Somebody get to the contempo philosopher King known as Sting and inform him that I owe him one. (You know, synchronicity and all that.) Recently sick at home and determinedly trawling through a batch of Wagon Train episodes I wound up continually spying one of the grittier character guys in Hollywoodland, Robert Wilke, in a number of different appearances. At the same time, I also spotted the one and only Ernie B (born Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, CT in 1917, better known as Ernest Borgnine) boarding that ol’ prairie train a few times too. Being a natural born, dyed-in-the-wool, genuine A#1 pop cult shamus, I couldn’t help but contemplate what exactly what the non-transferable magic quality that allowed a barrel-chested, bug-eyed, salt-of-the-earther like Ernie B to climb into starring roles on television and in the movies and sustain one hell of a lengthy career (199 movie and television credits since 1951) on top of it. (A career that recently included a top-billed performance in the recent Hallmark Channel’s original movie Wishing Well at the tender age of 92.)
Why Ernie B and not the always dead on Wilke? Why not another abjectly coarse minor icon of big and small screen masculine characterizations like Ted DeCorsica, M. Emmet Walsh, Bert Remsem, Adam Williams, Jack Elam, Claude Akins, Don Stroud, Strother Martin, Robert Webber, or James Gammon and dozens more? Did Ernie B, a few more of his ilk (Jack Palance, Warren Oates, and certainly Lee Marvin), have better acting chops, greater career circumstances, or simply all out more significant mojo?