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!