Edward G. Robinson

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For other people named Edward Robinson, see Edward Robinson (disambiguation).
Edward G. Robinson
Edward G. Robinson - still.jpg
Robinson circa 1935
Born Emanuel Goldenberg
(1893-12-12)December 12, 1893
Bucharest, Romania
Died January 26, 1973(1973-01-26) (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Bladder cancer
Resting place Beth David cemetery , Elmont New York
Occupation Actor
Years active 1913–73
Home town Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York City
Spouse(s) Gladys Lloyd (m. 1927–56)
Jane Robinson (m. 1958–73)
Awards Honorary Academy Award (1973)
Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award (1969)

Edward G. Robinson (born Emanuel Goldenberg; December 12, 1893 – January 26, 1973) was a Romanian-born American actor.[1] A popular star on stage and screen during Hollywood's Golden Age, he appeared in 40 Broadway plays and more than 100 films during a 50-year career.[2] He is best remembered for his tough-guy roles as a gangster, such as his star-making film Little Caesar and Key Largo.

During the 1930s and 1940s, he was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism which was then growing in Europe. 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 character portrayals have covered a wide range, with such roles as 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.[1] Robinson received an Honorary Academy Award for his work in the film industry, which was posthumously awarded two months after the actor's death in 1973. He is ranked #24 in the American Film Institute's list of the 25 greatest male stars of Classic American cinema.

Early years and education[edit]

Robinson was born as Emanuel Goldenberg to a Yiddish-speaking Romanian Jewish family in Bucharest, the son of Sarah (née Guttman) and Morris Goldenberg, a builder.[3]

After one of his brothers was attacked by an antisemitic mob, the family decided to emigrate to the United States.[2] Robinson arrived in New York City on February 14, 1903. "At Ellis Island I was born again," he wrote. "Life for me began when I was 10 years old."[2] He grew up on the Lower East Side,[4]:91 had his Bar Mitzvah at First Roumanian-American Congregation,[5] and attended Townsend Harris High School and then the City College of New York, planning to become a criminal attorney.[6] An interest in acting and performing in front of people led to him winning an American Academy of Dramatic Arts scholarship,[6] after which he changed his name to Edward G. Robinson (the G. standing for his original surname).[6]

He served in the US Navy during World War I, but was never sent overseas.[7]

Career[edit]

Robinson in his breakout role, Little Caesar (1931)
With Lynn Bari in Tampico (1944)
All My Sons: Louisa Horton, Robinson, Chester Erskine (producer) and Burt Lancaster, 1948

He began his acting career in the Yiddish Theater District[8][9][10] in 1913 and made his Broadway debut in 1915.[2] In 1923 made his named debut as E. G. Robinson in the silent film, The Bright Shawl.[2] He played a snarling gangster in the 1927 Broadway police/crime drama The Racket, which led to his being cast in similar film roles. 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 1930–1932.

Robinson went on to make a total of 101 films in his 50-year career. An acclaimed performance as the gangster Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello in Little Caesar (1931) led to being further 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 and Boris Karloff), Tiger Shark (1932), Kid Galahad (1937) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and, in a sendup of his gangster roles, A Slight Case of Murder.

In 1939, at the time World War II broke out in Europe, he played an FBI agent in Confessions of a Nazi Spy, the first American film which showed Nazism as a threat to the United States. He volunteered for military service in June 1942 but was disqualified due to his age at 48,[11] although he became an active and vocal critic of fascism and Nazism during that period.[12]

The following year 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. Meanwhile, throughout the 1940s Robinson also demonstrated his knack for both film noir and comedic roles, including Raoul Walsh's Manpower (1941) with Marlene Dietrich and George Raft, Larceny, Inc. (1942) with Jane Wyman and Broderick Crawford, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944) with Joan Bennett and Scarlet Street (1945) with Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, and Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946) with Welles and Loretta Young. He 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.

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. The last-ever scene Robinson filmed was a euthanasia sequence in the science fiction cult film Soylent Green (1973); it is sometimes claimed that he told friend and co-star Charlton Heston that he, Robinson, had in fact only weeks to live at best. As it turned out, Robinson died only twelve days later.

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.'"[4]: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".[2] 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.[2]

Radio[edit]

From 1937 to 1942, Robinson starred as Steve Wilson, editor of the Illustrated Press, in the newspaper drama Big Town.[13] He also portrayed hardboiled detective Sam Spade for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Maltese Falcon.

Personal life[edit]

Robinson and his son in a 1962 episode of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre.

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.[14] In 1956 he was divorced from his wife. In 1958 he married Jane Bodenheimer, a dress designer professionally known as Jane Arden. Thereafter he also maintained a home in Palm Springs, California.[15]

In noticeable contrast to many of his onscreen characters, Robinson was a sensitive, softly-spoken and cultured man, who spoke seven languages.[2] Remaining a liberal Democrat despite his difficulties with HUAC, he attended the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, California.[16] 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.[4]:120

Robinson died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles of bladder cancer[17] in 1973. Services were held at Temple Israel in Los Angeles where Charlton Heston delivered the eulogy.[18]:131 Over 1,500 friends of Robinson attended, with another crowd of 500 people outside.[4]: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.[18]:131[19]

In October 2000, Robinson's image was imprinted on a U.S. postage stamp, its sixth in its Legends of Hollywood series.[4]:125[20]

Political activism[edit]

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.[12]

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;[11] instead, the Office of War Information appointed him as a Special Representative based in London.[4]: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.[4]: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."[4]: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.[4]: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.[4]:106 He personally donated $100,000 ($1,500,000 in 2015 dollars) to the USO.[4]: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.[4]: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."[4]: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.[4]:109 Black leaders praised him as "one of the great friends of the Negro and a great advocator of Democracy."[4]:109

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."[4]: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.[21] 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.[22]

Although Robinson never gave names of Communist sympathizers, he repudiated some of the organizations he had belonged to in the 1930s and 1940s.[22][23] He came to realize, "I was duped and used."[4]: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.[24] 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."[4]:122

In popular culture[edit]

Robinson as gangster Little Caesar (1931)

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 CooCooNut Grove, Thugs with Dirty Mugs and Hush My Mouse. Another character based on Robinson's tough-guy image was The 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. Wacky Races' 'Clyde' from the Ant Hill Mob was based on Robinson's Little Caesar persona.

In more modern terms, voice actor Hank Azaria has noted that the voice of Simpsons character police chief Clancy Wiggum is an impression of Robinson.[25] 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.[citation needed] Another caricature of Robinson appears in two episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season two, in the person of Lt. Tan Divo.

Robinson appears as a character in the film Trumbo, played by Michael Stuhlbarg.

Filmography[edit]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Screen Guild Theatre Blind Alley[26]
1946 Suspense The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Obituary Variety, January 31, 1973, p. 71.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Edward G. Robinson, 79, Dies; His 'Little Caesar' Set a Style; Man of Great Kindness Edward G. Robinson Is Dead at 79 Made Speeches to Friends Appeared in 100 Films". The New York Times. January 27, 1973. Retrieved July 21, 2007. 
  3. ^ Parish, James Robert; Marill, Alvin (1972). The Cinema of Edward G. Robinson. South Brunswick, New Jersey: A. S. Barnes. p. 16. ISBN 0-498-07875-2. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Ross, Steven (2011). Hollywood Left and Right. How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-518172-2. Retrieved March 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ Epstein (2007), p. 249
  6. ^ a b c Pendergast, Tom. Ed. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Vol. 4, pp. 229-230
  7. ^ Beck, Robert. Edward G. Robinson Encyclopedia. McFarland. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  8. ^ Morgen Stevens-Garmon (February 7, 2012). "Treasures and "Shandas" from the Collection on Yiddish theater". Museum of the City of New York. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  9. ^ Hy Brett (1997). The Ultimate New York City Trivia Book. Thomas Nelson Inc. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  10. ^ Cary Leiter (2008). The Importance of the Yiddish Theatre in the Evolution of the Modern American Theatre. ProQuest. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Wise, James: Stars in Khaki: Movie Actors in the Army and Air Services. Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 1-55750-958-1. p. 228.
  12. ^ a b Ross, pp. 99–102
  13. ^ Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Pp. 88-89.
  14. ^ "Edward G. Robinson, Jr. Is Dead; Late Screen Star's Son Was 40". The New York Times. February 27, 1974. Retrieved July 21, 2007. 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. 
  15. ^ Meeks, Eric G. (2012). The Best Guide Ever to Palm Springs Celebrity Homes. Horatio Limburger Oglethorpe. p. 91. ISBN 978-1479328598. 
  16. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7opAIZ9dv3E
  17. ^ Gansberg, p. 246, 252–253.
  18. ^ a b Beck, Robert. The Edward G. Robinson Encyclopedia, McFarland (2002)
  19. ^ Edward G. Robinson at Find a Grave
  20. ^ Edward G. Robinson stamp, 2000
  21. ^ Miller, Frank. Leading Men, Chronicle Books and TCM (2006) p. 185
  22. ^ a b Sabin, Arthur J. In Calmer Times: The Supreme Court and Red Monday, p. 35. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999
  23. ^ Bud and Ruth Schultz, It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America, p. 113. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
  24. ^ Ross, Stephen J. "Little Caesar and the McCarthyist Mob", USC Trojan Magazine. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, August 2011 issue. Accessed on Jan 10, 2013. [1]
  25. ^ Joe Rhodes (October 21, 2000). "Flash! 24 Simpsons Stars Reveal Themselves". TV Guide. 
  26. ^ "Sunday Caller". Harrisburg Telegraph. February 24, 1940. p. 17. Retrieved July 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read
  27. ^ "The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 12, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved October 1, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read

Further reading[edit]

  • Epstein, Lawrence Jeffrey (2007). Edge of a Dream: The Story of Jewish Immigrants on New York's Lower East Side, 1880–1920. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-7879-8622-3. 
  • Robinson, Edward G.; Spigelgass, Leonard (1973). All My Yesterdays; an Autobiography. Hawthorn Books. LCCN 73005443. 

External links[edit]