On This Day in Jewish History: December 12, 1893


Emanuel Goldenberg, known to movie lovers as Edward G. Robinson, was born on this date in 1893 in Bucharest, Romania.

He grew up on New York’s Lower East Side and was on the Yiddish stage by the time he was 20, the Broadway stage two years later and the movies by age 23. He would go on to make over 100 films in Hollywood, most under contract with Warners but loaned out to most major studios during his career. Robinson’s early persona was crystalized by his performance as a gangster in Little Caesar but his range was far greater. He could play tough men but often combine it with great vulnerability, as he does in Two Seconds, The Sea Wolf and Double Indemnity. Despite never winning an Oscar, he stands among the giants of the studio era, working with almost all the great directors—Welles, Hawks, Ford, Lang, Huston, Minnelli. In addition to films, from 1937-1942, Robinson starred in the radio drama, Big Town. Robinson was as active off screen as on during the late 30 and 1940s as he took up the cause of anti-fascism in support of the war effort. He addressed European audiences from London, he entertained an, donated generously to the USO and his movie Confessions of a Nazi Spy was the first Hollywood film to attack Nazism. After the war, he fought for civil rights and warned against domestic anti-Semitism. But he was also caught up in the Red Scare and, called before HUAC in 1952, gave to the committee several names of Communists. This saved his career but it did not revitalize it and he struggled to find work in the early 50s. But in the 60s he played vital supporting roles in notable films such as Two Weeks in Another Town and The Cincinnati Kid. Throughout his life Robinson remained committed to Jewish causes, was a life-long democrat and cultivated cultural tastes that fueled his collecting of modern art. Like his contemporaries Cagney and Bogart, his acting mannerisms and voice became part of the American vernacular. Robinson died in 1973.