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January 26: Edward G. Robinson

January 26, 2012

Edward G. Robinson (Emanuel Goldenberg, born in Bucharest, Romania), counted by the American Film Institute as among the 25 all-time greatest male film actors, died on this date in 1973, twelve days after shooting the suicide parlor scene in the science fiction classic, Soylent Green. In the course of a 50-year career in which he performed in some hundred films, Robinson was best known for his gangster roles, but also played dramatic and comic leads and supporting characters, notably in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) and Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street (both 1945). In 1950 and 1952, Robinson was called to testify three times before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and he renounced leftwing causes* to relieve himself of being blacklisted. Robinson spoke seven languages besides English, including Yiddish, Romanian and German, and was a notable modern art collector. (“I have never owned a work of art,” he said. “They owned me.”) “So effective was Robinson’s interpretation of the gangster,” wrote the New York Times in his obituary, “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.”

“Some people have youth, some have beauty -- I have menace.” —Edward G. Robinson

*CORRECTION made on 1/28/15: This entry originally accused Robinson of naming names before HUAC; he did NOT names names, but repudiated the organizations he had sympathized with in the 1930s and ’40s.

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