it just put me to sleep.

BTW, I've been reading Borgnine's autobiography, in which he talks about being very fond of Rock Hudson (who he worked with on Ice Station Zebra), knowing full well that he was gay. He also has nothing but supremely positive things (in a personal sense) to say about Montgomery Clift, who he worked with on From Here to Eternity. Do I think he's the most enlightened man I've ever heard from? No—but he's certainly not someone out to bait gays.

OTOH, I agree with those who say he shouldn't pass judgment on a film he hasn't seen. Count him as the Eighty-Skidillionth person who has ever done that in Hollywood.

Oh puh-leez! What idiocy - honest to GOD get a life.

Thomas: Being a homophobe is not a political view.

Logan Clarke: People do go see those kinds of films all the time. One of them was nominated for Foreign Language film a few years ago. And it's not called being politically correct. It's called being a human being. Being gay is not political unless you make it so. Why should it be? No one is saying anyone has to see any film, but you should not be badmouthing films you haven't seen as an academy member and displaying your ignorance about what the film is about. Brokeback Mountain touched so many people in ways they never even thought possible. Maybe Mr. Borgnine would be touched, too, but his homophobia won't allow himself to even consider such a thing. I will repeat what author Daniel Mendelsohn wrote:

"The real achievement of 'Brokeback Mountain' is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it."

Ernest Borgnine's well-formed political views are as admirable as his tireless work.

Martin is so so right. Ernest Borgnine is a bigot. If he expressed anti-black views or anti-Christian views, etc., you can bet that SAG wouldn't be honoring him. People like him cost masterpiece Brokeback Mountain the Best Picture Oscar it was so overwhelmingly favored to win (nothing with its precursors has ever lost), and so richly deserved. Glad to see it on the short list of Best Movies of the Decade. But it doesn't excuse Ernie for saying John Wayne would roll over in his grave. And as for the acting merits, c'mon, his filmography doesn't rate at all, he's getting it because he's old. His Oscar for Marty was ridiculous too, in the year that Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter and James Dean in Rebel without Cause weren't even nominated (and I wouldn't have nominated Ernie either; 2 for Dean, with East of Eden as the other, plus Spencer Tracy for Bad Day at Black Rock and non-nominee Henry Fonda in Mister Roberts...or Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle...or Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me...or Alec Guiness in The Lady Killers, etc.; Marty was a glorified tv movie, and Rod Steiger was better. Other than Marty, his overrated finest hour, most of his performances were supporting and always pretty much the same. Bad bad choice. SAG is the least reliable of all groups anyway, this is just another very bad choice, and yet another insult to the gay community.

How about the "right" to dislike certain things.....? How dare anyone tell Ernie or anyone else what they should like or dislike, is this WWll Germany ?

If there was a movie about a muslim killing Americans because he he/she had a divine mission(in their own mind) everyone supposed to go see it to be politically correct ? No one can say "they dont like what it stands for.." ?

Where is the "Free Speech" for those people you idiots ?

Logan Clarke


During his Q&A he [Borgnine] took the time to respond to a Los Angeles Times article that argued he shouldn't get his SAG Lifetime Achievement Award because he refused to see or vote for 'Brokeback Mountain' during the 2006 Oscar race. He explained the situation to the audience, saying:

"Wait a minute, I made a boo-boo somewhere along the line. I didn't go to see a certain picture because I said, 'If John Wayne were still alive, he'd be rolling in his grave.' I didn't care to see it because I'm more interested in women than I am in men. I got nothing against men. What the hell? Everything is everything, but you know, to each his own. Do they have have to say, 'Oh because he didn't see this picture, he doesn't deserve recognition?' Who cares? It's up to you. If you want to see it as a person, fine. I understand the acting is very good, but you're within your right to say, 'No, I don't care to see it.' There are some of my own pictures that I don't care to see either."

First, the questioner doesn't get it right: O'Neil's article poses the question if Borgnine should be honored by SAG because of his homophobic statements. It does not answer the question. Commenters have done that.

Second, Mr. Borgnine doesn't get it and he displays his homophobia--again! He says: "I didn't care to see it because I'm more interested in women than I am in men." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is homophobia. If I said I didn't care to see Crash because I'm more interested in whites than blacks or if I said I didn't care to see Munich because I'm more interested in protestants than Jews, can you imagine the fuss? If I didn't want to see a straight romance would I be heterophobic? Yes. And I wouldn't see many movies, either, would I?

As author Daniel Mendelsohn wrote:

"The real achievement of 'Brokeback Mountain' is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they're not really homosexual—that they're more like the heart of America than like 'gay people'—you're pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed."

I guess Mr. Borgnine only has "feelings" for women. Of course, I don't think Mr. Borgnine likes "all" women either judging from one of his other quotes: Ernest on Women's Rights: "They tried it the wrong way. You can't expect anyone to take you seriously if you burn your undies and tell me I'm a pig. That's why it failed. Too many ugly broads telling me that they don't want to sleep with me. Who wanted you anyway?"

A classy guy, still, after all these years... Mr. Borgnine and many commenters here have proven their homophobia. What is that they're afraid of? They don't fear going to all kinds of films that show violence of every conceivable nature, deal with wars, pestilence, drug and alcohol abuse, animal slaughter, etc., but a story about gay people and you go off the hinges, which is why a child was murdered this month becaue his father said he was "acting like a girl" and two marines beat up a man in Florida because apparently he winked at them and they felt threatened. I hope our enemies don't find out all they have to do is wink at our troops to send them into a frenzy. I think women should beat up every man they feel thratened by that winks at them. And so it goes.

You mean like Mr. Borgnine did, Wes?

Perhaps I should refrain from watching movies because of the politics of the actors, writers, directors and producers.

DeneO: "So what?" (?) You say that Brokeback Mountain made you uncomfortable because it was desperately, hopelessly sad, and then you wonder why people who identified with this film and with the toll living in the closet takes on people's lives and you don't think someone's callous dismissal of that film would be upsetting to those people?

And you are wrong, the point of Brokeback Mountain was not to be shocking. The film wasn't made to shock people. I would say a lot of the folks who found it shocking didn't even see it. The fact that there is a whole history of people like Jack and Ennis out there that people haven't wanted to know about should be what's shocking. (There's a whole exhibit of gay and lesbian contributions to Western Heritage at the Autry Museum--the Out West series.) Shocking? Only if you are unknowledgeable about the existence of gay people throughout history, perhaps.

You wote about the film: "It was supposed to take a societal trope and stand it on its end. It did that, and it made a lot of people uncomfortable. It basically took the better part of a century of Westerns and changed the rules of the game."

First, that discomfort you write about is homophobia. And, again, people see (or don't see) what they want to. In his history of films, Vito Russo points out that Red River, with Montgomery Clift and John Wayne is basically a cowboy love story. But say that to homophobes and they think you're being subversive, have an agenda or are trying to ruin some iconography they have in their own minds about people, the U.S., cowboys or John Wayne, whose real name was Marion for cryin' out loud. There's other films with decidedly gay western characters, but you have to know what to look for. There was even a montage of western films with a decidedly gay angle that was introduced by Jon Stewart when he hosted the oscars that year. One of the first pieces of film ever put together was of two cowboys dancing together. (In the straight mind that must be because there were no women around.) Gay people and their lives are nothing new. It's how society treats them, views them, shows them or doesn't show them, that is different.

Being around gay people has nothing to do with whether or not someone is a homophobe. It's an attitude. And besides, homophobia would not affect Mr. Borgnine's being hired as an actor, but it sure might affect if a known but closeted gay actor was hired or not (read Tab Hunter's book for example) and if you came out, well, we don't know, there aren't any out gay A-list male Hollywood movie stars. At least in the vein of Ernie Borgnine or John Wayne.

And your proposition that a majority of the voters don't see all the films is probably true, but shouldn't be.

I would place prohibitive bets on one very simple proposition: the majority of the SAG membership never sees all the nominated films.

Not ever.

I would go so far as to suggest that the only films SAG members are virtually certain to see are those films that either contain: 1.Their own work; 2. Work done by close friends; 3. Films with a significant pre-release buzz; 4. Those films with a progressive, "underdog wins out" theme; and 5. Those already favored to win awards.

As for Mr. Borgnine and homophobia. You cannot work in the industry for any time whatsoever and not encounter gays. Not possible. Given that, I defy anyone to uncover some deep, ugly history of bigotry against gays in MR. Borgnine's background. It simply isn't there, and if it was, it would have surfaced by now, because, after all, he is still working.

The point of Brokeback Mountain was that it was supposed to be shocking. It was supposed to take a societal trope and stand it on its end. It did that, and it made a lot of people uncomfortable. It basically took the better part of a century of Westerns and changed the rules of the game.

And, again, it did it on purpose.

Truth be told, it made me damned uncomfortable, too. Not because of the sex, either, but because the story is so desperately, hopelessly sad, and Westerns, as a genre, tend to a heroic or, at least, an uplifting ending. This was anything but.

So Mr. Borgnine didn't want to see it. And he was probably right; Wayne would have hated it.

So what?

Ultimately, the award is about the body of work, and a true homophobe would never have lasted in Hollywood for 60+ years.

Cut an old man some slack, and show a little of that famous Hollywood tolerance we're always preaching about. Just let it go. Let the man have his day in peace.

Joe, you are right that it doesn't matter that Mr. Borgnine has outdated views on "gay people." It does matter when three of the actors from a film were SAG nominated for their roles in a film, as well as ensemble cast, that he just couldn't bring himself to see these wonderful performances. As an actor I'd think you would want to see what others of your profession are doing, and especially when you are a voting member. I wonder if Mr.Borgnine voted in any of those SAG categories that Brokeback Mountain was in that year? If not, only Best Film Actress was open for him to vote on. The Screen Actors Guild's National Honors and Tributes Committee bestows an annual Life Achievement Award "for outstanding achievement in fostering the finest ideals of the acting profession." I don't think dismissing great work in public is a fine ideal. Maybe he was only acting. As for that term "personal politics" you have used and others here, too, it is not political to be gay. It is human. That's only a term for those that don't see gay people as human beings.

It doesn't matter that Borgnine has outdated views on homosexuality. This is about his acting talents and those alone. If he has proved himself over the years, then he deserves to be honored; personal politics be damned!

Elizabeth Clark, if you check my post of Aug. 25 at 4:41 you will see that I, for one, know what I am talking about when I wrote:

"You ask if Mr. Borgnine's comments influenced the oscar voting. They did not because he made his statements after the voting period. But he put a public face, as did Tony Curtis during the voting, to the rumors and off the record confirmation of many journalists, that many ampas members were acting and responding in homophobic ways about the subject matter of a film that they should have viewed if they were voting that year. In other words, for example, Tony Curtis' comments gave cover for homophobes to not vote for "the gay cowboy movie." After all, John Wayne wouldn't like it (according to EB)."

Nor did Mr. O'Neil infer that, either, in his article.

I would like to ask you something Ms. Clark. You wrote: "frankly all of you are just speculating as to reasons behind his quoted comment." What do you think Mr. Borgnine was saying?

As the film's Oscar-winning co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry said backstage after Best Picture was announced, ''Perhaps the truth really is: Americans don't want cowboys to be gay.''

But what Americans and the "old-guard" may want, doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't true. There are gay cowboys. There are gay people in every strata of society.
Even if Mr. Borgnine and others "don't want to see them" or "don't care to see them."

Some of the discussion on this blog has centered around a comment made by Mr. Borgnine which was reported in Entertainment Weekly that supposedly then influenced Oscar voting. However, if any of you, including (and especially) Tom O'Neil, had done your homework you would looked up the Entertainment Weekly article (dated March 10, 2006) at,,1171729,00.html and learned that Mr. Borgnine supposedly made his comment at the Night of the 100 Stars Oscar viewing party, which EW describes as "old-guard" and which was held on Oscar night (March 5, 2006) long after the voting has closed. The comment attributed to Mr. Borgnine in Entertainment Weekly could not have affected other Academy members decision how to vote. The article also doesn't make it clear if the reporter asked the question or it was conveyed to the reporter by a third party. I'm not arguing that it doesn't behoove awards voters to see all the contenders in a category in which they cast a vote (and I truly wonder if Mr. O'Neil sees every single film and every single television program up for consideration for any critics awards he votes on or any awards categories he discusses in his blog). I'm just saying Mr. Borgnine's reluctance to see BBM (and frankly all of you are just speculating as to reasons behind his quoted comment) had nothing to do with whether or not the film received an Oscar. One could argue that the fact that "Crash's" ensemble cast was recognized for acting excellence by SAG several weeks before the Oscars (and actors I believe are the largest branch of the Academy) and the attendant buzz around that award, might have more to do with prompting Academy voters to consider Crash with its complex story, production and excellent cast a strong contender than any negative sentiment toward the beautifully made, acted and thought provoking BBM. In all these races, don't forget, a single vote more for one film than another can mean the difference between an award or not. We'll never know the count. We just should allow Mr. Borgnine to revel in a honor from his peers for his remarkable body of work.

Joe, Mr. Borgnine is not nominated for an award. He is going to receive the award. There is no need for Tom O'Neil to sway anyone's opinion one way or another. And if anyone would care to re-read anything I posted, you will not once see that I wrote anything against Mr. Borgnine receiving the award. I have taken issue with his comments and wrote "why" they mattered, as have some others. Then I was taking issue with those posters who don't get it.

You wrote: "Can you be gay and leave us alone?" That might sound like a nice little phrase to you, but it is actually more telling than a lot of other comments here. Can you be straight and leave us alone? This implies you would like gay people to live in the closet, as the guys in Brokeback Mountain do, so I guess the answer is no. Can you be black and leave us alone. Can you be a woman and leave us alone? Can you be Latino and leave us alone. Can you be Jewish and leave us alone. It's a bit insulting. People are who they are. What you resist, persists.

And to think if Mr. Borgnine had not said those few little statements, none of these posts ever would be here.

@ MartinP- Whether quality or quantity is a matter of choice... Someone at the studios kept casting and hiring him for 60 years... That is an accomplishment is itself.. Ya think?

Now, I will respond to you labeling everyone as "Homophobic"...
We get the point just fine. But, it has NOTHING to do with the SAG lifetime achievement award. Get that point thru your head! And honestly straight people are sick of your point. How's that? The truth. Can you be gay and leave us alone? Why do you feel that everyone needs a label except you?

The REAL point is Mr ONeil is making a gay issue out of Mr Borgnines comment on "brokeback mountain" to sway public opinion on his nomination for an award. Mr. Oneil is smearing Mr Borgnine Because Mr Oneil has a vested interest in who will win and who will loose an award. It has nothing to do with Mr Borginines accomplishments or achievements as an actor. Period. There is NO real issue on the facts here.

These are two complete different subjects and ya'll are crossing the line to make your point.

Joe Martinez




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