Ernie and I were in the Barter play “Interurban” by Carl Allensworth. My character was a child of 12, Sis Diefendorf , an imaginative youngster, while Ernie captured the audience’s heart as a telephone lineman. Mr. Porterfield was stunned at Ernie’s natural ability on stage and his outstanding rapport with the audience. Ernie earned a role in Robert Breen’s Barter production of “Hamlet” which was presented in Denmark during a 100th year anniversary celebration of the Shakespeare play. His next role was as the Gentleman Caller in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”
After two seasons at Barter, Ernie made his way to Broadway, then eventually to Hollywood. Some thought his looks would be a handicap, when actually they became an asset. The congenial character found enormous acceptance and success in both the motion picture and television industries. His many roles varied from the compassionate to the sinister. He received his big break in “From Here To Eternity” (1953), playing the sadistic Sergeant “Fatso” Judson, who beats a stockade prisoner (played by Frank Sinatra) in his charge, Ernie hit gold with the 1955 film “Marty.” He was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of the title character, an ordinary New York butcher who was constantly reminded by his friends and even his mother, that he was anything but handsome. Luckily however, Marty broke away from their negative-thinking and found for himself a sweetheart who was just as self-conscious and insecure as he. The film’s ending left the audience with the feeling that Marty would eventually marry his new friend and both of the plain, shy individuals would find happiness together.
Probably one of Ernie’s most notable roles was that of the Lt. Commander Quentin McHale in the 1963 television hit “McHale’s Navy.” During its four year run, he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Interestingly enough, he and his co-star Tim Conway remained lifelong friends.
Ernie was larger than life. He was married five times and his career spanned six decades. He threw himself 110 percent into every endeavor especially his friendships. He never forgot our having worked together at the Barter Theatre. Ernie remained in my life through the years and was like an older brother and a dear friend.