Monday, January 19, 2009

Bob May: The Man Inside the Robot

I attend a lot of science-fiction conventions, of course. At some, you find actors from past SF TV shows selling autographed photos of themselves. In my whole life, I have bought precisely one such: on Sunday, November 25, 2007, at LosCon 34 in Los Angeles I met Bob May, the actor who was inside the Robot costume on Lost in Space, and had him sign the above photo of him and the robot suit for me. (Click the photo for a larger version.)

Bob May died yesterday. He was 69.

I have huge fondness for the Robot, as this excerpt from my novel Rollback attests:
"All right," said the robot. "Have you chosen a name for me yet?"

Sarah lifted her shoulders and looked at Don. "Gunter," he said.

"Is that G-U-N-T-H-E-R?" asked the robot.

"No H," said Don. And then, unable to help himself, "Get the H out."

"My little boy," Sarah said, smiling at Don. She'd said that often enough over the years, but, just now, it seemed to hit a little too close to home. She must have noticed his quickly suppressed wince, because she immediately said, "Sorry."

Still, he thought, she was right. He was a kid at heart, at least when it came to robots. And his absolute favorite when he was growing up, as Sarah well knew, was the robot from Lost in Space. He got miffed whenever people called that robot Robby, although Robby, the robot from the movie Forbidden Planet, did bear a passing resemblance to the one from Lost in Space -- not surprising, given that they were both designed by the same person, Robert Kinoshita. The Jupiter 2's robot was mostly just referred to as "the Robot" (or the "bubble-headed booby" and a hundred other alliterative insults by Dr. Smith). Still, many hardcore Lost in Space fans called it B-9, which was the model number it gave for itself in one episode. But Don had always contended that the barrel-chested automaton with vacuum-cleaner hoses for arms was actually named GUNTER, because another episode contained a flashback, showing the robot in its original packing crate, which was labeled "General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot." Despite pointing this out to people for -- God, for over seventy years now -- Don hadn't won many converts. But at least now there was a robot in the world who indisputably had that name.

Of course, thought Don, Sarah understood all this. She'd grown up watching Lost in Space, too, although what she'd loved most about it were the photos of real nebulas and galaxies used in space scenes ("Astronomical Photographs Copyrighted 1959 by the California Institute of Technology," the card on the ending credits said). But, he realized sadly, none of this would mean anything to Lenore or anyone else who was as young as he felt.

Here's my collection of Lost in Space robots:

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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At January 19, 2009 1:39 PM , OpenID rvitelli said...

Damn! I had one of those toys when I was a kid. I have no idea what happened to it.


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