Inside Fred Barton beats the heart of a machine. It has been that way since he visited a California movie museum in 1973 and came face-to-face with his muse: Robby, the Robot, the cone-headed electroservant from the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. Barton, 40, recalls looking at the robot suit and saying, "I think I could make this."
He was right. Using his mother's oven to melt plastic ("It thrilled her to death," he jokes), Barton made his first replica at 16. Two years ago the L.A. production-company owner started building 7-foot, 75-pound computer-driven Robbys (licensed by the film's owner, Turner Entertainment Co., a Time Warner Company) priced at $25,000 and $75,000. Depending on the model, the robots reproduce some or all of the speech and mannerisms—like neon-light pulses—of the original Robby. Barton, who has sold 12 so far, says the robots are "a bargain for the amount of handiwork and detail that goes into them."
His customers agree. Says Dan O'Shannon, 36, a TV writer who keeps his deluxe Robby in his living room: "Having it go through its paces for people when they come over really takes me back to my childhood."
Barton can relate. He fell for robots in 1961 after seeing Forbidden Planet on TV. He has also reproduced Gort, from 195 l's The Day the Earth Stood Still, and B-9, the benign robot from the Lost in Space TV series. Barton, whose wife, Christine, 32, runs the business side, doesn't have rights to the new robot in this month's Lost in Space film, but he hopes it will boost business. He was heartened by the audience response at a recent computer show. "There was a Playboy bunny there," he says, "but Robby had the crowd."
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