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Ernest and Tova Borgnine

Updated on November 23, 2014

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Ernest and Tova Borgnine

Tova Traesnaes was born in Oslo, Norway on November 17, 1941. Her dad was a graphic artist and her mother an English translator who worked at the U.S. Embassy. When young her parents separated and she moved to the United States with her mother when she was 71/2, in 1953.

While living in Manhatten, Tova decided to study acting. She soon developed a fondness for applying makeup instead of wearing it for acting jobs. Tova then started studying cosmetic arts. She opened he own business in New Jersey called 'Tova's Touch. She met and married a businessman from New Jersey - Louis A. Littleton. The marriage lasted about 4 years and produced one son. After the marriage ended, Tova moved to Las Vegas to be near her mother.

Ernest Borgnine- Ernest was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Connecticut to parents Charles and Anna who immigrated to the United States from Italy. He had a sister Evelyn. When he was 2 his parents separated and he went to live in Milan with his mom. By age 7 they returned to Connecticut and his parents reconciled.The family name was changed from Borgnino to Borgnine.

As a young boy he attended school in New Haven, and loved sports. After he graduated from James Hillhouse High School in 1935 Ernest was undecided about what career path he wanted to pursue, so he joined the United States Navy. He stayed in and served his Country for 10 years and left the service in 1945 with an honorable discharge. He obtained the rank of gunner's mate 1st class.

He came home and worked in different factory jobs. His mother suggested he should try acting and he enrolled in the Randall School of Dramatic Arts located in Hartford, Connecticut. He completed the course of study there and then in 1946 joined the Barber Theatre in Abington, Virginia. He stayed there for four years and did numerous roles available. He got his first big break in 1949 when he landed a lead in a Broadway show in which he played a male nurse 'Harvey'.Ernest moved to Los Angeles in 1951 to try to pursue a career in movies.

  • His first film was in 1951 The Whistle at Eaton Falls.
  • In 1953 he got his first break in movies when he landed a role in the movie classic From here to Eternity. From here he began played 'heavies' in numerous westerns.
  • In 1955 he won the lead role, playing a shy and sensitive butcher in Marty. His performance won him an Academy Award for best actor in a motion picture.
  • From 1962-1966 he played Lt. Commander Quinton McHale in the popular television series McHale's Navy. The show was about a misfit boat crew in the South Pacific during World War II. The show went to the top in the ratings. McHale's Navy received an Emmy Nomination in 1963 and 1964 for Outstanding Program Achievement in the field of Comedy. In 1964 the TV show was turned into a movie with Ernest in the title role.
  • There was a new game show starting called Hollywood Squares where stars sat in one of 9 boxes and the contestants played Tic-Tac-Toe. The first to get their X's or O's filled won. When the show premiered Ernie was the first center square.
  • After McHale's Navy ended, Ernest found his way back to movie roles. In 1967 he landed the role of General Worden in The Dirty Dozen and in 1969 he stared in The Wild Bunch. His movie career continued throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.
  • In 1995 he took on the role of 'Manny the Doorman' in the NBC sitcom- The Single Guy. He also was the voice of Mermaid man in the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants. from 1999-2012.
  • One of his last roles was a recent Christmas Hallmark television movie called A Grandpa for Christmas. Ernest received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Tracy Nelson played his daughter Marie O'Reilly.

Ernest Borgnine's film career spanned 61 years. He was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1996. In January 2011 he was presented with the Screen Actors Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award. Just before his death, he appeared in his final film: "The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez" for which he won an award for Best Actor at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

In 2008 Ernest wrote his autobiography Ernie which documents his life and his tremendous acting career.

  • Ernest and Tova Meet. Ernest was married 4 times before meeting Tova. She knew he had been married before, but not how many times.
  • His first wife was Rhonda Kemins (1949-1958). Just days before his marriage to Rhonda his mother died in 1949 from tuberculosis. The marriage produced a daughter- Nancee born May 28, 1952.
  • His second marriage was to Mexican actress Katy Jurado (1959-1963) and they had no children.
  • . His third marriage was to singer Ethel Merman in 1964. The marriage was the shortest lived having lasted only 32 days.
  • He then married Donna Rancourt (1965-1972). This married produced a son Christopher- born August 9, 1969 and 2 daughters Sharon born August 5, 1965 and Diana born December 29, 1970.

Ernest met Tova in 1972. he was almost 25 years older than her. They met through a mutual friend Marty Allen who set them up on a blind date for a Allen's birthday party. After 4 failed marriages the last thing Ernest wanted to do was to meet and get involved with another woman. They found themselves enjoying each other and talking at the party. Soon they were dating and 3 months later he proposed and 11 months later they got married in Las Vegas on February 24, 1973. Tova would tell people that Ernie was emotional and did have a temper, but he was not temperamental, but he was the most loving and sensitive man she ever knew.

When Tova was in Las Vegas she started at Ceaser's Palace to established her makeup concessions again. She became friends with many headliners and performers. From Merle Oberon she learned of an Aztec beauty lotion that is made from the root of cactus plants. This lotion helped to restore the users skin, and it was made by a Mexican family. So, while she was on location with Ernest during which he was shooting a movie in Mexico, Tova investigated the source of the cactus based essence and obtained the rights for the formula.

Ernest and many of their friends started using this lotion and a local newspaper write an article that 'Tova found a facelift in a jar'. The story was picked up by other papers that orders for the potion started rolling in. Do to the demand she started a business up from scratch and her Beauty by Tova was born and it started as a mail order company. Her husband and friends worked night and day to fill orders and pack them.

She faced challenges to get the mail order business going, what became 'direct marketing'. At the time she started taking a full page ad out magazines was not appropriate, so that left her no other choice but to find another way to advertise. She found newspapers as the way to go as there she could take out a full page ad. With Ernest being her husband and his credibility, people were sending orders for her products. After the newapapers she next started to advertise in catalogs, and Sunday ads- with scent strips supplied.

In 1982 she started her fragrance line of products. Introduced first was her signature perfume 'Tova Signature'. The scent is one that is is sensual and America women fell in love with it. Then in 1991 she met with QVC executives and demonstrated to them a belief in herself and her product. Soon, Tova was featured on QVC along with her perfume and lotions. In 1992 she introduced a new perfume called Body, mind and Spirit followed by Tova Nights. She is known on QVC as the First Lady of Beauty.

She tells people the correct way to apply a fragrance is after your bath or shower. If applying the scent to your wrists, NEVER rub your wrists together after applying. This is the first thing people do after applying a scent and it should not be done as it breaks up the fragrance when the wrists are rubbed together. Tova teaches that the way to make your perfume last after using to your wrists is to either to let them air dry way waving them gently in the air, she calls it the.“queen wave”!

She also tells us to take your Eau Du Parfum and spray it in front of you and walk through it. This way your signature scent will stay with you all day and into the night and you will not have to reapply your fragrance.

In 1988 Tova won an award for her fragrance. It is the FIFI Award, which is an annual event. It honors creative achievement and excellence to people in the fragrance industry. Different categories are Fragrance of the year, Best Packaging, Bath and Body line and Fragrance Hall of Fame.

Ernest and Tova did not have any children , but they lived a beautiful life together. On July 8, 2012, Ernest passed away from renal failure with his Tova by his side, he was 95. They were truly a wonderful match.

How Well Do You Know Ernest Borgnine

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How they pasted their time on McHale's Navy

A grandpa for Christmas

Awards that Ernest Borgnine won

1955- Academy Award
Best Actor in a Leading Role
1962 Emmy Award
Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead)
McHale's Navy
1979-Emmy Award
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special
All Quiet on the Western Front
1999 Emmy Award
Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program
All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series
2007 Golden Globe Award
Best Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
A Grandpa for Christmas
2009 Emmy Award
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
ER: And in the End
2009 Lifetime Achievement Award
from the Rhode Island International Film Festival
2011 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award
from the Screen Actors Guild


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