A unique blend of character actor and superstar, Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) may have lacked the physical stature and good looks of a leading man, but he more than compensated with the passion and authority of his acting. Forever identified with the snarling gangster of Little Caesar (1930), Robinson was in reality a cultured gentleman and a versatile performer whose 50-year film career encompassed a wide range of roles.
Born Emanuel Goldenberg in Bucharest, Romania, he came to the U.S. at age 10 and grew up on New York's Lower East Side. Success on Broadway led to his film debut in 1923, but it was his triumph in Little Caesar that made Robinson a household name. He expertly switched to comedy in The Whole Town's Talking (1935) in the double role of milquetoast clerk and look-alike killer; and gave one of his most distinguished dramatic performances in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) as the scientist who found a cure for syphilis. Other outstanding roles of the 1940s include the sadistic captain of The Sea Wolf (1941), the small-time crook of Larceny, Inc. (1942) and the suspicious claims adjuster of Double Indemnity (1944). Eventually Robinson moved into supporting parts such as the aging poker champion of The Cincinnati Kid (1965).
In his final film, the futuristic Soylent Green (1973), he is splendid as always as an old man who remembers the Earth in its natural splendour before the environment became toxic. Amazingly, Robinson was never even nominated for an Academy Award. However, in 1973, shortly after his death, he was honored with a special Oscar®.
by Roger Fristoe