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Why This Famous Sci-Fi Robot Showed Up on The Twilight Zone 3 Different Times

Robby the Robot, who first appeared in the iconic sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet, appeared in many more films and TV shows.

By James Grebey
Rod Serling touches Robby the Robot.

A lot of familiar faces have passed through The Twilight Zone (catch episodes regularly on SYFY): William Shatner, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, Burgess Meredith, George Takei — the list goes on. But in addition to the famous human guest stars, the original Twilight Zone series also featured not one but three guest appearances by one of the most famous robots of all time. 

Robby the Robot, a lumbering android whose limbs are a series of big spheres and who has a display of circuits and gizmos under a glass dome in lieu of a head, is one of the most iconic robots in all of pop culture. The character first appeared in the science-fiction classic Forbidden Planet in 1956, where he was a robot servant that a reclusive genius on a futuristic, far-off world had built for himself. There had been robots before in pop culture, but Robby was one of the first to have a distinct personality and even wit, in addition to being an automatron. In other words, Robby walked so that C-3PO could run. (Although neither robot is all that swift on its feet.)

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Why Did Robby the Robot Appear in The Twilight Zone So Much?

The Robby prop was an elaborate suit, far more complex and convincing than typical robots of ‘50s sci-fi movies. MGM, the studio behind Forbidden Planet, spent somewhere between $100,000 and $125,000 on constructing Robby; a figure worth more than $1 million in today’s money and about 7% of Forbidden Planet’s fairly extensive total budget. The cost was worth it, as Forbidden Planet was a hit — as was Robby. 

Even so, in an effort to get the most out of their very expensive robot, the Robby prop appeared in several other movies and TV shows, beginning with another MGM sci-fi flick called The Invisible Boy the following year. Robby, whose appearance was frequently modified to make him look a little different than he did in Forbidden Planet, would feature in episodes of shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Lost in Space, The Love Boat, The Addams Family, and Mork & Mindy, to name a few. 

But Robby’s Twilight Zone appearances are some of the more notable entries on his filmography. The show frequently filmed on the MGM lot, and as a result, creator Rod Sterling made good use of the props to be found there. 

Robby appears in three episodes of The Twilight Zone. He made his debut in 1959’s "One for the Angels." It’s a minor appearance, as Robby is simply one of the toys that the main character, a peddler trying to make a pitch so good he can beat Death, is selling. Robby’s next appearance was more substantial. In 1963’s “Uncle Simon,” Robby plays the titular uncle’s final invention — a robot that talks and acts just like Simon did, much to the dismay of his niece, who was looking forward to being rid of her bothersome uncle and enjoy his inheritance. Robby sports a slightly more human-like head underneath his glass dome in this one, but he’s still unmistakably Robby. Finally, there’s 1964’s “The Brain Center at Whipple's,” about the owner of a manufacturing corporation who becomes obsessed with replacing all his workers with more efficient machines — only to have the same thing happen to himself when his board replaces him with a robot, played by none other than good ol’ Robby. 

So the next time you find yourself in The Twilight Zone — maybe while watching on SYFY? — keep an eye out for a beloved robot.