Sunday, August 23, 2009

Toys That Never Were: Classic Robot Cinema

I've often mentioned the impact that Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot had on vintage toys. The company Nomura, for instance, used him as a model no less than three times -- with numerous variations to each of those designs. Other companies followed suit, and that familiar domed head, those stubby arms, and puffy, "sausage-stack" legs became common on many kids' -- and later, collectors' -- toy shelves.

Two of Nomura's Robby the Robot inspired toys: Mechanized Robot (left) and Piston Robot (a.k.a. "Pug Robby")

But Robby wasn't the only robot roaming Hollywood's back lots. Science-Fiction films of the 1950s gave audiences numerous mechanical men to root for -- and against. Some of the greatest include the stoic and sublime Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still; the robotic invaders from Target Earth; and the menacing creation from Satan's Satellites. Each provided a fantastic opportunity for some fun toys. 

Sadly, manufacturers never acted upon this opportunity, and it drives me nuts. But in the days before licensing deals and tie-ins, synergistic marketing and cross-over opportunities, Burger King glasses and McDonald's Happy Meals, movie studios just weren't thinking about turning their characters into toys. So while kids could spend a couple hours in a dark theater being wowed -- or terrified -- by these robots, they never had a chance to play with them at home. Consequently, they're not around for us to collect today. 

Not that some collectors haven't done their best to rectify the situation. Over the last 20 or so years, some of the more enterprising members of the hobby have tried to solve the problem of these non-existent toys by turning their talents towards the creation of custom pieces. Many came out remarkably well, a testament to the builder's skill and passion. However, only a small amount of these handmade toys were ever produced, and they're difficult to find today. Most collectors who do own them aren't looking to give them up.

One toy that did make it into production a few years ago -- and is still being made -- was Rocket USA's wind-up Gort figure. It's a well made toy, and features a walking mechanism as well as a flip-up visor. Sadly, unlike it's cinematic inspiration, it doesn't fire a death ray.

Rocket USA's Gort toy. 

It's also worth noting that B9, the popular robot from the TV series Lost In Space, managed to make his way out of Hollywood and into toy stores. By the 1960s, studios were finally licensing their properties, and this allowed the company Remco to release what has become one of the most commonly found versions of the character. While not super-accurate, the striking, plastic toy has today become a popular collectible. Another version of the robot was released by Hong Kong's AHI in the early 1970s, and still another -- similar to the Remco -- was put out by a Mexican company. Others followed suit (though not all were licensed).

The Remco B9 (top) and AHI's version of the robot. 

Still, that's only three robots. It's okay, I guess -- there are more than enough Robby and B9 variations to keep me busy for years. But as I'm sitting here, late at night, thinking about my collection, I can't help but feel a bit wistful about all the robots that might have been. 


  1. Robbie, Gort and B-9 in the same post! Awesome, my three favorites!

    Trendmasters in the 90's (I know not vintage) made a classic B-9 and a Robbie, I have since sold off my packaged versions, but I kept the ones I opened because when I was young I never found either to play with...

  2. Wouldn't it be great to be able to buy Huey, Dewey & Louie from 'Silent Running' in tin.

  3. Wouldn't it be great to be able to buy Huey, Dewey & Louie from 'Silent Running' in tin.


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