Ernest Borgnine's Masonic Journey


By Right Worshipful Brother Ernest Borgnine
Published in August 2012
In the Provincial Grand Lodge (Southern Division) Spring Ball magazine



Ernest Borgnine, the rough-hewn actor who seemed destined for tough-guy characters but won an Oscar for embodying the gentlest of souls, a lonely Bronx butcher, in the 1995 film “Marty”, died aged 95 in July 2012. He was a 33rd Degree member of Abington Lodge #48 Virginia USA. This is his Masonic story.



In 1946, I went to a little town called Abington, Virginia, where I joined the Barter Theatre. I stayed there for five years and grew to love the town and all it offered. The people, in particular, were marvellous. Occasionally I would have to go down to the printing shop and get posters made for the upcoming shows.


One day, in talking to the owner of the print shop, Elmo Vauhan, I found that he belonged to the local Masonic Lodge. My father was a 32nd Degree Mason and I told this to Elmo. He was pleased and I asked him if maybe I could join. He said nothing and a short while later I took my posters and left.


The next time I saw Elmo, I asked him again about joining the Masonic Order – again he said nothing. We became good friends and some time later I against asked him if I could join the Masons. Instantly, he whipped out an application and I filled it out. I only found out later than in those days, you had to ask three times.


I was thrilled! Not only was I going to be the Lodge’s first ever actor, but I could just imagine my father’s surprise when I would spring the old greetings on him! I was somewhat surprised, when after I was made an Entered Apprentice, I found I had to remember everything that happened to me at that event and come back and answer questions about it!


I was assigned to a dear old man of about 92 years of age who, I felt, must have been there when the Lodge first started. He was really of the old school – and he started me out with the foot-to-foot, knee-to-knee and mouth-to-ear routine of teaching.


Besides working for the Barter Theatre and doing a little acting to boot, I was also going to that dear Brother for my work in Masonry. I would tramp all over those lovely hills and work on my “Whence came you’s” and one fine day I stood foot-to-foot with my Brother and answered every question perfectly! I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get to Lodge to show my ability as an Entered Apprentice.


After I calmed down, my Brother said, “You’ve done fine, but aren’t you really only half started?” I couldn’t believe him! I knew my work; what else was there? He said “Wouldn’t it be better if you knew all the questions too?”


I couldn’t believe it! All that hard work and only half done? He gently sat me down and taught me all the questions. That didn’t come easy, because I was almost doing the work by rote, but by really applying myself, I was soon able to deliver all the questions and answers perfectly!


One night I stood in front of the Lodge and was asked if I could answer the questions of an Entered Apprentice. I respectfully asked if I could do both – questions and answers. I was granted that wish and later found that I was the second man in my Lodge to have ever done so!


I tell this story to show you that learning the Entered Apprentice obligation taught me a great lesson in acting as well: that before I ever attempt to do a part I should work, rehearse, feel, almost live that part to know what I am talking about!


As I’ve advanced in Masonry, I have realised that we are an elite group of men who believe in God, country, family and neighbours. We work hard to help our fellow man; and through our charitable work we have made it possible to help many children grow into good American citizens. We should always be proud of the Order we belong to. Where in all the world do you find so many great men and Brothers who have helped the whole wide world? But we hide our light under a bushel!


Recently I attended a dinner where I ran across a Brother who identified himself in a hushed voice. I asked why he spoke in a whisper when talking about Masonry, and suddenly I realised he wasn’t the only one who had ever done that. I speak out loud about Masonry to everyone!


I’m proud of the fact that I belong to an organisation that made me a better American, Christian, husband and neighbour; and it took was a little self determination!


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