Robby the Robot

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For Robert the Robot, see Fireball XL5.
Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet

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[edit]

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. In "Tom Swift on The Phantom Satellite" (1956), it is also the name given to a small four-foot robot designed by Tom Swift Jr, the boy inventor in the science fiction Tom Swift Jr series by Victor Appleton II.[1]

Forbidden Planet[edit]

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 real robot was created by a "suit" operated from inside by an uncredited Frankie Darro; his voice was provided in post-production by actor Marvin Miller. Robby was created by MGM's prop department;[2] 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.[3]

Forbidden Planet is about a crew from Earth who land their starship, the C57-D, 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 film's plot has been loosely 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 to Ariel, a spirit enslaved by Prospero.

Robby exhibits artificial intelligence, but has a distinct personality that exhibits a (possibly unintentional) dry wit. He is instructed by Morbius to be helpful to the Earthmen and does so by synthesizing and transporting to their landing site 10 tons of "isotope 217," a light-weight though effective replacement for the requested lead shielding needed to house the C57-D's main stardrive to power an attempt to contact Earth base for further instructions. Morbius programmed Robby to obey Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics as expressed in I, Robot (1950).[4] One of the laws is a rule against killing humans; this becomes important near the conclusion of the film when Robby refuses to kill the "Id monster." The robot recognizes that the invisible creature is an alter ego/extension of Dr. Morbius. The film's poster misleadingly depicts a fierce Robby abducting a maiden, but no such scene is in the film; Robby only carries one person, crewman Dr. Ostro, when he is mortally wounded near the end of the film.

Later appearances[edit]

Robby the Robot at 2006 San Diego Comic Con

The robot quickly became a science fiction icon in the decades that followed and was reused or recreated in multiple TV shows. Robby was reused by MGM in The Invisible Boy (1957) and then made several further appearances in other films and TV shows during the next few decades; these include episodes of The Thin Man, Columbo, The Addams Family and Lost in Space where he battles The Robot. 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 moving parts 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., only Robby's head dome was used as part of a regeneration machine. Robby also appeared in the Mork & Mindy second season episode "Dr. Morkenstein"; this time representing a character called Chuck, voiced by actor Roddy McDowall, whom Mork befriends while working as a security guard in the science museum where Chuck is on display.

Robby made few appearances after the 1970s, but he does make 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. Robby the Robot was inducted in 2004 into the Robot Hall of Fame.

Fate of the original "Robby"[edit]

In 1971 the original 1956 Robby the Robot 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.[5]

The original Robby the Robot continues to reside today in Malone's collection; he is the world's foremost collector of original Forbidden Planet materials.

Replicas[edit]

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 1:1 film and TV robot reproductions under license, aimed at the growing science fiction film collectors' market. Robby has also become a popular subject of collector tin toy and plastic robot reproductions and model kits.

List of appearances[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Appleton II, Victor (1956). Tom Swift And The Phantom Satellite. Grossett & Dunlap. p. 116-117. 
  2. ^ "Robby, the Robot". The Robot Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Hagerty, Jack (2008). The Saucer Fleet. Livermore, California: Apogee Books. ISBN 978-1-894959-70-4. 
  4. ^ Kreiter, Ted. "Revisiting The Master Of Science Fiction". The Saturday Evening Post 276 (6): 38. ISSN 0048-9239. 
  5. ^ "Interview With Bill Malone". Monsters411.com. 
  6. ^ "Lost in Space: War of the Robots Episode Summary". TV.com. 
  7. ^ Robby the Robot at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]