Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen (February 11, 1926 - November 28, 2010)

Leslie William Nielsen died early Sunday evening of complications stemming from pneumonia. He was 84.

This makes me very sad.

Nielsen was probably best known for his comedic roles in such movies as Airplane! and The Naked Gun (the latter based on a role he created in the TV show Police Squad). But for myself and most readers of this blog, he will forever be remembered as Commander John J. Adams in 1956's classic science-fiction film Forbidden Planet.

Publicity still of Nielsen as Commander John J. Adams in Forbidden Planet.

The one-sheet movie poster for Forbidden Planet.

In the film, Nielsen and his crew of the United Planets Cruiser C-57D land on Altair IV, where they meet Dr. Edward Morbius, his daughter Altaira, and Robby the Robot -- the sole survivors of a tragic expedition that landed on the planet 20 years earlier. They learn of the planet's former inhabitants, the Krell, a race of hyper-intelligent beings who mysteriously disappeared. And they discover that the planet harbors a dark secret, one that threatens the lives of everyone on the C-57D.

Nielsen with Anne Francis (Altaira) and Robby the Robot.

Nielsen and Francis.

Nielsen played Adams as a man of action whose sense of honor and duty sits side-by-side with his reputation as an intergalactic ladies man. He's noble, dashing, intelligent, and quick with a blaster -- an old-school space hero who gets the girl in the end. (If that's a spoiler, none of you have ever read a science fiction story or seen an SF movie from the 1950s.)

Half-sheet poster for Forbidden Planet.

I always admired how Nielsen took his character seriously. There was never any wink in his performance, never a sense that he was too good for the role, or that he was slumming it by appearing in a science fiction film. And as years went by, he never wavered in his attitude, always speaking fondly of the film and his part in it. (Unlike, say, Walter Pigeon, who played Morbius. He ran from Forbidden Planet like it was a swarm of bees, and always resented the promotional appearances he had to make to support the film. Oh well.)

Forbidden Planet holds a special place in the hearts of most robot collectors. Not only is it one of the best science fiction movies of all time -- and I'll fight anyone who tries to say differently! -- but it also gave us the great Robby the Robot. Toy manufacturers, in turn, transformed Robby into some of the most exciting toys ever to sit on a toy shelf. (And I'll fight anyone who tries to say differently about this, too!)

Various Robby-inspired toy robots. (back row) Mechanized Robot. (middle row, from left) wind up Planet Robot, Piston Robot, battery operated Planet Robot, and Moon Robot. (front row, from left) Space Trooper, battery operated Jupiter Robot, and wind up Jupiter Robot.

But as great as Robby was, and as near to my heart as he sits, my favorite character in Forbidden Planet was Commander Adams. For giving us that, as well as decades of goofy laughs, I humbly salute Leslie Nielsen. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.

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