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Ernest Borgnine stops in Athens

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Children might have recognized the surprise customer at Bojangles as the voice of Mermaidman on the cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants."

But Bojangles unit director David Freeman recognized him as the actor who starred in the TV series "McHale's Navy" and had roles in movies like "All Quiet on the Western Front," "Hustle" and "The Dirty Dozen."

Ernest Borgnine stopped by Bojangles on U.S. 72 in Athens on Monday at about 10 a.m. to relax and get a drink before heading to Huntsville's airport, Freeman said.

Borgnine participated in the 10th annual George Lindsay/ University of North Alabama Film Festival over the weekend.

"When he walked by, I knew exactly who he was," Freeman said. "I grew up watching him."

He said Borgnine signed autographs and took pictures with customers.

"He was very friendly and stayed about an hour," Freeman said.

"The older crowd recognized him right away."

Councilmen Ronnie Marks and Johnny Crutcher saw Borgnine as he got into a car and left the restaurant.

"Crutch was waving at him, and Ernest Borgnine was trying to roll down the window, but his driver kept going," Marks said.

"When we got inside, the ladies in there were just bragging and showing off their autographs."

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