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Oscar Winner, CT Native Ernest Borgnine Dies

"Thoroughly charming" actor passes at 95.

Connecticut native Ernest Borgnine, who was born and spent several years of his childhood in Hamden, has died. The Oscar-winning actor was 95.

For some he was Lt. Commander Quinton McHale on McHale's Navy, which ran on television from 1962 to 1966. For others, it was the film "Marty" that made him a household name. It also garnered him a string of awards, including an Oscar, Golden Globe, New York Film Critics Circle Award and a National Board of Review award for best actor.

The younger generation might remember him from appearances on shows such as The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, Saturday Night Live and ER — and as the voice of Mermaid Man on Spongebob Squarepants.

But he has held a special place in the hearts of Hamden residents who think of him as the hometown boy who did good.

He was born in 1917 and lived in Hamden for two years before his family moved to Italy. He returned to Hamden and attended Hillhouse High School in New Haven since Hamden had not yet built its own high school, according to an article New Haven Register TV editor Joe Amarante did in 2009 shortly after Borgnine turned 92.

About a decade ago the town set aside a small piece of land at the corner of Dixwell and Putnam avenues and dubbed it "Ernest Borgnine Park" to honor the actor.

He returned to Hamden often to visit family and would make appearances at Hamden High School to speak to drama students. The town honored him in 1993, when he attended several events in his honor.

"Mayor [Carl] Amento put out a call to the community so that everyone could join in the planning for the weekend of festivities welcoming Ernest Borgnine," said Mimsie Coleman, Director of Hamden’s Department of Arts, Recreation and Culture. "Many Hamden residents enthusiastically took part.

"I think the most memorable event was held one afternoon in Thornton Wilder Hall: 'A Visit with Ernest Borgnine.' Over 500 people crammed into the hall — we had to call the Fire Marshall," she remembered Sunday evening.

"[Borgnine's] personal assistant had advised us to have a comfortable chair on the stage for him, with a table next to it with water, and another person sitting close by to make sure he remained comfortable," she said.  "As it turns out, he never sat down and didn't need a person close by. Instead, he stood before the audience, first sharing stories of his life and then taking questions from the audience, some of whom claimed to have had connections with him when he was young"  

Borgnine remembered some of their stories, she said, "and believed the ones he didn't remember.  

"He was youthful, engaging and thoroughly charming.  At one point, he said he thought he remembered the center of Hamden, which is where his parents allegedly lived when he was born," she said.

His long career began in 1947 when he appeared in the play, "State of the Union," followed by a role in Tenessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."

He virtually never stopped working, appearing in at least 124 movies and dozens of TV shows. In 1997 he was featured in "Ernest Borgnine on the Bus," where he toured the country in his bus meeting fans.

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