Robert Kinoshita: Master of Robots

By Michael Corvin


      Not so much as the maker of monsters but the father of
robots ......and not just any robots but two of the greatest and
well known machines in film and TV history....Robby The Robot
and Robot B-9 or better known as The Lost in Space Robot.
Robert's work in robotic stunt suits made him a legend in Hollywood when he crafted what would become
the two best known and most beloved robots in history.

      Born in 1914, Robert Kinoshita had a long...long life passing away at age 100 in 2014, but not before
leaving his mark upon the world. Born in the shadow just outside of a new Hollywood in Los Angeles,
Robert grew up in the Boyle Heights area where he went to the University of Southern California to study
architecture. Later he found himself in Hollywood itself where he worked on production design for film and
television shows like Highway Patrol, Bat Masterson Kojak and Hawaii Five-O and even did a little writing
as with the movie Hundred Men and A Girl. But his work on set design and other tasks were nothing to
what was to come.

      In 1954, Robert was given the job to design and build a robot for the
movie Tobor The Great. Tobor....robot spelled backwards looked much
like what other designs would create when making what they thought a
robot would look like. Remember that this is 1954, and the idea of a walk-
ing....talking robot was truly the stuff of science fiction as there were no real
life counterparts as there are today. Robert's Tobor looked much like a walk-
ing, talking box, very much like a moving washer/ dryer but it was only the
beginning of bigger and better things to come. Tobor was also to be used
for a TV pilot called Here Comes Tobor was well. Although Tobor looked like
a robot and Robert's design pulled off what the film producers wanted, it was
a design that Robert felt could have been better.....well way better and that
was to come in 1956 with Robby.

      Robert Kinoshita's work on Tobor gave way to him being hired by the
producers of Forbidden Planet to create and build the robot for this now
science fiction classic. Learning what to do and not do on his work with Tobor,
Robert wanted something better....something that would make an impact in
the film with a robot that not only looked good on screen but one that could be
truly a member of the movie’s cast. That robot would be known forever more
as Robby the Robot. Named for, I believe, Robert himself.  Robby was a
seven foot wonder unlike anything that came before.....or truthfully after. Built
out of various parts in the MGM props department, Robert used rubber, metal
and plastics to create what film buffs and sci/fi fans called the best movie
robot of all time. His design for Robby was so far ahead of that of Tobor that
its even hard to believe that both cinema machines are designed by the same
man.

      Unlike Tobor, Robby was painted a shiny black, something not even seen
in most robot designs today. He had two legs to walk with plus working mov-
ing parts within the head piece with blinking lights and two retractable arms.
The robot itself was in reality a costume worn by a stunt performer as was
with Tobor before to bring the machine to life.  Despite this fact, most people
then and even now believe that Robby was in fact a real...true robot. Although
Robby The Robot was in fact not a real machine, but a man in a suit, he was so well loved (even to this
day) that Robby had a lifelong alter his work on Forbidden Planet was over.

      Robby The Robot, like any actor, had his own Hollywood career in that like any actor was hired for TV
and movie roles when a robot was needed. His first movie role away from Forbidden Planet was the 1957
film The Invisible Boy.  He would also go on to be on such TV series as The Twilight Zone, The Addams
Family, The Gale Storm Show, Columbo and Lost in Space where he met the next great Robert
Kinoshita's robot and one of my all-time most beloved.

      Lost in Space ran on CBS from 1965 to 1968 and was produced by
Irwin Allen. When the pilot for Lost in Space was first produced, the soon to
be series was missing two main roles... that of Dr. Smith and Robot B-9 or
simply just Robot as he was called in the series.  The people at CBS like
what Allen did with the pilot but they thought adding a trouble maker and may-
be even a robot would make the show even better. Robert, designer of
Robby, was asked to build a new robot for them. Robot B-9 is maybe other
than Robby the greatest robot design ever created for TV or film. His design
is so ahead of his time that to look at this robot today in old re-runs of Lost in
Space and one can hardly believe that this is not truly a real machine.   

      Robot B-9 unlike any robot before....even Robby, did not walk like a man
on lags but used a set of tank like treads to give him movement.  Much like
Robby though, B-9 sported moving parts in his bubble head with lights along
with two retractable arms with claws on the end. Like Robby, his arms would
retract fully into the rounded upper body design giving him an amazing look
from all angles....a master piece in design. As before with Robby, Robot B-9
talked and had a mind all his own and soon became the stand out cast member of the series. In fact it is
said that The Robot got just as much fan mail as his human cast member counter parts.

      In the Lost in Space episode, War of the Robots, both of
Robert's creations shared the screen when Robby did a guest
spot on the show giving sci/fi fans the greatest thrill to see the
two together. Robby would again return for another episode as
well and today both Robby and Robot B-9 are thought of as not
just TV or movie machines, but true science fiction icons. People
have even built life sized versions of the two and are both part of
the Robot Hall of Fame.

      Robert Kinoshita lived to be 100 years old and in that time
on Earth, he created two of the most iconic robots on TV and
movie history.
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