Monday, July 9, 2012

R.I.P. Ernest Borgnine.

It’s a sad day for SpongeBob, as we at TIAH Blog pause to honor actor Ernest Borgnine, who left us at age 95 on July 08, 2012. 

To most, he was best known as the star of the film “Marty”. 

To me, he will always be Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, the “glue” that held together the many funny “parts” of the classic TV comedy McHALE’S NAVY (1962-1966). With such wonderful comedic character actors in the cast as Tim Conway, Joe Flynn, Carl Ballantine, and Bob Hastings, it took a special presence to… er, “steer that particular ship” – and Ernest Borgnine WAS that presence.  Was he EVER! 

Beyond that, he had memorable roles in such films as “Willard” (Yes, that “Rats” movie!) and Irwin Allen’s “The Poseidon Adventure”… and he even guested on THE SIMPSONS! 

In his last decade, oddly, Mr. Borgnine may have been best known for his voicing appearances on SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS as “Mermaid Man” of the old (and I do mean OLD) superhero team of “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy” – where he is reunited with McHALE’S NAVY alum Tim Conway.

“Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy” were the “Sixties Batman and Robin of the Sea” – or “Aquaman and Aqualad”, if you will.  Fanboy SpongeBob has watched their sixties TV reruns every day – and has built up so great an admiration for the dynamic subsurface-duo, that he fails to see that they’ve become senior citizens and expects them to go on “hero-ing” as they always did.  He and pal Patrick become every bit as annoying to them as you KNOW fanboys can become. 

In my view, it was a MASTERSTROKE on the part of SpongeBob’s producers to cast Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway in the roles of aging sixties TV stars… because that’s exactly what they are!  They were REALLY THERE – as a team – for the period SpongeBob and Patrick “geek-out” over!  (…I “geek-out” over that period TOO!  Wanna make somethin’ of it?!  HUH?)

So great was this concept that it became a standard of the series.  Borgnine appeared as Mermaid Man in 13 episodes from 1999 to 2011!  To this point in the run, following the show on DVD as I describe HERE, I’ve only seen the first three of Borgnine and Conway’s appearances – but they are ALL winners.  

Indeed, # 3 (aptly titled “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy III”) finds SpongeBob and Patrick minding the heroes’ heroic lair while MM and BB take a vacation.  Oh, the lair is filled with bizarre gadgets (as sixties superheroes are wont to have) – and a very mean “frozen villain” magnificently voiced by John Rhys-Davies.  …Do I need to say more? 

Borgnine and Conway’s appearances are a true highlight of the series – and imagine that Ernest Borgnine did many of these past the age of 90!  Rest in peace, Ernest Borgnine! 
SpongeBob and the rest of us salute you! 


joecab said...

What I thought was extra cool was their previous connection to the seas via McHale's Navy which made them naturals for the show. The SPongebob crew also cast champion surfer of the 1960s Corky Carroll on the "Bubble Buddy" episode as a version of himself.

I enjoy voice casting with some thought behind it. But no one can beat Andrea Romano!

Joe Torcivia said...

Yes, indeed, Joe C! Their “previous connection to the seas” – AND their previous connection PERIOD! The fact that they satirized Adam West and Burt Ward by REUNITING two actors that were ALSO paired in a classic series, makes it SO much better than if they just recruited two actors from the era, regardless of prior series associations.

And I hadn’t realized that, when I saw “Bubble Buddy”! In addition, I’m amazed that Clancy Brown has logged so many more years voicing Mr. Krabs, than he has for Lex Luthor!

Also great about the “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy” segments are that THEY were tributing the look and feel of Filmation’s ‘60s Aquaman, long before “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” did!

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the NARRATOR for “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy” the same guy who did the narration for “Dynomutt”? …Or, at least a very cleverly-intentioned simulation? If so, there’s ANOTHER homage/tribute we can add to the pile! I can’t find any evidence of who Dynomutt’s narrator WAS using IMDB – but take a listen for yourself!

Voice casting is an aspect of show biz that rarely gets its due – or even COMES UP all that often – but Andrea Romano IS tops! The fact that she appears on DVD features speaks to that!

Anonymous said...

I'll probably always think of Lt. Cmdr. McHale first when anybody mentions Borgnine, since that was the first show I remember seeing with him in it. But I'll also remember Marty, and the heroic cop, Lt. Petrosino in "Pay or Die" (based on a true story, BTW), and the bullying thug in "Bad Day at Black Rock" and the sadistic MP sergeant in "From Here to Eternity." That's the thing with Borgnine: he could play a good guy or a bad guy and be equally convincing each time.

Joe Torcivia said...

It’ll always be McHale for me too, Anon.

Hard to remember definitively at this point, but McHALE’S NAVY was very likely the first live-action prime time show I can remember watching – watching regularly that is. I guess that means it was the first such show I ever became a “fan” of.