Today is the birthday of the great Edward G. Robinson (Emanuel Goldenberg, 1893-1973).
Unlike his fellow Hollywood tough guys James Cagney and George Raft, Robinson did not start out in vaudeville — but he did grow up on the Lower East Side of New York and he did start out in the New York theatre. Robinson was born in Romania and emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was ten years old. A native Yiddish speaker, he worked in New York’s Yiddish theatres for several years before he made it to Broadway in 1916. Prior to his film stardom he appeared in over two dozen Broadway shows, including the original 1923 production of Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine.
Robinson had already made it as a film star in such movies as Little Caesar (1931), when he worked up an act for the Palace during vaudeville’s last years. In his act, he did a humorous monologue poking fun of his gangster image, and showed clips from his films. After this he returned to Hollywood for the balance of his career, returning to Broadway only for the 1956 drama Middle of the Night
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.