He had a long 50 year career in which he made 101 films and although he was, surprisingly, never nominated for an Oscar, he was awarded a special "Lifetime Achievement" Oscar two months after his death. The American film Institute ranked him at number 24 in their list of Greatest Screen Legends.
BiographyHe was born Emanuel Goldenberg on 12 December 1893, in Bucharest, Romania to a Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. He and his family emigrated to America in 1903 and he grew up on New York's Lower East Side. With the ambition of becoming a criminal lawyerhe attended Townsend Harris High School and then City College of New York. It was here that he first showed potential as an actor and on leaving he was awarded a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. It was at this time that he changed his name to Edward G. Robinson (the G. signifying Goldberg, his original last name).
Under his new name he began his theatrical career in stock on the New York stage in 1913 and within 2 years was appearing on Broadway. He joined the Theater Guild and his reputation as a stage actor improved as he continued to work steadily over the next 15 years in a wide variety of productions such as 'The Brothers Karamazov', 'Right You Are, If You Think You Are', and 'Juarez and Maximilian'. He also made one movie appearance in 'The Bright Shawl' in 1923. Robinson married for the first time in January, 1927, an actress, Gladys Lloyd. The couple had one son, Edward Jr. in 1933, as well as a daughter from Gladys's first marriage.
In 1929 he made the decision to leave the stage and begin an acting career in the new medium of sound movies, and immediately he was given gangster roles to play. His first sound picture was 'The Hole in the Wall' with a young Claudette Colbert in 1929, in which he played a mobster called 'The Fox'. He received good reviews and was able to sign a contract with Warner Brothers.
After several other undistinguished movies during 1930, he became an overnight hit with his portrayal of the vicious gangster Rico Bandello in 'Little Caesar' in 1931. His rapid-fire verbal delivery was ideal for the new medium of talking pictures and his portrayal became a prototype for gangster roles for years to come.
He quickly became typecast and a series of roles as gangsters and other low-life characters followed in movies such as 'Smart Money' in 1931, (the only movie he made with James Cagney,) 'Tiger Shark' in 1932, and 'Kid Galahad' in 1937 with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. In some of these, Robinson parodies his screen personality. Thus in 'The Little Giant' in 1933 he is a gangster put out of work by the repeal of Prohibition, who tries to break into polite society. In 'The Whole Town's Talking' in 1935 Robinson has a dual role as a tough gangster on the run and as a respectable citizen who is his double. 'A Slight Case of Murder' in 1938, 'Brother Orchid' in 1940 - in which Robinson is a gangster hiding out in a monastery - and 'Larceny, Inc.' in 1942 also show Robinson playing a crook for laughs.
As his acting reputation grew, so his range of roles broadened. A pair of biopics in 1940 in which he played the title character, (Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Buller; A Dispatch from Reuter's) showed that Robinson could do serious drama too. But his best work was still to come. In Billy Wilder's wonderful film noir, 'Double Indemnity' in 1944 he plays Barton Keyes, a wily insurance investigator on the track of temptress Barbara Stanwyck.
A brace of film thrillers for Fritz Lang followed. In 'The Woman in the Window' in 1944 he plays a mild-mannered professor who dreams he has fallen into the clutches of another femme fatale, this time Joan Bennett. 'Scarlet Street' in 1945 has a similar plot, with Robinson as a hen-pecked clerk, who is milked by fraudsters. In these later roles, Robinson was able to draw on his sensitive off-screen self, as he was a cultured man with an impressive art collection. Robinson reprised his gangster role in 'Key Largo' in 1948, in which he co-stars with Humphrey Bogart and Lionel Barrymore. Robinson ended a highly successful decade with a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor in 1949 for his 'House of Strangers', co-starring Susan Hayward. The next decade was not to be so fruitful.
There was a break in Robinson's career during the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of the early 1950s. His name had been linked to Communist organizations and he was called three times to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. His name was cleared, but he gave names of Communist sympathizers to the committee which lost him a lot of support in Hollywood. His movie career went on hold for several years and he made his living from the theater. In 1956 he won the Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for 'Middle of the Night.' In the same year he divorced his wife of 30 years and was forced to sell off his extensive art collection to fund the divorce settlement. He married his second wife, Jane Bodenheimer, a dress designer aged 38 and known professionally as Jane Adler, in 1958.
In the next phase of his movie career Robinson showed his skill and versatility in such movies as 'The Ten Commandments' in 1956 and Frank Capra's 'A Hole in the Head' in the same year. He continued to show his acting pedigree albeit in smaller roles in movies such as the Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra gangster spoof 'Robin and the 7 Hoods' and the John Ford Western 'Cheyenne Autumn'. In 1965 he played to perfection the poker champion, "the Man", against Steve McQueen's 'The Cincinnati Kid '.
Robinson was involved in a serious, near fatal car accident in 1966 and he only made one more film, 'Soylent Green', with Charlton Heston, in 1973.
Edward G Robinson was awarded a special "Lifetime Achievement" Academy Award but he died from cancer, on January 26, 1973, in Hollywood,two months before the ceremony. He was 79. He was buried in the Beth-El Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.
Edward G. Robinson Academy AwardsNo Nominations:
"Who achieved greatness as a player, a patron of the arts, and a dedicated citizen ... in sum, a Renaissance man. From his friends in the industry he loves." (1973)
Edward G. Robinson Filmography
Arms and the Woman
The Bright Shawl
The Hole in the Wall
A Lady to Love
Die Sehnsucht jeder Frau
Outside the Law
East Is West
The Widow from Chicago
The Slippery Pearls
Five Star Final
The Honourable Mr. Wong
The Little Giant
I Loved a Woman
The Man with Two Faces
Passport to Fame
Bullets or Ballots
Thunder in the City
The Last Gangster
A Slight Case of Murder
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
I Am the Law
Confessions of a Nazi Spy
The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet
This Man Reuter (original title: A Dispatch from Reuter's)
The Sea Wolf
Tales of Manhattan
Flesh and Fantasy
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
The Red House
All My Sons
Night Has a Thousand Eyes
House of Strangers