Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Hardest Working Robot In Show Business

He was not the first robot in film history, but he was the first anthropomorphized robot …the first with “human” qualities…the first with a heart.
R2-D2, C3PO, The B9 “lost In Space” Robot, The Terminator, Mr. Data…hell…even Steve Austin owe much of their existence to him.

He is the Godfather of Robot Soul.

The Sinatra of Cybernetics!

The hardest working robot in show business!

Of course I am referring to the one and only Robby The Robot who made his debut in the 1956 MGM Sci-Fi classic, “Forbidden Planet”

As I mentioned earlier, Robby was not the first cinematic robot. As early as 1907 in the one reel “The Mechanical Statue and The Ingenious Servant” an engineer builds a mechanical man that goes on a rampage and must be destroyed. In the classic (1926) “Metropolis” a robot is created to take the place of the rebel leader and undermine her revolution.

In “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) the implacable Gort is the enforcement tool of the intergalactic peacemaker Klatu.

But it is Robby who endures. He endures because in many ways he is US. He has a distinct personality. He has a sense of humor (belching after he analyzes a sample of bad bourbon!). He has a strong sense of ethics, being unable to harm humans. Robby is friendly, calling the Captain “Skipper!” when he pilots the space ship C57-D at the end of the film.

Robby is actually 7 foot tall robot SUIT piloted by Frankie Darro and designed by Arnold Gillespie and illustrator Mentor Huebner. He was finally fabricated under mechanical designer Robert Kinoshita.( Kinoshita will celebrate his 99th birthday on February 24th!!!) Kinoshita also designed the robot Tobor from the 1954 film “Tobor the Great” and Lost In Space B9 Robot (“Danger Will Robinson!!) who was obviously the “Son of Robby”.

Robby’s voice in Forbidden Planet was provided by the late Marvin Miller best known as Michael Anthony on the CBS anthology series The Millionaire which ran from 1955-1960.

Robby , was at the time the most expensive single prop ever created for a science fiction film . But BOY was he worth it. He immediately stole every scene he was in. The late Anne Francis said more than once that the moment they saw Robby on the set, they knew who the real star of Forbidden Planet was.

He lent a cache to the film because Robby looked as if he might actually work. You could see the gyroscopes in his transparent head dome keeping him balanced, watch the relays click and snap as he went through a thought process, and external antenna rotated for some other unknown purpose. He wasn’t blocky and square. He wasn’t just a human in make up. Robby has a specific design that while humanoid, was not human. He was sleek. He was (for the time) futuristic. He was the Cadillac of Robots.
In short, Robby was COOL.

In fact Robby was SO cool that the folks at MGM kept him working . The very next year he was THE star in the MGM release “The Invisible Boy” . MGM knew a star when they had one. And when they did not have a production for him he was loaned out to other studios.

Over the years Robby ahs appeared in many TV Shows and films including The Twilight Zone, The Man From UNCLE, Lost In Space, The Adams Family, Columbo, Mork & Mindy, Cherry 2000, Wonder Woman and Earth girls Are Easy (among MANY others!). Robby is also a noted pitch man, hawking wares for AT&T and Mattel.
In fact Robby is still hard at work today, most recently appearing in a General Electric commercial with fellow cyber star Kitt from Knight Rider.

Over the years Robby has fallen into various states of disrepair, necessitating the creation of several ‘stunt doubles’ for the star. In the 1970’s noted robot historian Fred Barton restored Robby to his original 1956 state and today he shares a home with Writer/ Director William Malone. Malone was a natural choice for Robby’s roommate as he is the world’s foremost collector of Forbidden Planet memorabilia. It is also rumored that both individuals are Forty-niners fans so NFL Sundays are peaceful occurrences! (though it HAS been said that Robby tends to “bogart” the hot wings)

Yup…the hardest working robot in Show Business!

That’s 30!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

75 is Right Around The Corner

This June we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. Yes, I know that the character existed for some time before that June 1938 date, languishing in various slush files. The tales of rejection are legendary. And we also know that comics hit the stands BEFORE their cover dates. For instance the current issue of The Flash (#15) is noted as the February issue. Having said all that Superman’s birthday is and forever will be June 1938.
And it is shaping up to be a banner year for the Man of Steel.

For instance, on January 27th the Superman at 75 Panel Discussion and one day exhibit is being held at the center for Jewish History ,15 West 16th Street at 1 PM. (Of COURSE he’s Jewish!). The panel will be hosted by the author of “Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero”. Also appearing will be Denny O’Neil, the legendary Jim Shooter and Jennette Kahn the former publisher of DC comics. The panel will explore Superman’s incredible longevity, how he has adapted to his times over the decades and what the future holds for the Last Son Of Krypton.
So why exactly DOES Superman endure?

If you were to go back to , say 1941, and visit any newsstand you would see literally hundreds of superhero characters who are completely forgotten today. There was a complete boom in the superhero genre and the market was flooded. By the early 1950’s however, superheroes were all but gone. Only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman survived in their own titles for DC. Some few other characters survived as back up features (Green Arrow and Aquaman for example).

One reason that Superman endured those dark days was simple. The very popular TV show, Adventures Of Superman was sweeping the nation, making a star out of George Reeves and introducing a new generation of children to The Man of Steel. Never underestimate the power of Television!

But I think there is a more basic reason that Superman was able to endure and continues to thrive.

He is a remarkably flexible character. Superman has been adapted to reflect the society of the time from his earliest days right up to his 75th birthday. In the 1930’s during the Great Depression Superman was a social crusader. Most often he dealt with corrupt politicians, gangsters, wife beaters etc. His focus was on the problems of the days . He was the Warner Brothers of Superheroes.
During World War II he was a symbol of the strength of the Nation, eagle perched on his elbow, flag proudly waving. All of America’s might in a single package.

The 1950’s and 60’s saw UNCLE Superman. The Mort Weisinger Superman. A character firmly aimed at the 8-12 set. He was the “moral majority” incarnate.
From the 70’s through the 80’s Superman grew up along with his readership. Was re-imagined by John Byrne and Frank Miller and even had a tussle with Muhammad Ali. The old boy still had legs!

Then the just as we were all taking Superman for granted DC showed us what it might be like if her were gone. So they killed Kal-El in the now legendary Superman #75. And the response was dramatic and immediate.

Kill Superman??!!! Everyone from hard core fans to people who never read a comic book in their lives were as shocked as if a REAL person had been killed. And even though we knew…KNEW he wouldn’t stay dead, it was a relief when he was brought back. We’d never take him quite so for granted again.

Finally, today Superman is once again being re-imagined by DC in the New 52 line. A new feature film is due out this year and is already generating a lot of buzz among the fanbase.

The future looks very bright for The Man of Tomorrow.

Superman at 75? He sure doesn’t look it!

That’s 30!