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IMAGE: Ernest Borgnine
Chris Pizzello  /  AP file
Actor Ernest Borgnine poses will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 30.
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updated 1/28/2011 10:08:22 AM ET 2011-01-28T15:08:22

For Ernest Borgnine, life is a laughing matter.

The veteran actor of screen favorites such as "Marty," "McHale's Navy" and "The Poseidon Adventure" seems to punctuate every story with at least a little chuckle, and more often than not, a long and loud laugh.

Borgnine was in his Hollywood Hills home recently, recalling a call from Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard, who told him that he would receive the group's lifetime achievement award, to be presented Sunday at the SAG Awards.

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"He (Howard) said, 'We've nominated you. Would you accept the fact that you are to be the winner of the Screen Actors Guild Award?'" Borgnine said. "And I said, 'But am I worth it? Really. It comes down to that. What have I done, really? But, hey! I'm not going to turn it down.'"

Then he laughed.

Borgnine was career military, well on his way to a Navy pension when he came home after World War II.

"I knew one thing," Borgnine said, "I didn't want to go to work in a factory."

His mother suggested that he go into acting.

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"She said, 'You always like getting in front of people and making a fool of yourself, why don't you give it a try?'" he recalled. "I was sitting at the kitchen table and I saw this light. No kidding. It sounds crazy. And 10 years later, I had Grace Kelly handing me an Academy Award."

Borgnine laughs, as if still in disbelief, after all these years.

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After Broadway success, he moved to Los Angeles and found a breakout role in "From Here to Eternity" (1953). Borgnine then landed the lead as a lonely butcher in 1955's "Marty," for which he earned the best-actor Oscar. That made him a star, and he's been working steadily ever since, with memorable roles in the film and TV series "McHale's Navy," "The Wild Bunch" and "The Poseidon Adventure."

At 94, he's still working, providing the voice of Mermaid Man in "SpongeBob SquarePants" and making a cameo in last year's action hit "Red."

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Borgnine said his philosophy about acting came from his early days struggling in New York City, when he spotted a sign on a chestnut vendor's cart: "It said, 'I don't want to set the world on fire. I just want to keep my nuts warm.'"

More Borgnine laughter.

"I always found out one thing," Borgnine said. "If you laugh, people laugh with you. But if you just sit there, nothing, people go, 'What's the matter with him?' So, laugh, man. That's what life is all about."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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