Robby the Robot
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Robby the Robot is a fictional robot and science fiction icon who first appeared in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. He made a number of subsequent appearances in science fiction movies and television programs, usually without specific reference to the original film character.
Precursors of the name
The name Robbie the Robot had appeared in science fiction before Forbidden Planet. In a pulp magazine adventure The Fantastic Island (1935), the name is used for a mechanical likeness of Doc Savage used to confuse foes. The name is also used in Isaac Asimov's short story "Robbie" (1940) about a first-generation robot designed to care for children.
Robby the Robot originated as a character in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. He is a 7-foot (2.1 m) tall robot whose "mouth" is a monochromatic blue light organ, synchronized to his synthetic voice, its band of curved tubes located directly below his transparent conical "face" dome. He walks on mechanical legs.
The illusion of a robot was created by a suit operated by Frankie Darro from inside; his voice was provided by actor Marvin Miller. The suit was created by MGM's prop department; the initial design was sketched by Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie, refined by production illustrator Mentor Huebner, and then turned into reality under the direction of mechanical designer Robert Kinoshita.
Forbidden Planet is about a starship crew from Earth who land their spacecraft on the planet Altair IV, ruled by the mysterious Dr. Morbius. Robby is a mechanical servant that Morbius has designed and programmed using knowledge gleaned from his study of the Krell, a long extinct race of highly intelligent beings that once populated Altair IV. The plot has been compared to William Shakespeare's play The Tempest (1610), with Altair IV standing in for Shakespeare's remote island and Dr. Morbius for Prospero. In this context, Robby is equatable with Ariel, a spirit enslaved by Prospero in the play.
Robby exhibits artificial intelligence, but with a distinct personality that shows a (possibly unintentional) dry wit. He is instructed by Morbius to be helpful to the Earth starship crew and does so by synthesizing and transporting to their landing site almost 10 tons of "isotope 217" a lighter-weight though effective replacement for the requested lead shielding needed by its crew. Morbius programmed Robby to obey Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics as expressed in I, Robot (1950). One of the laws is a rule against killing humans; this becomes important near the end of the film when Robby refuses to kill the "Id monster" when he recognizes that the invisible creature is an alter ego/extension of Dr. Morbius. The film's poster misleadingly depicts a fierce character abducting a maiden, but no such scene is in the film; Robby only carries one person, crewman Dr. Ostro, when he is mortally wounded.
The robot quickly became a science fiction icon in the decades that followed and the suit from Forbidden Planet was reused or recreated in multiple TV shows. It was used in The Invisible Boy (1957) and made several further appearances in other movies and TV shows over the next few decades, including episodes of The Thin Man, Columbo and The Addams Family. While Robby's appearance was generally consistent, there were exceptions, such as the Twilight Zone episode "Uncle Simon" (1962), in which he was given a slightly more human "face". At other times, Robby usually retained the working gears inside his transparent dome, although the details of his "brain" and chest panel were sometimes altered; in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Robby's head dome was used as part of a regeneration machine. The Robby suit also appeared in the Mork & Mindy second season episode "Dr. Morkenstein"; this time representing a character called Chuck, whom Mork befriends while working as a security guard in the science museum where he is on display; Chuck was voiced by Roddy McDowall.
Robby made few appearances after the 1970s, but there is a cameo appearance in Gremlins (1984), where he can be seen standing in the background and speaking some of his trademark lines; he was also featured in a 2006 commercial for AT&T. In 2004 Robby the Robot was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.
Fate of the original "Robby" suit
In 1971 the original 1956 Robby the Robot suit was sold to Jim Brucker and put on display at his Movie World / Cars of the Stars Museum, near Disneyland in Buena Park, California, where it was often vandalized by visitors. Robot historian Fred Barton was commissioned with restoring Robby to his original 1956 state while the robot was still on display at the museum. Barton used original duplicate replacement parts made for the Forbidden Planet suit by MGM's prop department. It was, however, in a desperate condition once again several years later. The museum closed its doors in 1980, and Robby, along with his vehicle, original MGM spare parts, and shipping containers were sold to William Malone. Malone noted that Robby had once again fallen into a state of disrepair. Having built the first ever replica of Robby in 1973, Malone was able to carefully restore the robot prop to its original condition using additional spare parts which the original builders had stocked in Robby's stage cases some 25 years earlier.
The original Robby the Robot suit continues to reside today in Malone's collection. Malone is the world's foremost collector of original Forbidden Planet materials.
Fred Barton built a second Robby replica which appeared at the 1974 Star Trek Convention in Los Angeles. Barton continues to produce Robby props and other 1:1 robot replicas. His recreations are currently on display at the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington, and at the Metreon entertainment complex in San Francisco; other Robby replicas are on display in various venues. Full-sized, remote-controlled Barton robot props are available from Hammacher Schlemmer or ordered directly on-line from Fred Barton Productions; the company manufacturers various film and TV robots under license, aimed at the growing science fiction collectors' market. Robby has also become one of the most popular tin robots.
List of appearances
- Forbidden Planet (1956)
- The Invisible Boy (1957)
- The Thin Man (1958) - season 1 episode "Robot Client", first aired 28 February 1958
- The Gale Storm Show (1958) - season 3 episode "Robot from Inner Space", first aired 13 December 1958
- The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1963) - season 4 episode "Beethoven, Presley, and Me", first aired 13 March 1963
- The Twilight Zone
- Hazel (1961–1966)- episode "Rosie's Contract"
- The Addams Family in the episode "Lurch's Little Helper" aired 18 March 1966
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1966)
- Lost in Space (1966 and 1967) - in two episodes as two different characters (in "War of the Robots" as a robotoid)
- The Monkees (1966–1968) - one episode
- The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968 and 1970 "The Coronation of Bakaar") - recurring appearance as a maid named "Mildred the Robot"; does not have glass dome
- Columbo: Mind Over Mayhem - as "MM7" (1974)
- Hollywood Boulevard (1976)
- Ark II (1976)
- Holmes and Yo-Yo (1976)
- Music Machine (1977)- a K-tel compilation LP, photographs featured on both the front and back of the cover
- Project UFO (1978)- season 1 episode "Sighting 4010: The Waterford Incident"
- Television commercial for Starlog Magazine (1978)
- Wonder Woman (1979) - season 3 episode "Spaced Out", as the master of ceremonies at a science fiction convention
- Mork & Mindy (1979)
- Space Academy (1979) - episode "My Favorite Marcia"
- Charmin Television commercial (1981) - as an assistant to Mr. Whipple, named Squeezak, repeating the phrase "Don't squeeze Charmin".
- Night Stalker video game (1982) - featured in the print advertising for the Mattel video game for the IBM and Mac Nightstalker Ad
- The Love Boat - episode "Programmed for Love"
- Gremlins (1984)
- Cherry 2000 (1987)
- Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
- Star Kid (1998) - footage from Lost in Space featuring Robby is shown on a TV
- Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
- Stacked (2005) - as the Nightmare NASA Robot
- Escape from Cluster Prime (2006)- animated
- Television commercial for AT&T (2006) - with WOPR, KITT, and Rosie the Robot Maid
- Television commercial for General Electric (2012) - with KITT and other robots
- "Robby, the Robot". The Robot Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011.
- Hagerty, Jack (2008). The Saucer Fleet. Livermore, California: Apogee Books. p. 160. ISBN 9781-894959-4 Check
- Kreiter, Ted. "Revisiting The Master Of Science Fiction". Saturday Evening Post 276 (6): 38. ISSN 0048-9239.
- "Interview With Bill Malone". Monsters411.com.
- "Lost in Space: War of the Robots Episode Summary". TV.com.
- Robby the Robot at the Internet Movie Database
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