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1930s Movie Gangster, Edward G. Robinson

Updated on April 2, 2013

In 1956, one of the largest private art collections in the world was sold for $3 1/4 million. The money was needed to cover a divorce settlement by a man who, as he put it, "didn't want to be remembered as a crook". The man was Manny Goldenberg, the ghetto kid from Romania who grew up to be Edward G. Robinson.

Born December 12, 1893, Robinson changed his name while attending the American Academy of Dramatic Art on a scholarship in 1912.

Quickly successful at his chosen profession, he served 15 years on the stage, playing an astonishing range of character parts in all kinds of theater, mainstream and off the wall, boulevard and classical. A role he especially enjoyed was that of a store owner in a play he co-authored with Jo Swerling, The Kibitzer.

Little Caesar

Robinson's most significant characterization was the gangster lead in The Racket, which he closely modeled on Al Capone. When a tour took the production to Los Angeless he was noticed by Hollywood scouts, and though he had no love for his gangster role, it was directly because of these roles that he broke into films. Like many a stage actor, he returned to Broadway whenever he could, but one gangster role in the movies was to change all that: Cesar Enrico Bandello.

Little Caesar in 1931 was the first of the hugely successful crime cycle of the early 30s, and made Robinson a big star. He was placed under long-term contract and didn't appear on stage again for 20 years.

Robinson was only 5'5", soft spoken, and studious in real life, bearing no resemblance to Little Caesar. He resented all the dual challenges he received from real New York tough guys, and shortly after gaining international fame as a crook, he wished to display his talent in other parts to avoid type casting.

Edward G Robinson and Gladys

Edward G. Robinson Jr.

In 1927 he married Gladys Lloyd, an unsuccessful actress, Quaker divorcee and, it later transpired, a manic depressive. But initially they were happy in the big house in Beverly Hills which Robinson began to fill with choice paintings that were still available for five-figure sums. Robinson had no illusions about himself, as he told his son of how much he loved Gladys because she was a kind, and beautiful woman who loved him when he was nothing but an ugly man with ambition.

Robinson worked hard on the Warner production line;26 films in the 1930s, 24 more through the 1940s. And, though he disliked being typecast as a crook, it financed his increasingly fabulous art collection of Renoirs, Cezannes, matisses, Gauguins, Monets, and Pissarros.

"My paintings cannot be valued in dollars," he once said. "Late at night, when the house is quiet, when the last guest has gone, I go into my living room and sit down among these quiet friends."

There were occasional roles that gave Robinson satisfaction such as, Dr Ehrlich's Magic Bullet and A Dispatch from Reuters. and The Woman in the Window 1944, which was not only a great movie, wit an interesting plot, but Robinson gives a likable, and sophisticated performance.

Meanwhile, things were not well at home. His only child, born in 1933, was even more difficult and unstable than Gladys, and was forever causing bad publicity. For the rest of Robinsons's life, he would bail his son out of jail, and pay his bills, and fines regularly. Robinson cleared up frequent uncontrollable drunken sprees and prayed that the latest suicide attempt would not be fatal.

Robinson's run of B movies and trivial supporting roles ended when that paragon of reactionary virtue Cecile B. DeMille cast him in the remake of The Ten Commandments in 1956. That same year Gladys, in and out of psychiatric clinics, was becoming too much trouble to bear, and Robinson ended the marriage. Again the press had a field day: as settlement, Gladys won half of the Robinson estate and the collector was forced to break up his gallery.

After that, however, Robinson saw happier times, married to Jane Adler. He made a few movies and bought a few more paintings and, on his deathbed, he was shown the special Oscar in recognition of his achievement in films, to be formally presented to his widow the following month.

He always hoped he would not be remembered only for his gangster roles. Indeed, he endures as a great character actor who became a top-flight Hollywood star without being a hero.

His son

Edward G. Robinson Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California.

He did not have as successful a career in films as his father did, but, he had a successful career on television. He appeared on TV series such as "Gunsmoke", "Wagon Train", "Get Smart", His film appearances include, "Invasion USA" , "Bus Stop", and "Some Like It Hot". His autobiography "My Father, My Son", was published in 1958, and he died of a heart attack just one year after his father's passing. He was 40 years old.


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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Thanks for the reminder of this actor's work. I do remember seeing a few of his Al Capone pieces. He had a unique look to him didn't he? Enjoyed your hub.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 5 years ago from California, United States of America

      Fascinating the contrast between his real life and his screen life. Captivated by this piece, interesting life of a man known by the gangster image.

    • profile image

      minababe 5 years ago

      I was always shocked by how "little" he was-- I remember noticing it for the first time in Soylent Green and going, "What?!" That's because he did such a great job projecting himself as a "big man" in his gangster films that you hardly noticed!

    • GoForTheJuggler profile image

      Joshua Patrick 5 years ago from Texas

      I'm a sucker for anything concerning Hollywood. I will definitely be looking into this man's work in the future. Great hub - voted up!