Robby The Robot: The Sci-Fi Prop Who Thinks He's An Actor

By | May 19, 2019

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Left: Peter Falk as Columbo and Robby the Robot in a guest-starring role on a 1974 episode of 'Columbo.' Right: Robby in a colorized lobby card for 'Forbidden Planet,' 1956. Sources: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; IMDB

In the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot freaked out audiences with his futuristic metallic body. As sci-fi became a popular genre, we've seen lots of robots in movies -- R2-D2 and C-3P0 in Star Wars (1977), VINCENT and Maximilian in The Black Hole (1979), Johnny 5 in Short Circuit (1986) -- but the weird thing is, we kept seeing Robby. Robby the Robot appeared in episodes of Lost In Space and The Twilight Zone. He appeared on Mork & Mindy and Columbo. He appeared on the romance anthology show The Love Boat and the children's program The Banana Splits.

Imagine R2-D2 showing up on Fantasy Island, or VINCENT doing a cameo on Kojak. It just wouldn't happen. Why does Robby the Robot have an acting career, like a human, while other movie robots are simply props to be discarded or warehoused after their one moment (or movie) in the sun?

At the time studios either weren’t worried about audiences recognizing props and costumes from their various productions, or they wanted to milk Robby as much as possible. Whatever the case, Robby the Robot became a star. To reiterate, the robot - a prop with no discernible human features - became the most popular “cast member” of Forbidden Planet, a film that starred Leslie Nielsen. The robot’s career continued on through the ‘60s and ‘70s, and even though it waned in the ‘80s, you can still see Robby on television today.  

 Robby Rolled Into Our Hearts In “Forbidden Planet”

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Robby first came into our lives in Forbidden Planet, a film that follows a crew of space explorers as they research the planet Altair IV. They find that the planet is ruled by a mysterious scientist who uses Robby to do his bidding. The robot is legitimately cool looking, and he’s not like anything that had been seen before in a science fiction film.

His limbs are fully articulated and he has a collection of working gears, which was not only a visual treat but completely different than the featureless tin-can 'bots audiences were used to seeing. Robby was voiced by actor Marvin Miller in an uncredited role. Because audiences didn’t see Miller, and he wasn’t credited, that gave MGM free reign to stick the character into whatever program they wanted.