Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson (born Emanuel Goldenberg; Yiddish: ײמאַנועל גאָלדענבערג‎; December 12, 1893 – January 26, 1973) was a Romanian-born American actor of stage and screen during Hollywood's Golden Age. He appeared in 30 Broadway plays[1] and more than 100 films during a 50-year career[2] and is best remembered for his tough-guy roles as gangsters in such films as Little Caesar and Key Largo.

Edward G. Robinson
Edward G. Robinson 1948.jpg
Robinson in 1948
Emanuel Goldenberg

(1893-12-12)December 12, 1893
Bucharest, Romania
DiedJanuary 26, 1973(1973-01-26) (aged 79)
Resting placeBeth El Cemetery, Brooklyn
Years active1913–1973
Gladys Lloyd
(m. 1927; div. 1956)
Jane Robinson
(m. 1958)

During the 1930s and 1940s, he was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism, which were growing in strength in Europe in the years which led up to World War II. His activism included contributing over $250,000 to more than 850 organizations which were involved in war relief, along with contributions to cultural, educational and religious groups. During the 1950s, he was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare, but he was cleared of any deliberate Communist involvement when he claimed that he was "duped" by several people whom he named (including screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, according to the official Congressional record, "Communist infiltration of the Hollywood motion-picture industry").[3][4]

Robinson's roles included an insurance investigator in the film noir Double Indemnity, Dathan (the adversary of Moses) in The Ten Commandments, and his final performance in the science-fiction story Soylent Green.[5] Robinson received an Academy Honorary 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.

Early years and educationEdit

Robinson's original name was Emanuel Goldenberg and he was born into a Yiddish-speaking Romanian Jewish family in Bucharest, the son of Sarah (née Guttman) and Morris Goldenberg,[dubious ] a builder.[6]

After one of his brothers was attacked by an anti-semitic mob, the family decided to emigrate to the United States.[2] Robinson arrived in New York City on February 21, 1904.[7] "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,[8]:91 and had his Bar Mitzvah at First Roumanian-American Congregation.[9] He attended Townsend Harris High School and then the City College of New York, planning to become a criminal attorney.[10] An interest in acting and performing in front of people led to him winning an American Academy of Dramatic Arts scholarship,[10] after which he changed his name to Edward G. Robinson (the G. standing for his original surname).[10]

He served in the United States Navy during World War I, but was never sent overseas.[11]


Robinson in his breakout role, Little Caesar (1931)
Robinson in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944)
Robinson and Lynn Bari in Tampico (1944)
All My Sons (1948): Louisa Horton, Robinson, Chester Erskine (producer) and Burt Lancaster
Florence Henderson and Robinson on the set of Song of Norway (1969)


He began his acting career in the Yiddish Theatre District[12][13][14] in 1913, he made his Broadway debut in 1915.[2] He made his film debut in Arms and the Man (1916).

In 1923, he made his named debut as E. G. Robinson in the silent film, The Bright Shawl.[2]

The RacketEdit

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.

One of many actors who saw their careers 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.

Little CaesarEdit

Robinson was established as a film actor. What made him a star was an acclaimed performance as the gangster Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello in Little Caesar (1931) at Warner Bros.

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).

Robinson made a third film with LeRoy, Two Seconds (1932) then did a melodrama directed by Howard Hawks, Tiger Shark (1932).

Warners tried him in a biopic, Silver Dollar (1932), where Robinson played Horace Tabor, a comedy, The Little Giant (1933) and a romance, I Loved a Woman (1933).

Robinson was then in Dark Hazard (1934), and The Man with Two Faces (1934).

He went to Columbia for The Whole Town's Talking (1935), a comedy directed by John Ford. Sam Goldwyn borrowed him for Barbary Coast (1935), again directed by Hawks.

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).

World War IIEdit

At the time World War II broke out in Europe, he played an FBI agent in Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), the first American film which portrayed Nazism as a threat to the United States.

He volunteered for military service in June 1942 but was disqualified due to his age which was 48,[15] although he became an active and vocal critic of fascism and Nazism during that period.[16]

MGM borrowed him for Blackmail, (1939). Then to avoid being typecast he played the biomedical scientist and Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) and played Paul Julius Reuter in A Dispatch from Reuter's (1940).[17] Both films were biographies of prominent Jewish public figures. In between, he and Bogart starred in Brother Orchid (1940).[17]

Robinson was teamed up with John Garfield in The Sea Wolf (1941) and George Raft in Manpower (1941). He went to MGM for Unholy Partners (1942) and made a comedy Larceny, Inc. (1942).


Robinson was one of several stars in Tales of Manhattan (1942) and Flesh and Fantasy (1943).

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 where his riveting soliloquy on insurance actuarial tables (written by Raymond Chandler) is considered a career showstopper, 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) where he played a criminal painter.

At MGM he was in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), and then Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946), with Welles and Loretta Young. Robinson followed it with another thriller, The Red House (1947), and starred in an adaptation of All My Sons (1948).

Robinson appeared for director John Huston as the gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo (1948), the last of five films which he made with Humphrey Bogart and the only one in which Bogart did not play a supporting role.

He starred in Night Has a Thousand Eyes in 1948 and starred in House of Strangers in 1949.


Robinson found it hard to get work after his greylisting.[citation needed] He starred in low budget films: Actors and Sin (1952), Vice Squad (1953) with brief appearances by second-billed Paulette Goddard, Big Leaguer (1953) with Vera-Ellen, The Glass Web (1953) with John Forsythe, Black Tuesday (1954) with Peter Graves, The Violent Men (1955) with Glenn Ford and Barbara Stanwyck, the well-received Tight Spot (1955) with Ginger Rogers and Brian Keith, A Bullet for Joey (1955) with George Raft, Illegal (1955) with Nina Foch, and Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) with Alan Ladd.

His career's rehabilitation received a boost in 1954, when the noted anti-communist film 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.

Supporting actorEdit

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).

He was second-billed under Steve McQueen with his name above the title in The Cincinnati Kid (1965; McQueen had idolized Robinson while growing up and opted for him when Spencer Tracy insisted on top billing for the same role), and was top billed in The Blonde from Peking. He also appeared in Grand Slam (1967) starring Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski.

Robinson was originally cast in the role of Dr. Zaius in Planet Of The Apes (1968) and he even went so far as to film a screen test with Charlton Heston. However, Robinson dropped out of the project before its production began due to heart problems and concerns over the long hours which he would have needed to spend under the heavy ape makeup. He was replaced by Maurice Evans.

His later appearances included The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968) starring Robert Wagner and Raquel Welch, Never a Dull Moment (1968) with Dick Van Dyke, It's Your Move (1968), Mackenna's Gold (1969) starring Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif, and the Night Gallery episode “The Messiah on Mott Street" (1971).

The last scene which Robinson filmed was a euthanasia sequence, with his friend and co-star Charlton Heston, in the science fiction cult film Soylent Green (1973); he 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.'"[8]: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 he died two months before the award ceremony took place, so the award was accepted by his widow, Jane Robinson.[2]


From 1937 to 1942, Robinson starred as Steve Wilson, editor of the Illustrated Press, in the newspaper drama Big Town.[18] He also portrayed hardboiled detective Sam Spade for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. During the 1940s he also performed on CBS Radio's "Cadena de las Américas" network broadcasts to South America in collaboration with Nelson Rockefeller's cultural diplomacy program at the U.S. State Department's Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs.[19]

Personal lifeEdit

Robinson and his son Manny 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.[20] 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.[21]

In noticeable contrast to many of his onscreen characters, Robinson was a sensitive, soft-spoken and cultured man who spoke seven languages.[2] Remaining a liberal Democrat, he attended the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, California.[22] 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.[8]:120


Robinson died of bladder cancer at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles[23] on January 26, 1973. Services were held at Temple Israel in Los Angeles where Charlton Heston delivered the eulogy.[24]:131 Over 1,500 friends of Robinson attended with another 500 crowded outside.[8]: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.[24]:131 Among his pallbearers were Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis, Mervyn LeRoy, George Burns, Sam Jaffe, and Frank Sinatra.[2]

In October 2000, Robinson's image was imprinted on a U.S. postage stamp, its sixth in its Legends of Hollywood series.[8]:125[25]

Political activismEdit

During the 1930s, Robinson was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism, and he also donated more than $250,000 to 850 political and charitable organizations between 1939 and 1949. He was host to the Committee of 56 which gathered at his home on December 9, 1938, signing a "Declaration of Democratic Independence" which called for a boycott of all German-made products.[16]

Although he attempted to enlist in the military at the outbreak of World War II, he was unable to do so because of his age;[15] instead, the Office of War Information appointed him as a Special Representative based in London.[8]:106 From there, taking advantage of his multilingual skills, he delivered radio addresses in over six languages to European countries which had fallen under Nazi domination.[8]: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."[8]:106 Robinson was also an active member of the Hollywood Democratic Committee, serving on its executive board in 1944, during which time he became an "enthusiastic" campaigner for Roosevelt's reelection that same year.[8]:107 During the 1940s Robinson also contributed to the cultural diplomacy initiatives of Roosevelt's Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs in support of Pan-Americanism through his broadcasts to South America on the CBS "Cadena da las Américas" radio network.[19]

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.[8]:106 He personally donated $100,000 ($1,500,000 in 2015 dollars) to the USO.[8]:107 After returning to the U.S. he continued his active involvement in the war effort by going to shipyards and defense plants in order to inspire workers, in addition to appearing at rallies in order to help sell war bonds.[8]:107 After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, while he was not a supporter of Communism, he appeared at Soviet war relief rallies in order to give moral aid to America's new ally, which he said could join "together in their hatred of Hitlerism."[8]:107

After the war ended, Robinson publicly spoke out 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.[8]:109 Black leaders praised him as "one of the great friends of the Negro and a great advocator of Democracy."[8]:109 Robinson also campaigned for the civil rights of African-Americans, helping many people to overcome segregation and discrimination.[26]

During the years when Robinson spoke out against fascism and Nazism, he was not a supporter of Communism, but he did not criticize the Soviet Union which he saw as an ally against Hitler. However, notes the 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, as naive liberal dupes."[8]:128 In addition, Robinson learned that 11 out of the more than 850 charities and groups which he had helped over the previous decade were listed as Communist front organizations by the FBI.[27] As a result, he was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1950 and 1952 and he was also threatened with blacklisting.[28]

As it appears in the full House 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 which he had belonged to in the 1930s and 1940s.[28][29] He came to realize, "I was duped and used."[8]:121 His own name was cleared, but in the aftermath, his career noticeably suffered, because he was offered smaller roles and they were offered to him less frequently. In October 1952, he wrote an article which was titled "How the Reds made a Sucker Out of Me", and it was published in the American Legion Magazine.[30] 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."[8]:122

In popular cultureEdit

Robinson as a gangster in 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 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 Wacky Races animated series 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.[citation needed]

Voice actor Hank Azaria has noted that the voice of Simpsons character police chief Clancy Wiggum is an impression of Robinson.[31] 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.[citation needed] Arok the Hutt was inspired by Edward G. Robinson’s gangster portrayals in Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Robinson was played by Michael Stuhlbarg in the 2015 film Trumbo. His portrayal as a man who named supposed communists is controversial.


Excluding appearances as himself.

Radio appearancesEdit

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Screen Guild Theatre Blind Alley[32]
1946 Suspense The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson[33]
1946 This Is Hollywood The Stranger[34]
1950 Screen Directors Playhouse The Sea Wolf[34]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Edward G. Robinson – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "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. ^ https://archive.org/stream/communistinfiltr07unit#page/2421/mode/1up
  4. ^ admin (March 12, 2016). "Actor Edward G. Robinson Confesses to HUAC — "I Was a Sucker"". Today in Civil Liberties History. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  5. ^ Obituary Variety, January 31, 1973, p. 71.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 1904 passenger list for Manole Goldenberg. "Ancestry.com".
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Epstein (2007), p. 249
  10. ^ a b c Pendergast, Tom. Ed. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Vol. 4, pp. 229–230
  11. ^ Beck, Robert (September 2, 2008). Edward G. Robinson Encyclopedia. McFarland. ISBN 9780786438648. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Hy Brett (1997). The Ultimate New York City Trivia Book. Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 9781418559175. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  14. ^ Cary Leiter (2008). The Importance of the Yiddish Theatre in the Evolution of the Modern American Theatre. ISBN 9780549927716. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ a b Ross, pp. 99–102
  17. ^ a b Schatz, Thomas. Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s. University of California Press, November 23, 1999, p. 99.
  18. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 88-89. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved October 1, 2019. Big Town, crime drama.
  19. ^ a b Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda Deborah R. Vargas. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2012 p. 152-153 ISBN 978-0-8166-7316-2 Edward G. Robbinson, OCIAA, CBS radio, Pan-americanism and Cadena de las Americas on google.books.com
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ Meeks, Eric G. (2012). The Best Guide Ever to Palm Springs Celebrity Homes. Horatio Limburger Oglethorpe. p. 91. ISBN 978-1479328598.
  22. ^ soapbxprod (November 20, 2011). "1960 Democratic Convention Los Angeles Committee for the Arts". Retrieved April 2, 2018 – via YouTube.
  23. ^ Gansberg, p. 246, 252–253.
  24. ^ a b Beck, Robert. The Edward G. Robinson Encyclopedia, McFarland (2002)
  25. ^ Edward G. Robinson stamp, 2000
  26. ^ Lotchin, Roger W. (2000). The Way We Really Were: The Golden State in the Second Great War. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252068195.
  27. ^ Miller, Frank. Leading Men, Chronicle Books and TCM (2006) p. 185
  28. ^ a b Sabin, Arthur J. In Calmer Times: The Supreme Court and Red Monday, p. 35. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999
  29. ^ Bud and Ruth Schultz, It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America, p. 113. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
  30. ^ Ross, Stephen J. "Little Caesar and the McCarthyist Mob", USC Trojan Magazine. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, August 2011 issue. Accessed on January 10, 2013. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 27, 2013. Retrieved January 10, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ Joe Rhodes (October 21, 2000). "Flash! 24 Simpsons Stars Reveal Themselves". TV Guide.
  32. ^ "Sunday Caller". Harrisburg Telegraph. February 24, 1940. p. 17. Retrieved July 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  33. ^ "The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 12, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved October 1, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  34. ^ a b "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (3): 39. Summer 2016.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit