Show Business: Big Little Caesar

The squat frame, the moonface, the rubbery lips that were ever consuming a $1 cigar, the metallic voice that landed like a tattoo of blows—Edward G. Robinson seemed not at all constructed for Hollywood's romantic era or for surviving his early typecasting as super-mug. Yet Robinson packed such intense integrity into every role, focused his steely talent with such skill, aged with such grace, that when he died of cancer last week at 79, he truly deserved the accolades strewn upon his memory.

His story matched in truth Hollywood's fantasy about itself: an immigrant lad from Rumania, upward mobility via New York's...

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