The evening honoring Robert Kinoshita was a huge success. It was not an overcrowded house–but full.
People came from the east coast and Florida, and points in between. Steve Sylvester did a great job of putting together a panel of actors and people involved with the robots, and a wonderful series of images and film showing the robots at work. The most fascinating part of the evening were the audience, most of whom were not the regulars.
For so many of those in attendance this was an event of a life time–and so they expressed themselves. They grew up with Robby the Robot and he was their hero. They kept Mr. Kinoshita busy autographing everything imaginable involving Robby. Old Robby toy boxes, actual toy robots, photos, magazines, record album covers, and on and on. Everyone wanted a photo of themselves with him in front of Robby. Afterwards, although not a Robby fan, I sort of wished I got one–but I was too busy filming as much as I could to supplement the professional team that was there.
Many people commented on the wonderful design of the robots from an artistic perspective. Several of these people were industrial artists who appreciated his work. Part of the presentation was film of an early working model of a see-through plastic washing machine that he had designed. His early work in plastics gave him the expertise to do some technically difficult creations on the robot. And, almost 50 years later during the restoration process, when plastic parts had to be formed to the specifications of the original blueprints, most plastic shops said it couldn’t be done. Yet, he did it a half century earlier.
I talked to Mr. Kinoshita’s daughter late in the evening, long past the formal program, with everyone still crowding around him as he continued to autograph things and be photographed. I told her that her father had made a lot of people happy tonight. She replied that they made him happy too. And, she wished her mother was here to see this. Neither of them had any idea about any of the aftermath of his work. He didn’t gain personally from creating the robots–it was just part of his work as a salaried studio worker. He had no idea that what he created had such an impact on so many people. He was overwhelmed. In fact, I watched his face in the darkened room as the footage of Robby was screened and he was riveted on it. During the questions he was asked what his thoughts were when he first saw Robby in the film Forbidden Planet. He paused for a long time trying to answer the question and then admitted that he had never seen the film. He didn’t go to the movies as he was too busy working. There was a gasp from the audience.
It was a long hard, but happy night for Mr. Kinoshita and his daughter. Although Mr. Kinoshita had left, there were still people crowding around Robby and talking to his restorer, Bill Mal-one. I left about 11:30 and it was pretty much wound down, but not over yet.
This program was not for everyone. But for those targeted, it was an experience they will relive for years to come. And, for Mr. Kinoshita, it was a confirmation that he has talent and that he contributed more than a prop created for a fleeting moment on the silver screen.
Alan H. Simon is one of Hollywood Heritage’s many volunteers. He has been videotaping our Evenings @ The Barn for the Hollywood Heritage Museum archives.