Edward Goldenberg Robinson (born Emanuel Goldenberg, Yiddish: עמנואל גאָלדנבערג; December 12, 1893 – January 26, 1973) was a Romanian American actor. A popular star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, he is best remembered for his roles as a gangster, such as Rico in his star-making film Little Caesar, and as Rocco in Key Largo.
Other memorable roles include insurance investigator Barton Keyes in the film noir Double Indemnity, Dathan (adversary of Moses) in The Ten Commandments, and his final performance as Sol Roth in the science-fiction story Soylent Green.
Robinson was selected for 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 was included at #24 in the American Film Institute’s list of the 25 greatest male stars of Classic American cinema.
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.
After one of his brothers was attacked by an antisemitic mob, the family decided to emigrate to the United States. Robinson arrived in New York City on February 14, 1903. He grew up on the Lower East Side, had his Bar Mitzvah at First Roumanian-American Congregation, and attended Townsend Harris High School and then the City College of New York. An interest in acting 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).
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 he was divorced from his wife. In 1958 he married 38-year-old Jane Bodenheimer, a dress designer known as Jane Arden. Thereafter he also maintained a home in Palm Springs, Californi
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 despite his difficulties with HUAC, he attended the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, California.
He was a passionate art collector, eventually building up a significant collection and partnering with Vincent Price to run a gallery. In 1956, however, he sold his collection to Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos to raise cash for his divorce settlement with Gladys Robinson; his finances had suffered due to underemployment in the early 1950s. Another of his chief pastimes was collecting records of the world’s leading concerts.
Robinson died of bladder cancer in 1973, and is buried in a crypt in the family mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in the Ridgewood area of the borough of Queens in New York City.
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.
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. 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.
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.