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


Poseidon Adventure Revisited

Looking for a good disaster flick this summer, something to take your mind off soaring temperatures and a sinking economy?  Try the Poseidon Adventure.  Make sure it’s the 1972 original.

Captain Harrison: The Greek God Poseidon. God of storms, tempests, earthquakes, and other miscellaneous natural disasters. Quite an ill-tempered fellow. Photo by: Dunechaser.

In this action-packed journey to 20,000 leagues under the sea,  a mountainous ninety-foot tidal wave capsizes a luxury cruise ship.  Captain Harrison, played by Leslie Nielson in all seriousness, and his officers are tossed overboard within the first few minutes of the film.  The passengers, now standing on the ceiling of the ballroom on the bottom deck dressed in all get out to welcome the New Year, must fend for themselves.

Most follow to their death the purser, an arrogant bean counter who thinks he really runs the ship.  A ragtag group, however, goes their own way.

It’s like Chutes and Ladders and Dungeons and Dragons combined, as the dirty and sopping wet dozen seek the light, plunging down dark corridors and twisted pathways, avoiding electrical fires, and clambering into flooded rooms.

The object is to ascend to the top where they can break through the bottom of the thinnest part of the liner’s hull before the ship sinks.  It’s a close call.  Only six of them make it.

What a troupe! Gene Hackman won an Oscar for best Actor for The French Connection the previous year.  Here he plays the Reverend Frank Scott, the leader of the motley ensemble. He fervently believes that God helps those who help themselves and insists his followers do the same.  “Sitting on our butts is not going to help us either,” he lectures. “Maybe by climbing out of here, we can save ourselves.”

Ernest Borgnine, a 1956 Oscar winner for Marty, plays Lieutenant Detective Mike Rogo, a burly, hot-tempered man with a prissy side.  “You better watch your language, Preacher,” he warns the reverend,  “You sound like you come from the slum or something.”

Shelley Winters takes on the role of the fat lady, Mrs. Belle Rosen who is accompanying her husband to see their grandson for the first time.  A former championship swimmer she rescues Scott from drowning.  “In the water,” she explains, “I’m a very skinny lady.”  For her efforts, Winters won her second Oscar.

The actors also include Jack Albertson, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin,  Roddy McDowell,  and Stella Stevens.  You can figure out who wore the hot pants.

Sure, the dialogue dates from the last century and the script is cheesy.  That’s part of the fun.  Hollywood just doesn’t make movies like it used to.

For a recent perspective on the Poseidon Adventure, visit:

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserve