Edward Goldenberg Robinson, Sr. (born Emanuel Goldenberg; Yiddish: עמנואל גאלדנבערג; December 12 1893 – January 26 1973) was an honorary Academy Award-winning American actor born in Romania.
Birth and education
Born to a Yiddish-speaking Jewish
family in Bucharest
, he emigrated with his family to New York City
in 1903. He attended Townsend Harris High School
and then City College of New York
, but an interest in acting led to him winning an American Academy of Dramatic Arts
scholarship, after which he changed his name to Edward G. Robinson
(the G. signifying his original last name
He began his acting career in 1913 and made his Broadway
debut in 1915. He made his film debut in a minor and uncredited role in 1916
; in 1923
he made his named debut as E. G. Robinson
in The Bright Shawl
. One of many actors who saw his career flourish in the new sound film
era rather than falter, he made only three films prior to 1930 but left his stage career that year and made fourteen films in 1930-32. He married his first wife, the stage actress Gladys Lloyd, in 1927; born Gladys Lloyd Cassell, she was the former wife of Ralph L. Vestervelt and the daughter of Clement C. Cassell, an architect, sculptor, and artist. The couple had one son, Edward Goldenberger Robinson, Jr. (a.k.a Manny Robinson, 1933-1974), as well as a daughter from Gladys Robinson's first marriage.
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.
Robinson was never nominated for an Academy Award
, but in 1973 he was awarded an honorary Oscar
in recognition that he had "achieved greatness as a player, a patron of the arts, and a dedicated citizen ... in sum, a Renaissance man". He died from cancer
at the age of 79, two months before the award ceremony.
Edward G. Robinson is buried in a crypt in the family mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens, New York.
Legacy and tributes
- A character bearing his likeness, an earlier version of the gangster character Rocky, was featured in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Rackateer Rabbit (in that cartoon, Robinson was paired with a Peter Lorre caricature). Another character based on Robinson's gangster image was The Frog from the cartoon series Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse.
- The character Brandon "Big Boss" Babel from the cartoon series C.O.P.S. is loosely based on Robinson's gangster portrayals.
- George in the 1990 film Gremlins 2 was a caricature of Robinson.
- The Gerry Anderson series Dick Spanner features a villain named Edgar G. Hobson in "The Case Of The Maltese Parrot". The character is played as a Robinson-style character, down to his "See?" catchphrase.
- In the episode "Play It Again, Seymour" of the TV series Quantum Leap, Dr. Sam Beckett mimics Robinson saying, "Don't even think about it, you mug" only to be corrected by Al "It's not a Humphrey Bogart line!" (Sam had leaped into a man who resembled Bogart.)
- In Robinson's final film, Soylent Green, he plays a depressed and disillusioned man who commits suicide to escape from the apocalyptic future world in which he lives; his death scene features him speaking with co-star Charlton Heston whose character weeps silently as he sees Robinson's photos of a pre-destroyed Earth. The tears were real; Charlton was at that time the only one who knew of Robinson's terminal cancer. Indeed, Robinson died less than a month later, just twelve days after the end of filming.
- In one of his bits, comedian Richard Jeni jokingly claimed he loved the new trend of women smoking cigars. He claimed "...because in a romantic situation, I want my woman to remind me as much of Edward G. Robinson as possible! 'Look here's how it's gonna go, see. You're gonna make love to me'..." in a Robinson-esque tone. This bit is repeated in the Dr. Katz episode Monte Carlo.
- Martin Freeman plays a reinsurance actuary named Ed Robinson in British TV series The Robinsons. Edward G. Robinson played an actuary in the 1944 film, Double Indemnity.
- Hank Azaria has mentioned that his voice for Chief Wiggum on The Simpsons is based on Edward G. Robinson
- In the Billy Wilder film One, Two, Three!, James Cagney exclaims, "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?!" in a reference to Robinson's role in Little Caesar.
- Gansberg, Alan L. (2004). Little Caesar: A Biography of Edward G. Robinson. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4950-X.