My interview with Ernest
Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine made a big impression on a young reporter.
July 9th, 2012
02:55 AM ET

My interview with Ernest

Editor's note: Leslie Tripp is an assignment editor for the CNN National Desk.

Many people in their mid-30s and younger heard about the death of actor Ernest Borgnine and it didn't mean much. But I felt a particular sadness because I have interviewed Borgnine, and I actually made him cry.

I was working at KFDA in Amarillo, Texas, in the late 1990s, and Borgnine was in the area to film a movie. When we heard about the death of Frank Sinatra it was a natural move to get Borgnine's reaction. I was young and just starting out in the news business and really thought I knew everything. So when my news director asked me to go interview Borgnine about Sinatra’s death, I balked.

“Really? This guy is old and hasn’t done any significant films or TV shows in years,” I told the news director. But it was my job to go, and I went, and now all these years later I’m glad I did.

I can’t even remember how we got onto the movie set, except that it was a rural county in the Texas Panhandle, and I had a local news business card to flash.

What you may not have known about Borgnine

Borgnine was a big man, and I remember expecting a small, old man…not an imposing-looking giant. But as imposing as his stature and build were, his smile was even bigger and instantly put me at ease. We sat in the hot West Texas sun and had a nice long chat.

We of course talked about the movie he was working on, and then it was time for me to ask him about his dear friend Sinatra.

I was not expecting his reaction. The interview went well for a few minutes and then came the tears. And I’m not talking little misty-eyed tears that you wipe away; this big giant of a man who looked so imposing was openly sobbing at the loss of an American icon, who had been one of his closest peers.

I was definitely caught off guard. I just stood there awkwardly for several minutes and didn’t even have a tissue to offer. Luckily someone in the crew did and shortly after Borgnine regained his composure.

It ended up being a very good day, and I learned a lot from the gentle giant named Ernest Borgnine. I have since discarded almost all of my old tapes from my early days in news, but that is one that I still have and will not part with.

So when I heard my colleagues here at CNN report the death of this big man with the big heart and big smile, I was truly saddened.

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Filed under: Celebrity • Entertainment • Movies • Showbiz • Texas • TV
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. KSE

    What can you say – great actor. Great actor. Hard to find words.
    Condolences to the family and friends of Ernest Borgnine. Deep appreciation for his work as an actor and his presence all these live long years.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  2. Micki

    God speed Mr. Borgnine. Wish there were more like you. A consummate actor and a wonderful, gentle soul. The world is a little emptier today and heaven a little fuller.

    July 9, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. RLH

    What a weak, useless story. It was more about you than him. I did not know that he was friends with Sinatra. It would have been nice to have some insight into that reliationship , that I assume started on the movie that was huge for both of them. You might have helped us understand both of them a little better. Wasted chance. He may have seemed a giant to you but he was only 5'9".

    July 9, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Mandy

      It's a BLOG, not an article. Wow, someone's wearing their cranky pants. RIP Ernie!!!

      July 9, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ancient Texan

    Another American Icon lost....a great actor and a real gentleman.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. sb53

    I saw an interview he did with Robert Osborne on TCM about two years ago. He was so upbeat and friendly and you could tell that he genuinely enjoyed life. Besides being one of the greatest actors ever, he was one of the good guys in real life. RIP Mr. Borgnine.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  6. lakeloons

    Always loved to see him when he came to Milwaukee for the Great Circus Parade and was dressed as a clown, Great Actor, loved to watch him on TV.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. rodney roberts

    Nice blog Leslie. It seems that our elders become much more relevant as we age. I'm glad you had this, and so many other rare opportunities when you were young. I had similar good fortune, and have had a much fuller life for it.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    Shut up, troll.

    July 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |

    Old enough to have seen most of Mr. Borgnines movies and to of e en spoken to him and dharrd morning talk at a small Wa.
    State eatery, but cannot jidge his chatacter but did enjoy his acting abilities

    His was a time in hollywood where you did not have to be a prety boy/girl that needs artificial body assist and high tech to enhance the visuals, and in most movies he held what were called character rolls; rolls that enhanced and even at times surpassed the leading stars performance.

    That he was sought after for those rolls for so many years by what we today call the greats is a testimony in itself both as a movie persinality and as a man whose character stood him within the graces of all who knew of hos art and his heart.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. ronvan

    It is a shame when those that we love from TV and movies pass away, but life is life! His legacy will be his movies and as a class person.

    July 10, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. gahh

    I read that after From Here To Eternity was released, Borgnine said he would be walking down streets in New York, and men would actually pick fights with him. It was because of the scene in the movie, where he beat Frank Sinatra to death. Borgine said he stood his ground, but tried to tell these people, it was just a movie.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |