Edward G. Robinson (born Emanuel Goldenberg; December 12, 1893 – January 26, 1973) was an American actor of stage and screen during Hollywood's Golden Age. He appeared in 40 Broadway plays and more than 100 films during a 50-year career and is best remembered for his tough-guy roles as gangsters in such films as Little Caesar and Key Largo.
During the 1930s and 1940s, he was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism, which were growing in strength in Europe leading up to World War II. His activism included contributing over $250,000 to more than 850 organizations involved in war relief, along with cultural, educational and religious groups. During the 1950s, he was called to testify at the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare, but was cleared of any Communist involvement.
Robinson's roles included an insurance investigator in the film noir Double Indemnity, Dathan (adversary of Moses) in The Ten Commandments, and his final performance in the science-fiction story Soylent Green. Robinson received an Honorary Academy Award for his work in the film industry, which was awarded two months after he died in 1973. He is ranked number 24 in the American Film Institute's list of the 25 greatest male stars of Classic American cinema.
Edward G. Robinson
Robinson circa 1935
December 12, 1893
|Died||January 26, 1973 (aged 79)|
|Resting place||Beth El Cemetery, Brooklyn|
|Home town||Manhattan, New York City|
(m. 1927; div. 1956)
|Awards||Honorary Academy Award (1973)|
Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award (1969)
After one of his brothers was attacked by an anti-semitic mob, the family decided to immigrate to the United States. Robinson arrived in New York City on February 21, 1904. "At Ellis Island I was born again", he wrote. "Life for me began when I was 10 years old." He grew up on the Lower East Side,:91 had his Bar Mitzvah at First Roumanian-American Congregation, and attended Townsend Harris High School and then the City College of New York, planning to become a criminal attorney. An interest in acting and performing in front of people led to him winning an American Academy of Dramatic Arts scholarship, after which he changed his name to Edward G. Robinson (the G. standing for his original surname).
He played a snarling gangster in the 1927 Broadway police/crime drama The Racket, which led to his being cast in similar film roles, beginning with The Hole in the Wall (1929) with Claudette Colbert for Paramount. Paramount then cast him in a comedy, The Kibitzer (1930).
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 14 films between 1930 and 1932.
Robinson went to Universal for Night Ride (1930) and MGM for A Lady to Love (1930) directed by Victor Sjöström. At Universal he was in Outside the Law and East Is West (both 1930), then he did The Widow from Chicago (1931) at First National.
Robinson signed a long term contract with Warners. They put him in another gangster film, Smart Money (1931), his only movie with James Cagney. He was reunited with Mervyn LeRoy, director of Little Caesar, in Five Star Final (1931), playing a journalist, and played a Tong gangster in The Hatchet Man (1932).
Back at Warners he did Bullets or Ballots (1936) then he went to Britain for Thunder in the City (1937). He made Kid Galahad (1937) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. MGM borrowed him for The Last Gangster (1937) then he did a comedy A Slight Case of Murder (1938). Again with Bogart in a supporting role, he was in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) then he was borrowed by Columbia for I Am the Law (1938).
MGM borrowed him for Blackmail (1939) then he played Paul Ehrlich in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) and Paul Julius Reuter in A Dispatch from Reuter's (1940), both biographies of prominent Jewish public figures. In between, he and Bogart were in Brother Orchid (1940).
He did war films: Destroyer (1943) at Columbia, and Tampico (1944) at Fox. At Paramount he was in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck and at Columbia he was in Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944). He then performed with Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea in Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945).
At MGM he was in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945) then did Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946) with Welles and Loretta Young. Robinson followed it with a thriller The Red House (1947) and starred in an adaptation of All My Sons (1948).
Robinson appeared for director John Huston as gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo (1948), the last of five films he made with Humphrey Bogart and the only one in which Bogart did not play a supporting role.
Robinson found it hard to get work after his blacklisting. He was in low budgeted films: Actors and Sin (1952), Vice Squad (1953), Big Leaguer (1953), The Glass Web (1953), Black Tuesday (1954), The Violent Men (1955), Tight Spot (1955), A Bullet for Joey (1955), Illegal (1955), and Hell on Frisco Bay (1955).
His career rehabilitation received a boost in 1954, when noted anti-communist director Cecil B. DeMille cast him as the traitorous Dathan in The Ten Commandments. The film was released in 1956, as was his psychological thriller Nightmare.
After a subsequent short absence from the screen, Robinson's film career—augmented by an increasing number of television roles—restarted for good in 1958/59, when he was second-billed after Frank Sinatra in the 1959 release A Hole in the Head.
Robinson went to Europe for Seven Thieves (1960). He had support roles in My Geisha (1962), Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), Sammy Going South (1963), The Prize (1963), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Good Neighbor Sam (1964), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), and The Outrage (1964).
Robinson was originally cast in the role of Dr. Zaius in Planet Of The Apes (1968) and even went as far to filming a screen test with Charlton Heston. However, Robinson dropped out from the project before production began citing heart problems and concerns over the long hours under the heavy ape make up. He was replaced by Maurice Evans.
Later appearances included The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), Never a Dull Moment (1968), It's Your Move (1968), Mackenna's Gold (1969), and the Night Gallery episode “The Messiah on Mott Street" (1971).
Heston, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, presented Robinson with its annual award in 1969, "in recognition of his pioneering work in organizing the union, his service during World War II, and his 'outstanding achievement in fostering the finest ideals of the acting profession.'":124
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 had been notified of the honor, but died two months before the award ceremony, so the award was accepted by his widow, Jane Robinson.
From 1937 to 1942, Robinson starred as Steve Wilson, editor of the Illustrated Press, in the newspaper drama Big Town. He also portrayed hardboiled detective Sam Spade for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Maltese Falcon.
Robinson married his first wife, stage actress Gladys Lloyd, born Gladys Lloyd Cassell, in 1927; 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 G. Robinson, Jr. (a.k.a. Manny Robinson, 1933–1974), as well as a daughter from Gladys Robinson's first marriage. In 1956 the couple divorced. In 1958 he married Jane Bodenheimer, a dress designer professionally known as Jane Arden. Thereafter he also maintained a home in Palm Springs, California.
In noticeable contrast to many of his onscreen characters, Robinson was a sensitive, softly-spoken and cultured man who spoke seven languages. Remaining a liberal Democrat, he attended the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, California. He was a passionate art collector, eventually building up a significant private collection. In 1956, however, he was forced to sell his collection to pay for his divorce settlement with Gladys Robinson; his finances had also suffered due to underemployment in the early 1950s.:120
Robinson died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles of bladder cancer on January 26, 1973. Services were held at Temple Israel in Los Angeles where Charlton Heston delivered the eulogy.:131 Over 1,500 friends of Robinson attended with another 500 crowded outside.:125 His body was then flown to New York where it was entombed in a crypt in the family mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn.:131 Among his pallbearers were Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis, Mervyn LeRoy, George Burns, Sam Jaffe, and Frank Sinatra.
During the 1930s, Robinson was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism, and donated more than $250,000 to 850 political and charitable groups between 1939 and 1949. He was host to the Committee of 56 who gathered at his home on December 9, 1938, signing a "Declaration of Democratic Independence" which called for a boycott of all German-made products.
Although he tried to do so, he was unable to enlist in the military at the outbreak of World War II because of his age; instead, the Office of War Information appointed him as a Special Representative based in London.:106 From there, taking advantage of his multilingual skills, he delivered radio addresses in over six languages to countries in Europe which had fallen under Nazi domination.:106 His talent as a radio speaker in the U.S. had previously been recognized by the American Legion, which had given him an award for his "outstanding contribution to Americanism through his stirring patriotic appeals.":106 Robinson was also active with the Hollywood Democratic Committee, serving on its executive board in 1944, during which time he became an "enthusiastic" campaigner for Roosevelt's reelection that year.:107
In early July 1944, less than a month after the Invasion of Normandy by Allied forces, Robinson traveled to Normandy to entertain the troops, becoming the first movie star to go there for the USO.:106 He personally donated $100,000 ($1,500,000 in 2015 dollars) to the USO.:107 After returning to the U.S. he continued his active involvement with the war effort by going to shipyards and defense plants to inspire workers, in addition to appearing at rallies to help sell war bonds.:107 After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, while not a supporter of Communism, he appeared at Soviet war relief rallies to give moral aid to America's new ally, which he said could join "together in their hatred of Hitlerism.":107
After the war ended, Robinson spoke publicly in support of democratic rights for all Americans, especially in demanding equality for Blacks in the workplace. He endorsed the Fair Employment Practices Commission's call to end workplace discrimination.:109 Black leaders praised him as "one of the great friends of the Negro and a great advocator of Democracy.":109 Robinson also campaigned for the civil rights of African-Americans, helping out many people to overcome segregation and discrimination.
During the years Robinson spoke against fascism and Nazism – although not a supporter of Communism - he failed to criticize the Soviet Union which he saw as an ally against Hitler. However, notes film historian Steven J. Ross, "activists who attacked Hitler without simultaneously attacking Stalin were vilified by conservative critics as either Communists, Communist dupes, or, at best, naive liberal dupes.":128 In addition, Robinson learned that 11 of the more than the 850 charities and groups he had helped over the previous decade were listed by the FBI as Communist front organizations. As a result, he was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1950 and 1952 and was threatened with blacklisting.
As appears in the full House of Un-American activities Committee transcript for April 30, 1952, Robinson "named names" of Communist sympathizers (Albert Maltz, Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Frank Tuttle, and Sidney Buchman) and repudiated some of the organizations he had belonged to in the 1930s and 1940s. He came to realize, "I was duped and used.":121 His own name was cleared, but in the aftermath his career noticeably suffered, as he was offered smaller roles and those less frequently. In October 1952 he wrote an article titled "How the Reds made a Sucker Out of Me", that was published in the American Legion Magazine. The chair of the Committee, Francis E. Walter, told Robinson at the end of his testimonies, that the Committee "never had any evidence presented to indicate that you were anything more than a very choice sucker.":122
Robinson has been the inspiration for a number of animated television characters, usually caricatures of his most distinctive 'snarling gangster' guise. An early version of the gangster character Rocky, featured in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Racketeer Rabbit, shared his likeness. This version of the character also appears briefly in Justice League, in the episode "Comfort and Joy", as an alien with Robinson's face and non-human body, who hovers past the screen as a background character.
Similar caricatures also appeared in The Coo-Coo Nut Grove, Thugs with Dirty Mugs and Hush My Mouse. Another character based on Robinson's tough-guy image was The Frog (Chauncey "Flat Face" Frog) from the cartoon series Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. The voice of B.B. Eyes in The Dick Tracy Show was based on Robinson, with Mel Blanc and Jerry Hausner sharing voicing duties. The animated series Wacky Races' character 'Clyde' from the Ant Hill Mob was based on Robinson's Little Caesar persona.
In the 1989 animated series C.O.P.S. the mastermind villain Brandon "Big Boss" Babel's voice sounded just like Edward G. Robinson when he would talk to his gangsters. Then years later voice actor Hank Azaria has noted that the voice of Simpsons character police chief Clancy Wiggum is an impression of Robinson. This has been explicitly joked about in episodes of the show. In "The Day the Violence Died" (1996), a character states that Chief Wiggum is clearly based on Robinson. In 2008's "Treehouse of Horror XIX", Wiggum and Robinson's ghost each accuse the other of being rip-offs. Another caricature of Robinson appears in two episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season two, in the person of Lt. Tan Divo.
|1940||Screen Guild Theatre||Blind Alley|
|1946||Suspense||The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson|
|1946||This Is Hollywood||The Stranger|
|1950||Screen Directors Playhouse||The Sea Wolf|
Edward G. Robinson Jr., the son of the late screen actor, died yesterday. Mr. Robinson, who was 40 years old, was found unconscious by his wife, Nan, in their West Hollywood home. His death was attributed to natural causes.
A Slight Case of Murder is a 1938 comedy film directed by Lloyd Bacon. The film is based on a play by Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay. The offbeat comedy stars Edward G. Robinson spoofing his own gangster image as Remy Marco.Barbary Coast (film)
Barbary Coast is a 1935 American historical drama film directed by Howard Hawks. Shot in black-and-white and set in San Francisco during the Gold Rush era, the film combines elements of crime, Western, melodrama and adventure genres, features a wide range of actors, from good-guy Joel McCrea to bad-boy Edward G. Robinson, and stars Miriam Hopkins in the leading role as Mary 'Swan' Rutledge. In an early, uncredited appearance, David Niven can be spotted playing a drunken sailor being thrown out of a bar.Brother Orchid
Brother Orchid is a 1940 American crime/comedy film directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sothern and Humphrey Bogart, with featured performances by Donald Crisp, Ralph Bellamy and Allen Jenkins. The screenplay was written by Earl Baldwin, with uncredited contributions from Jerry Wald and Richard Macauley, based on a story by Richard Connell originally published in Collier's Magazine on May 21, 1938.Chief Wiggum
Chief Clarence "Clancy" Wiggum is a fictional character from the animated television series The Simpsons, voiced by Hank Azaria. He is the chief of police in the show's setting of Springfield. He is the father of Ralph Wiggum and the husband of Sarah Wiggum.
The character's comedic value relies heavily on his profound incompetence and irresponsibility as a police officer, and his laziness and gluttony. Chief Wiggum's more responsible fellow officers Eddie and Lou play the straight men to his shenanigans.Dark Hazard
Dark Hazard is 1934 American drama film starring Edward G. Robinson and directed by Alfred E. Green. It is based on a novel by W. R. Burnett. It was produced by First National Pictures and released through Warner Bros..A copy is held at the Library of Congress and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research.Destroyer (1943 film)
Destroyer is a 1943 Columbia Pictures war film starring Edward G. Robinson and Glenn Ford as United States Navy sailors in World War II.Hell on Frisco Bay
Hell on Frisco Bay is a 1955 American CinemaScope Warnercolor film noir crime film directed by Frank Tuttle, starring Alan Ladd, Edward G. Robinson and Joanne Dru. It was made for Ladd's own production company, Jaguar.
The film featured an early Hollywood appearance by Australian actor Rod Taylor. His part was written especially by Martin Rackin, who worked with Taylor on Long John Silver (1954).I Loved a Woman
I Loved a Woman is a 1933 American pre-Code drama directed by Alfred E. Green, starring Kay Francis, Edward G. Robinson, and Genevieve Tobin.Mr. Winkle Goes to War
Mr. Winkle Goes to War is a 1944 war comedy film starring Edward G. Robinson and Ruth Warrick, based on a novel by Theodore Pratt.Racketeer Rabbit
Racketeer Rabbit is a 1946 animated short film in the Looney Tunes series produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons, Inc. It stars Bugs Bunny, who duels with a pair of racketeers or gangsters, Rocky and Hugo, forerunners of Rocky and Mugsy who resemble Edward G. Robinson (Rocky, not to be confused with the aforementioned Rocky) and Peter Lorre (Hugo). Directed by Friz Freleng; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Manuel Perez, Virgil Ross, Gerry Chiniquy and Ken Champin; music by Carl Stalling, and voices by Mel Blanc and, uncredited, Dick Nelson (as "Robinson").Scarlet Street
Scarlet Street is a 1945 drama film noir directed by Fritz Lang. The screenplay concerns two criminals who take advantage of a middle-age painter in order to steal his artwork. The film is based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944), also directed by Fritz Lang. Local authorities in three cities banned Scarlet Street early in 1946 because of its dark plot and themes.
The film is in the public domain.Silver Dollar (film)
Silver Dollar is a 1932 American pre-Code biographical film starring Edward G. Robinson, Bebe Daniels and Aline MacMahon. Based on David Karsner's biography of the same name, it tells the story of the rise and fall of Horace Tabor (renamed Yates Martin), a silver tycoon in 19th century Colorado.A copy is preserved in the Library of Congress.Soylent Green
Soylent Green is a 1973 American dystopian thriller film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston and Leigh Taylor-Young. Edward G. Robinson appears in his final film. Loosely based on the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, it combines both police procedural and science fiction genres; the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman and a dystopian future of dying oceans and year-round humidity due to the greenhouse effect, resulting in suffering from pollution, poverty, overpopulation, euthanasia and depleted resources.In 1973 it won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.The Coo-Coo Nut Grove
The Coo-Coo Nut Grove (released November 28, 1936) is a Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies short animated film, set in the famed Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The cartoon was directed by Friz Freleng, with animation by Robert McKimson and Sandy Walker and musical score by Carl Stalling.Master of ceremonies Ben Birdie (bandleader Ben Bernie) is accosted in the opening scene by Walter Windpipe (Walter Winchell). The short then proceeds to showcase a large number of Hollywood stars in the form of caricatures, including Katharine Hepburn (as a horse named Miss Heartburn), Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Ned Sparks, Hugh Herbert, W. C. Fields, Clark Gable, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Johnny Weissmuller (in character as Tarzan) and Lupe Vélez, Mae West, Lionel and John Barrymore, Laurel and Hardy, Edward G. Robinson, Fred Astaire, and George Raft. Musical entertainments are provided by Dame Edna May Oliver as "The Lady in Red", the Dionne quintuplets (who were in reality only two years old at the time) and Helen Morgan, sitting on the piano, turning on the tears with a torch song causing most of the guests to cry (except Ben Birdie and a few of the guests) and flooding the Grove in the process. Whereas other cartoons have cariacatured celebrities as either humans or animals, oddly, this short does both - half are seen as human, half as animal versions of the stars.The Hole in the Wall (1929 film)
The Hole in the Wall is a 1929 mystery drama film directed by Robert Florey, and starring Claudette Colbert and Edward G. Robinson. This film marks the first appearance of Edward G. Robinson as a gangster.
The film is a remake of an earlier 1921 silent The Hole in the Wall.The Last Gangster
The Last Gangster (also called Another Public Enemy) is a 1937 American crime drama film directed by Edward Ludwig and starring Edward G. Robinson, James Stewart, and Rose Stradner.The Old Man Who Cried Wolf
The Old Man Who Cried Wolf is a 1970 American made-for-television thriller film directed by Walter Grauman and starring Edward G. Robinson, Martin Balsam and Diane Baker. It originally aired as the ABC Movie of the Week on October 13, 1970.The Outrage
The Outrage (1964) is a remake of the 1950 Japanese film Rashomon, reformulated as a Western. It was directed by Martin Ritt and is based on stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Like the original Akira Kurosawa film, four people give contradictory accounts of a rape and murder. Ritt utilizes flashbacks to provide these contradictory accounts.The Outrage stars Edward G. Robinson, Paul Newman, Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom and William Shatner.The Whole Town's Talking
The Whole Town's Talking (released in the UK as Passport to Fame) is a 1935 American comedy film starring Edward G. Robinson as a law-abiding man who bears a striking resemblance to a killer, with Jean Arthur as his love interest. It was directed by John Ford from a screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin based on a story by W.R. Burnett originally published in Collier's in August 1932. Burnett was also the author of the source material for Robinson's screen break-through, Little Caesar. The film The Whole Town's Talking (1926) has no story connection to this film. The story was remade in 1998 as the Bollywood film Duplicate.