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Wedding Bell Blues — Another in a Series

All show business.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries have nothing on Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine.  Who?  Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine!   They were among our shiniest stars with humongous egos to match, and that was their problem.

Merman, the grand dame of Broadway musicals, was known for her big, brassy voice.  In the late forties she performed as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun for almost three years, and she owned the song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”  She later starred in the Irving Berlin movie by the same name along with Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, and, get this, Marilyn Monroe who had a small role as a hatcheck girl.

In the fifties Merman played the domineering stage mother in Gypsy.  Belting out, “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” nothing got this woman down, professionally or personally, although the movie role went to Rosalind Russell.

Borgnine was a dramatic actor with a good sense of humor.  He won Best Actor Oscar for Marty in 1955 and the adoration of audiences with his portrayal of Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale in the 1962 to 1966 sitcom McHale’s Navy.  When he met Ethel at a party, he was a little miffed that she didn’t recognize him from the movie, but took some satisfaction that she knew he was “that funny guy” from television.

A Navy man to the core.

It didn’t take long for the couple to become an item.  Ethel moved to the West Coast to build up her movie career following It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, a hit comedy.  They married in a beautiful ceremony at Ernie’s Beverly Hills home in 1964.  Lovebirds flew overhead.

These were no spring chickens, and they had both been around the world, so to speak.  Ernie, 47 years old, was Ethel’s fourth husband; Ethel, 56 years old, was his third wife.  The marriage barely lasted longer than their honeymoon to Hawaii, Japan and Hong Kong.  Apparently they were both seasick, but only Merman had medicine.  And she wouldn’t share.

By the time they returned home the newlyweds weren’t talking, at least to each other.  Ethel complained to anyone who would listen that Ernie hogged the spotlight.  As far as he was concerned, nothing was further than the truth, and after being continuously harangued and harassed, he left, never to return.  After thirty-two days of marriage Ethel filed for divorce.

Some thirty years later Borgnine came across Merman’s memoirs in a bookstore. Upon noting that the chapter titled “Ernest Borgnine” was left blank, he commented, “At least she didn’t say anything bad about me.”

I told you he had a good sense of humor.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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