The Best Actor Never To Win The Oscar

October 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Fred MacMurray, EGR, "Double Indemnity" 1944

Fred Mac­Mur­ray, EGR, “Dou­ble Indem­nity” 1944

That Edward G. Robin­son never got the Oscar he so richly deserved, not­ing espe­cially his chill­ing per­for­mance as Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf, is a pity! He must be regarded as one America’s finest film actors. In Cae­sar Enrico Ban­dello, he cre­ated the pro­to­type for the mod­ern Amer­i­can movie gang­ster. For the won­der­ful mem­o­ries he gave me, this post if ded­i­cated. Infor­ma­tion about Eddie is extremely dif­fi­cult to obtain. Any addi­tional infor­ma­tion on Edward G. Robin­son is wel­comed here.

Emanuel Gold­en­berg, force­ful, author­i­ta­tive char­ac­ter star of Hol­ly­wood films, mem­o­rable for his tough imper­son­ation of gang­ster boss Rico Ban­dello in Lit­tle Cae­sar (1930) and many other char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of under­world types in Warner’s crime cycle of the 1930s. In the US from age–10, he grew up on New York’s Lower East Side and gave up plans to become a rabbi or a lawyer in favor of act­ing dur­ing stud­ies at City Col­lege, where he was elected to the Eliz­a­bethan Soci­ety. He won a schol­ar­ship to the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Dra­matic Arts and, chang­ing his name to Edward G. (the G. for Gold­en­berg) Robin­son, began appear­ing in stock in 1913. He made it to Broad­way in 1915 and over the next 15 years appeared with increas­ing recog­ni­tion in a wide vari­ety of plays, includ­ing The Kib­itzer (1929), a three–act com­edy that he also wrote with Jo Swer­ling. He made an iso­lated film appear­ance dur­ing the silent era, play­ing a sup­port­ing role in The Bright Shawl (1923), but it was only after the advent of sound that he began to be seen reg­u­larly in movies. After his great suc­cess with Lit­tle Cae­sar (1930), a per­for­mance that became a pro­to­type for screen gang­ster por­tray­als, Robin­son was type­cast for sev­eral years in sim­i­lar roles, but he grad­u­ally broad­ened his range and proved him­self a highly skilled actor in a great vari­ety of parts. He gave mem­o­rable per­for­mances in two screen biogra­phies Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bul­let (1940), the story of the Ger­man sci­en­tist who devel­oped a cure for vene­real dis­ease, and A Dis­patch From Reuters (1940), the chron­i­cle of the man who pio­neered the tele­graphic news agency. Some of his best por­tray­als where in psy­cho­log­i­cal dra­mas of the 1940s, notably Flesh and Fan­tasy (1943), Dou­ble Indem­nity (1944), The Woman in the Win­dow (1944), and Scar­let Street (1945).

Edward G. Robinson, 1938

Edward G. Robin­son, 1938

Robinson’s per­sonal life was beset by prob­lems in the 1950s. Despite a well–known record of activ­ity for patri­otic causes dur­ing and after WWII, his name was linked by Red Chan­nels with Communist–front orga­ni­za­tions. He was called to tes­tify before the House Un–American Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee but was cleared of all sus­pi­cion and won a clean bill of health. In 1956 he was forced to sell his famous art col­lec­tion, one of the world’s largest pri­vately owned, as part of his divorce set­tle­ment with his wife of 29 years, actress Gladys George. Dur­ing this period he was also trou­bled by the mal­ad­just­ment of his only son, who got into fre­quent fric­tions with the law and attempted sui­cide sev­eral times. Despite the per­sonal set­backs, Robin­son con­tin­ued his busy act­ing career on tele­vi­sion as well as in films. In 1956 he returned to Broad­way after a long absence, scor­ing a suc­cess in the role of an elderly wid­ower who mar­ries a young bride in Paddy Chayefsky’s Mid­dle of the Night. His film appear­ances dur­ing the 1960s were mainly in the sup­port­ing capac­ity. In the Acad­emy Award cer­e­monies that took place shortly after his death of can­cer in 1973, Robin­son was awarded a spe­cial Oscar in recog­ni­tion of his achieve­ments in films, in a mag­nif­i­cent career that spanned five decades of cin­ema. His life pro­vided the basis for the 1979 play Manny, by Ray­mond Serra, who also played the title role.

New York Times, Jan­u­ary 27, 1973: By ALDEN WIMAN

HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 26, Edward G. Robin­son, whose tough, sin­is­ter appear­ance on movie screens con­cealed the soul of a gen­tle man, died today at the age of 79. Robin­son suc­cumbed at Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal where he had under­gone tests in recent weeks. The cause of death was not imme­di­ately determined.”

Edward G. Robin­son was a skilled actor of the stage and screen whose vivid por­trayal of motion pic­ture gang­sters, among them Lit­tle Cae­sar, dur­ing the 1930s marked pow­er­ful mob­sters who ruled the under­world dur­ing the Pro­hi­bi­tion era. So effec­tive was Robin­son inter­pre­ta­tion of the gang­ster that many of the under­world char­ac­ters found them­selves affect­ing the Robin­son char­ac­ter chomp­ing down on cigar butts while snarling orders out of the sides of their mouths.”

The Sea Wolf, 1941

The Sea Wolf” 1941

But while Robin­son was mak­ing his mark on oth­ers, he him­self, remained strangely unaf­fected. In real life he was a man of great kind­ness and cour­tesy whose gen­eros­ity scarcely knew bounds. Between 1939 and 1949 he made more than 850 con­tri­bu­tions total­ing $250,000 from relief and enter­tain­ment agen­cies, to cul­tural edu­ca­tional and reli­gious groups. His art col­lec­tion com­prised per­haps the out­stand­ing group of pri­vately owned paint­ings in the United States. Dur­ing the course of a mar­i­tal set­tle­ment it was sold in 1957 for $3,250,000.”

Robin­son was born Dec,. 12, 1893, as Emanuel Gold­en­berg in Bucharest, Ruma­nia. One of Robin­son’ broth­ers was hit on the head with a rock dur­ing a school­boy pogrom and years later, in Amer­ica, died prob­a­bly from the effects of the blow. To escape this per­se­cu­tion the fam­ily man­aged to scrape together the fare for steer­age pas­sage and came to the United States. “At Ellis Island I was born again,” Robin­son wrote later. “Life for me began when I was 10 years old.”

Made Speeches to Friends

As a boy, as soon as he had mas­tered Eng­lish, he made speeches to his fam­ily and friends. His favorite was Theodore Roosevelt’s sec­ond inau­gural address, which he had com­mit­ted to mem­ory. He hoped to become a crim­i­nal lawyer “to defend the human beings who were abused and exploited.” With this pur­pose he entered Townsend Har­ris High School and after that City Col­lege. It was at City Col­lege that the youth decided to forgo his law career to be an actor. He loved to per­form before peo­ple. But Robinson’s study of the the­ater told him that there had been many lit­tle men in the the­ater. He won a schol­ar­ship at the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Dra­matic Art with a siz­zling and effec­tive deliv­ery of the Bru­tus and Cas­sius quar­rel scene from Julius Cae­sar.

Destroyer, 1943

Destroyer” 1943

He was 19 when he entered dra­matic school and shortly there­after changed his name to Robin­son “a name I had heard while sit­ting in the bal­cony of the Cri­te­rion The­ater.” He played in stock in Cincin­nati, in vaude­ville as a Chi­nese man in a skit at Hammerstein’s. He finally broke into the legit­i­mate the­ater in 1915 in a play called Under Fire. He got the part because he was mul­ti­lin­gual, an attribute called for in the script. Role fol­lowed role and the young­ster received many good notices. He joined the The­ater Guild and played a great vari­ety of roles. In such pro­duc­tions as The Adding Machine, The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov, Right You Are, If You Think You Are, and Juarez and Max­i­m­il­ian. He was starred for the first time in The Kib­itzer, a play of which he was the co–author. In Jan­u­ary, 1927, Robin­son mar­ried Gladys George, an actress.

Robin­son had exper­i­mented with sev­eral screen roles in silent pic­tures but he was not happy with the result. With the addi­tion of sound to the shad­ows, how­ever, Robinson’s inter­est was renewed and he tried his first talking–picture The Hole in the Wall, There fol­lowed The Widow from Chicago and a short time later, in 1931, Lit­tle Cae­sar. Of Lit­tle Cae­sar a critic for The New York Times wrote:

Lit­tle Cae­sar becomes at Robinson’s hands a fig­ure out of a Greek tragedy, a cold, igno­rant, mer­ci­less killer, dri­ven on and on by an insa­tiable lust for power, the play­thing of a force that is greater than him­self. The film con­tained a cli­matic line that itself became a clas­sic, Lit­tle Cae­sars part­ing words as he lay slumped under a bill­board after he had been shot by the police…”

Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

Rico's End

Rico’s End

It was some­times said that Robin­son was selected to play the role of Lit­tle Cae­sar because of a resem­blance to Al Capone, the Chicago vice baron. Robin­son doubted this the­ory, and there was no real–life resem­blance. Hol­ly­wood makeup artists, how­ever, always man­aged to make Robin­son look as sin­is­ter as Capone was reputed to be. A more rea­son­able the­ory was that Hol­ly­wood sought him out because of his suc­cess as Nick Scarsi, a char­ac­ter in a play enti­tled  The Racket. is play was so real, Robin­son once remarked, that it could not be pro­duced in Chicago, in any event, his por­trayal of Lit­tle Cae­sar came to be con­sid­ered a clas­sic, and there fol­lowed oth­ers in the curled lip mold Smart Money, Five Star Final, Bul­lets or Ballots,

The actor thought Five Star Final, one of his finest tough guy pic­tures. In it he played Ran­dall, the edi­tor of a muck­rak­ing tabloid. This film, released in 1931, along with many of his other movies, has been revived from time to time on tele­vi­sion. Robin­son’ first real depar­ture from his two–fisted type of role on the screen was Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bul­let in 1940, and even this film about syphilis was billed as “the war against the great­est pub­lic enemy of all.”

Appeared in 100 Films

From 1929 to 1966 Robin­son appeared in more than 100 films. His name, until recent years, usu­ally meant good box office. in all, his films grossed well over $50–million, and this fig­ure is a mod­est esti­mate. His own earn­ings were high and he lived appro­pri­ately. Robin­son was the first Hol­ly­wood star to enter­tain in France after the inva­sion of Nor­mandy. He sold war bonds and it was said he turned his reg­u­lar weekly radio dra­matic show Big Town into a soap box in favor of the Amer­i­can way. The Amer­i­can Legion gave the pro­gram a cita­tion and he was com­mended for his “out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can­ism through his stir­ring patri­otic appeals…” But because he had allowed his name to be linked with so many causes, inevitably there were those with a Com­mu­nist tinge. Robin­son was named in Red Chan­nels in con­nec­tion with 11 Com­mu­nist front orga­ni­za­tions. But Robin­son car­ried his case to the House Un–American Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee and even­tu­ally won a clean bill of health.

Woman in the Window, 1944

Woman in the Win­dow” 1944

After 28 years as a movie actor Robin­son returned to the stage in Mid­dle of the Night and scored a suc­cess. At the age of 63 he was a force­ful and vital fig­ure on the stage and the youth­ful cast said that they found it dif­fi­cult to match his bound­less energy. In Mid­dle of the Night he por­trayed an aging wid­ower who mar­ried a much younger woman. Early in 1958, while he was still appear­ing in the Paddy Chayef­sky play, Robin­son was mar­ried to Jane Boden­heimer, a 38–year–old dress designer known pro­fes­sion­ally as Jane Arden.

After his stage suc­cess, the actor per­formed occa­sion­ally on tele­vi­sion and played fea­tured roles in sev­eral other movies. In all he appeared in 40 Broad­way plays and more than 100 films. Among his most recent movies were A Boy Ten Feet Tall, Cheyenne Autumn, The Cincin­nati Kid and Sammy Going South. It was while mak­ing this pic­ture in 1964 that he suf­fered a mild heart attack.

Robin­son was an excel­lent actor and was to have received a spe­cial Oscar for his “out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to motion pic­tures” at the Acad­emy Awards cer­e­mony March 27, It would have been his first Oscar.

About Michael Mills
Rank-amateur photographer, I like Classic films, real Jazz, Opera, and a little Hank Williams . . . and sometimes baseball . . .