The Long And Varied Film Career Of ROBBY THE ROBOT - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Long And Varied Film Career Of ROBBY THE ROBOT

Sorry, miss. I was giving myself an oil-job.

Appearing in over 40 films and television shows, Robby the Robot has a resume to make any actor envious! The mightily impressive robot prop was created for the 1956 MGM science fiction film Forbidden Planet. The story centers on a crew of space explorers 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, built, and programmed using knowledge gleaned from his study of the Krell, a long-extinct race of highly intelligent beings that once populated Altair IV.

Forbidden Planet's plot is loosely based on William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, with the planet Altair IV standing in for Shakespeare’s remote island and Dr. Morbius for Prospero. Robby is analogous to Ariel, a spirit enslaved by Prospero. This spirit seemingly broke free from his captors and went on to a long and distinguished Hollywood career. A huge achievement from such humble beginnings.

Perhaps a hint of what was to come was there from the off, as in the credits for Forbidden Planet Robby is, in a sense, given autonomy. 'Robby the Robot' is credited to have been played by 'Robby The Robot'! The capitilisation of the T in The, accentuating that Robby is THE robot, and you ain't heard the last of him.

Although the credits lied as, in actuality, American stuntman Frankie Darro was inside the Robby suit, with Marvin Miller providing his distinctive voice. But, still...

With his name in print as large as any mere mortal character, so impressive was the design, Robby the Robot was the primary marketing feature for Forbidden Planet. Robby quickly achieved iconic status, with the film becoming a cult classic.

At a cost of roughly $125,000, Robby the Robot was very expensive for a film prop at this time (representing almost 7% of the film's $1.9 million budget. With Robby costing at least $1 million today, if adjusted for inflation.) MGM needed to get their money's worth out of Robby, and as there is no union for robots (yet), put him to work in any feature they could place him in. Like a mechanical Nicolas Cage, Robby never said no to a role if offered.

The year after Forbidden Planet, MGM capitialised on Robby's Forbidden Planet fame, by pushing him as the star in The Invisible Boy. Again credited as Robby The Robot (with Marvin Miller once again providing the voice) this is meant to be the same Robby from his debut feature in a continuation of his story. However, as Forbidden Planet was set in the 23rd century, a back story is alluded to that Robby had returned to the film's mid-20th century era by time travel.

In 1959 Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone came-a-calling. Robby answered with four appearances on the classic series; 1959s One for the Angels, 1962s The Little People, 1963s Uncle Simon, and 1964s The Brain Center at Whipple's.

Throughout the late 50s and 1960s, Robby turned his robotic attentions to the small screen. Guest starring on a diverse collection of American TV shows; mystery drama series The Thin Man , sit-com's The Gale Storm Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis & Hazel, the macabre comedy The Addams Family, the spy-fi series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (also appearing in U.N.C.L.E. feature film One of Our Spies Is Missing), and the classic Irwin Allen science fiction series Lost in Space where Robby made two appearances in two episodes as two different characters! Diversity, thy name is Robby.

Like when Fonzie literally jumped a shark on Happy Days, Robby, perhaps, knew his primetime days were coming to an end after agreeing to cosmetic surgery for the role of Mildred the Robot in The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.

Like a Hollywood actress approaching her thirties, Robby found the job offers were drying up, so in 1971 he retired from the acting business. Unlike many retirees, though, Robby didn't spend his days golfing and being overly suspicious of anyone younger than him, rather he was sold and put on display at the Movie World/Cars of the Stars Museum, near Disneyland in Buena Park, California. Sadly, Robby was often vandalized by visitors.

A couple of robot historians had begun building their own Robby replicas; William Malone and  Fred Barton (one of Barton's appeared at the 1974 Star Trek Convention in Los Angeles). Barton was commissioned by the museum to restore 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, and Robby remained a tourist attraction until the museum closed in 1980.

Like an early Skynet neural-network of artificial intelligence, replicas of Robby began to find acting work of their own, appearing in episodes of 1970s serials like Columbo, Ark II, Holmes & Yo-Yo, Project U.F.O., The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, Mork & Mindy and The Love Boat. On the big screen alt-Robby's appeared in 1976's Hollywood Boulevard and 1981s Heavy Metal. One Robby even turned to modeling...

After the Movie World/Cars of the Stars Museum closed, the original Robby was once again found to be in a desperate condition. Robby, along with his vehicle, original MGM spare parts, and shipping containers were sold to William Malone. 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.

Returned to his former glory, Robby rejoined Hollywood royalty with a cameo in Gremlins.

Appearances in 1987s Cherry 2000, 1988s Phantom Empire and Earth Girl's Are Easy followed. A variety of background cameos then came Robby's way, like the dream sequence in 1988s Star Kid where footage from Lost in Space featuring Robby is shown on a TV, appearing in 2003s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and turning to commercials for AT&T alongside fellow robots WOPR, KITT, and Rosie the Robot Maid.

Almost 60 years after his debut in Forbidden Planet, Robby made his last, to date, on-screen appearance in The Big Bang Theory, where he was joined by several of his other robot pals.

The original Robby the Robot remained in William Malone's collection for many years until finally being sold by Bonhams Auctioneers in New York on November 21, 2017, for $5,375,000. It became the most expensive hero film prop ever sold at auction.

For your long and distinguished services to film and television, Robby the Robot we salute you.

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