Ernest Borgnine’s Masonic Journey

By Brother Ernest Borgnine, 33°
Member of Abingdon Lodge #48 Virginia USA

In 1946, I traveled with a friend down to a little town called Abingdon, Virginia, to see what the Barter Theatre had to offer. It offered nothing except hard work and board. My friend, not accepting the work they offered him, stayed one day – I stayed five years. In that time I grew to love the town and all it offered. The people, in particular, were simply marvelous.
Occasionally I would be assigned to go down to the printing shop and get posters made for the upcoming shows at the Barter Theatre. One day, in talking to the owner of the print shop, one Elmo Vaughan, I found that he belonged to the local Masonic Lodge, No. 48, in Abingdon. My father was also a Mason and had advanced to the Thirty-second Degree in Scottish Rite Masonry, and I told this to Elmo. He was pleased, and sensing his pleasure, I asked him if maybe I could join. He said nothing, continuing his work, 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 – and again my work took me away. We became good friends and finally one day I passed by and again I asked if I could join the Masons. Instantly, he whipped out an application and I hurriedly filled it out. I didn’t learn ’til later, that in those days, you had to ask three times.

I was thrilled! Not only was I going to be the first actor ever in Lodge No. 48, but I could just imagine my father’s surprise when I would spring the old greetings on him! I wanted only to surprise my Dad – and was I 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 doing my work for the Barter Theatre and 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 day – oh, one fine day – I stood foot-to-foot with my Brother and answered every question perfectly! I was ecstatic! I was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to get to Lodge to show my ability as an Entered Apprentice.

After I quieted down, that dear 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 my ears! All that hard work and only half done? He gently sat me down foot-to-foot, knee-to-knee and mouth-to-ear and taught me all the questions. That didn’t come easy, because I was almost doing the work by rote, but with careful listening and by really applying myself, I was soon able to deliver all the questions and answers perfectly! The night that I stood in front of the Lodge and was asked if I were ready to 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 am truly proud of that, never having demitted, I am still a member in good standing in Abingdon Lodge No. 48.

I tell this story not for the merit it might gain me, but to tell 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 found we are an elite group of people who believe in God, country, family and neighbors. We work hard to help our fellowman; and through our charitable work, such as support for the Childhood Language Disorders Centers, 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 are hiding our light under a bushel basket!

Recently I attended a dinner for a friend, and 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 realized 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 organization that made me a better American, Christian, husband and neighbor; and all it took was a little self-determination by going foot-to-foot, knee-to-knee, and mouth-to-ear!

40 thoughts on “Ernest Borgnine’s Masonic Journey

  1. Thank you Brother Borgnine for your story, my introduction to the Kraft came in a similar way. I had a dear friend who is a mason, and i asked him to join. he assisted me through my degrees. I live in a tiny rural village and am a member of Duke of Strathearn Lodge 200 qld australia. God bless all of you and i hope you all have a safe and happy holidays.

  2. What better LEGACY could a father leave his son? Many may not have achieved public acclaim in their lives, but for a son to know that his father was the kind of man that really cared for his God, country, family and neighbors, is indeed a special man. And what a proud moment when that father witnesses his son follow his example.


  3. Only today, upon his passing, did I read this. I am truly sorry that he is gone but I am honored to be able to say he was a brother- even if not from my Lodge. We will miss him……

  4. Farewell my Brother.You have gone to meet your God. As you stand before the Judge Supreme may you hear the words,” well done my faithful servant”.

  5. Rest in peace, Bro. Ernest Borgnine 33°! Your life has been an inspiration to many others, and you will be dearly and sorely missed! Our prayers go out to your family and loved ones during their grief, and know that we all grieve with them. Travel well as you go to that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, to that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens!

  6. What a pleasure to hear all that! If only we could get that wonderful experience out to others, especially the younger generation. Surely there must be a way to convey that devotion and enlightenment of life to our youth. Do we have member in the business of public relations? Any ideas, anyone?

  7. To Brother Borgnine, Alass My Brother! For your on your jounerney to that great architecht in the sky. Your story is inspiring. I am a joung mason, but I love the craft. I am climbing the starway slowly. May your journey be smooth, with fair weather, God Speed Bother!

  8. may god bless your soul brother as i was reading about your life in mason you inspire me with you work you have done rest in peace brother .

  9. What a story. I always loved his acting and when my friends who were not Mason asked about the craft I would tell them of the Famous people I know who belonged starting with George Washington and people from his era then on to more modern times and I would mention Red Skelton and Roy Rogers and on and on then I would puff up a bit and say Ernest Borgnine is also a mason and a 33rd at that and guess what else? He is a Virginia Mason! I always said that with such pride, not because HE was a Virginia Mason, but because I too am a Virginia Mason. What a wonderful Actor he was. Sadly, He passed away yesterday. Sunday the 8th of July 2012. He left behind wonderful films for those of us who didn’t know him personally. I watch them from time to time and feel as though I did know him though. Rest in Peace Brother Borgnino, rest in peace.

  10. I met brother Borgnine at a Shrine function in Los Angeles .As a fellow Italian Mason 32 degree , I was very pleased to meet him.
    Soft and Safe to thee my brother.Be thy resting place.

    Richard Franco PM Home Lodge 721 Van Nuys California

  11. Bro. Veitch; We regularly hold public meetings with tours and talks about Masonry for which we send out PR. This blog also gets a lot of traffic. Typically, our visitors are in their 20s. Our lodge is especially blessed to have a majority of new members in their 20s and 30s.

  12. Well done, Brother Borgnine, Well Done indeed. Rest now…….a Shining light has been extinguished, but a legacy created.

  13. I grew up on McHale’s Navy. What a great actor and what a great man. Bon Voyage Captain.

  14. R.I.P. Brother Ernest…
    Your Masonic Journey was quite interesting; and indeed free masonry makes each and every one of us a better citizen, Christian, husband and neighbor. May God, the great architect of the universe, bless your soul.

  15. RIP Brother, and thank you for the story and the life you lived. Your words touched my heart for I to have been foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand to back and mouth to ear.

  16. If I should go while you are still here, know that I live on vibrating to a different measure behind a veil you cannot see through. You cannot see me so, you must have faith. I wait for a time when we soar together again aware of each other. Until then, live life to its fullest. And if ever you need me, just whisper my name in your heart. I will be there. I will be there.
    Many, many people may whisper the name of Ernest Borgnine and true to his committment…he will always be there.
    Vaya con Dios, Brother Ernest Borgnine

  17. Thank you for sharing your story. It certainly touched my heart. Farewell from all your Brothers here in Australia.
    R.I.P. Brother Ernest

  18. I was joyfully surprised to learn Ernest Borgnine was a Mason & 33 Scottish Rite. He brought such pleasure to my life as I watched him on TV and movies while growing up. Rest in Peace and may you journey be all you hoped for!

    Gardner A. KleinPM 32, Ancient Landmarks Lodge # 319, Indianapolis, In

  19. hi!,I love your writing very so much! share we be in contact more approximately your post on AOL? I need a specialist on this space to solve my problem. May be that is you! Looking ahead to peer you.

  20. Ernie you lived long and worked hard and now the time has come for you to rest. You have been called to the Grand Lodge above where I am sure you will put in your best. As a young boy I was glued to the black & white TV watching you in McHale’s Navy. Your passing has been like losing an old friend.

  21. Ernest Borgnine was an excepcional actor and here in my country he had lots of fans. To know that he was also a Brother makes all of us very proud to learn that he belonged to our ancient fraternity.
    I remember the many films where he performed, and I feel sorry to know that we don’t find so many actors as good as he was. Wish from the bottom of my heart that he finds a nice path to our Eternal Lodge Above. where GAOTUwill certainly provide him a good place.
    José Carlos de Seixas, PM, 33, Philantropia e Ordem Lodge, MW Grand Lodge of Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil

  22. Like the Alan Ladd picture “Two years before the Mast” I am two years behind the times. But what a wonderful story by a wonderful man. He is quite correct in saying that Freemasonry teaches you to be a true and upright man. God bless him. Very Wor Bro Vic Dey PGIW Ancient York Number 80 Victorian Constitution Australia.

  23. It is always a great thing to gain more knowledge of the great men who have traveled before you Looking to the East of the Oldest Mens Fraternity in the world. More especially, the famous. Exceptional Story. May Our Brother Rest in Peace, in that House, Not made with hands, Eternal in the Heavens. Amen, Amen, Amem. SMIB
    Widow’s Son Lodge #1
    New Haven, Connecticut
    F&AM Prince Hall

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