See his autobiography (1974).
(born Dec. 12, 1893, Bucharest, Rom.—died Jan. 26, 1973, Hollywood, Calif., U.S.) Romanian-born U.S. film actor. He was raised in New York City's Lower East Side and won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Art. He was largely a stage actor until the advent of sound movies. He won fame playing a gangster boss in Little Caesar (1931). Short and chubby, with heavy features and a gruff voice, Robinson was content that his career would consist of rough-and-tumble roles and character parts. His later films include Barbary Coast (1935), Double Indemnity (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), All My Sons (1948), Key Largo (1948), and The Cincinnati Kid (1965). In 1973 he was posthumously awarded an honorary Academy Award.
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An acclaimed performance as the gangster Rico Bandello in Little Caesar (1931) led to him being typecast as a 'tough guy' for much of his early career in works such as Five Star Final (1931), Smart Money (1931; his only movie with James Cagney), Tiger Shark (1932), Kid Galahad (1937) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and A Slight Case of Murder and The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938). In the 1940s, after a good performance in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940), he expanded into edgy psychological dramas including Double Indemnity (1944), The Woman in the Window (1945) and Scarlet Street (1945); but he continued to portray gangsters such as Johnny Rocco in John Huston's classic Key Largo (1948), the last of five films he made with Humphrey Bogart.
On three occasions in 1950 and 1952 he was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was threatened with blacklisting. Robinson became frightened and took steps to clear his name, such as having a representative go through his check stubs to ensure that none had been issued to subversive organizations. He reluctantly gave names of communist sympathizers and his own name was cleared, but thereafter he received smaller and less frequent roles. Still, anti-communist director Cecil B. DeMille cast him in The Ten Commandments in 1956.
A cultured and urbane man, Robinson built up a significant art collection, especially of abstract modern art. In 1956, he sold it to Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos to raise cash for his divorce settlement with Gladys Robinson; his finances had suffered due to underemployment after Hollywood's anti-communist period in the 1950s. That same year he returned to Broadway in Middle of the Night.
After DeMille brought Robinson back into movies, his most notable roles were in A Hole in the Head (1959) opposite Frank Sinatra and The Cincinnati Kid (1965), which showcased Robinson alongside Steve McQueen. Director Peter Bogdanovich was considered as a possible director for The Godfather in 1972, but turned it down, later remarking that he would have cast Robinson in the role ultimately played by Marlon Brando. Robinson indeed tried to talk his way into the part (which was how he had won the role of Little Caesar 40 years earlier), but Francis Coppola decided on Brando instead, over the initial objections of the studio.
Robinson was popular in the 1930s and 1940s and was able to avoid many flops during a 50-year career that included 101 films. His last scene was a euthanasia sequence in the science fiction cult classic Soylent Green (1973) in which he dies in a euthanasia clinic while watching nature films on a wall-sized screen.
Edward G. Robinson is buried in a crypt in the family mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens, New York.