Edward G. Robinson was born in Romania as Emanuel Goldenberg on December 12, 1893. He and his parents immigrated to the United States ten years later, where he grew up stereotypically in the Lower East Side of New York City. He originally aspired to become a rabbi, but took up acting in college and decided to stick with that instead. He also pragmatically changed his name at this time to steer clear of the anti-semitic sentiment which was still prevalent, especially in the film industry.
He worked in Broadway until 1930, when he landed his first major film role, that of gangster Rico Bandello in Little Caesar. This film, which garnered much critical acclaim, thrust Robinson in the public eye, but also typecast the hell out of him, and he wound up playing gangster or criminal-flavored roles in at least a dozen films in the next ten years. This typecasting bled over into other media as well. Robinson worked for Warner Brothers at this time, and the gangster characters in several memorable Looney Tunes cartoons are carbon copies of him.
As his career matured and he carried a little more clout, Robinson was able to land himself roles that fell outside this rather narrow classification. He portrayed the captain in the 1940 adaptation of Jack London's novel The Sea Wolf, and in 1943 played behind Fred MacMurray as an insurance investigator in Double Indemnity, one of the all-time classic examples of Film Noir. He returned to the gangster cliche in 1948 to play Johnny Rocco in Key Largo opposite Humphrey Bogart.
During the post-war heyday of Communist witch-hunts, courtesy of Joseph McCarthy, Robinson was among many innocent people blacklisted as Communist sympathizers. He was later cleared by the House Un-American Activities Committee (I can't help but laugh at that name), but his career did suffer during the intervening time. He later went on to play famous roles in The Ten Commandments, the Steve McQueen movie The Cincinnati Kid, and the Charlton Heston cult film Soylent Green. In 1973, this was his last role before his death from cancer later that year. Despite his many great performances, Robinson was never even nominated for an Oscar, although he was given an honorary lifetime achievement award after his death.