Forbidden Planet Revisited

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Desiré Gonzales

As part of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Last Remaining Seats” program, Forbidden Planet was specially screened at the Los Angeles Theater on June 16. Anne Francis, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, Bebe Barron and, of course Robby the Robot were invited to appear. George Takei, known as Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, hosted and acted as a somewhat campy interviewer for the evening.

Prior to bringing out the special guests, Takei noted that the very first film screened in this beautiful theater was Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. Takei also talked about the late DeForest Kelley and how he would have “liked to have been here tonight.” Takei told the audience that Kelley used to sneak into the theater and watch MGM films even though it was frowned upon. Kelley was a contract player for Paramount and you didn’t “cross the line.” Takei dedicated the night to the memory of his dear friend.

Takei talked about the fact that in the ’50′s, quality and science fiction didn’t go hand-in-hand but Forbidden Planet showed that the genre could be taken seriously. It led the way for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Star Trek.

Takei then introduced the guests and settled down into the interview. Among the memories shared that night were about Walter Pigeon from Anne Francis. “Walter had a great sense of humor,” she said. “He just loved limericks. And I can’t repeat a lot of them.”

Richard Anderson said that he had made over 30 pictures for MGM and Forbidden Planet was just another movie to do on their “B” unit. “We had no idea how it would sell. Now, one out of three people who come up to me, talk about Forbidden Planet.”

Warren Stevens — who played the ill-fated ship’s doctor, counterpoint to Leslie Neilsen’s commander — was asked about how it was to act with special effects, to something that’s not there. He thought a moment and said it’s like acting anything else. If you “speak to a carrot…. You speak to a carrot. You aren’t expecting an answer.” Warren later said to Takei that, “Star Trek got its birth from Forbidden Planet. You can go right down the line [in characters and pick out the parallels].” Takei said to Stevens, “You would have been a good doctor on Star Trek.” Stevens responded immediately and passionately, “I wouldn’t have been as good a doctor as De [Kelley]. He will be sorely missed.”

Earl Holliman, who played “Cookie” the ship’s cook, was asked how he got the role. He said that he had made a film, Tennessee Champ with director Fred M. Wilcox. “Freddie decided I had to be in his next film. I read the script and I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think that I was old enough. That it really called for an older man. But I did it.”

Holliman then started talking about how there were two different men who had performed in the Robby suit and Francis broke in asking him if he remembered why. She recounted the story that one day, the first man had come back from a three-martini lunch and the next scene was Robby walking down a ramp. Francis said, “You never saw 15 grips move so fast! They caught him before he hit the ground.” (Robby was the most expensive thing on the film at a cost of $100,000 dollars, which was a great deal of money in those days.)

Bebe Barron, who co-scored the movie with her late husband Louis, talked about building circuit boards and recording them and manipulating the sound on tape to create the electronic score and how “…many people have said it sounds like their dreams.

Finally, after an intermission, everyone took their seats for the screening, including the cast. They seemed to enjoy the film as much as the audience, laughing at the funny moments and were quiet during the serious ones — with a few sotto voce comments thrown in here and there.

It was a night to remember.