By BOBBY REED
More than 50 years after its original release, Forbidden Planet continues to beckon fans from across the cosmos. The 1956 film has become a cornerstone of the science-fiction genre because of its top-notch production values, futuristic soundtrack and a screenplay partially inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The film’s plot involves the disappearance of a group of scientists on a faraway planet, and the surprising, dangerous powers of the human mind.
The widespread influence of Forbidden Planet is seen throughout the sci-fi universe, from the Star Wars franchise and The Matrix films to several intergalactic TV series, such as Star Trek, Lost in Space and Babylon 5. The film also gave birth to one of the great icons of pop culture—Robby the Robot.
Although these collectors think of Nielsen as the commander of the United Planets C-57D space ship, the general public knows the Canadian-born actor because of his comedic work. Nielsen became a household name due to his roles in numerous spoofs, such as Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie.
As a young actor, Nielsen mainly had done stage and TV work when he was cast as the leading actor in Forbidden Planet. The film’s established star was Walter Pidgeon (Dr. Morbius), who had been nominated for an Oscar twice in the early 1940s.
Nielsen has fond memories of joking around with Pidgeon, who died in 1984. “He was a wonderful man,” Nielsen said. “He was known as the Golden Gentleman, and we had a running, barbed exchange going all the time. I remember playing checkers with him, and he said something, so I made a comment about his shoes being too big. While he was jumping one of my men, he was saying, ‘That was uncalled for, Leslie.’ I realized I had stepped over the bounds. I had gotten too personal with that comment. So I said, ‘You’re quite right, Walter. I apologize.’ He said, ‘Accepted,’ and then he jumped another one of my men. It was like an exchange that would take place between two Englishmen.”
In 1956, audiences marveled at the film’s groundbreaking visual effects, which are still impressive to contemporary viewers. “The incredible thing about those special effects is that they were totally manual,” Nielsen noted. “Today you can do everything by computer. But they had to manufacture all those things and make them work. It was astonishing what they did.”
The picture received an Oscar nomination in the Special Effects category, but it lost to The Ten Commandments, with its classic parting of the Red Sea sequence.
In one of the most memorable scenes in Forbidden Planet, the gigantic, orange, glowing “Id Monster” grabs three men, including Crewman Grey, and fatally hurls each of them to the ground. Today, such a fantastic scene would incorporate computer-generated imagery. In the mid-’50s, however, this spectacle was created using animation, combined with some decidedly low-tech methods.
“When I got zapped by the Id, it was with the help of four prop guys pulling me on a rope,” Dix said with a laugh. “They had a harness with a hook in the back. Then they had a spring hooked up to that and a rope. On cue, these four guys gave me a humongous jerk, and I went flying back. I landed in all these gunnysacks full of rags and paper. It was fun.”
Dix was born in Beverly Hills and followed in the footsteps of his famous father. (Richard Dix was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in 1931’s Cimarron.) At the time Forbidden Planet was made, Dix was a studio player under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His film credits include the western Forty Guns and the James Bond picture Live and Let Die, and he acted in numerous TV series, including Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and Death Valley Days. Affable and generous with his time, Dix is a fan favorite at conventions.
“Forbidden Planet was the grandpa of all those other sci-fi movies and TV series that came out after the middle ’50s,” Dix said. “It had a regular run in theaters, but the word-of-mouth on it was what caused it to become a classic. Audiences loved it. They would go back and see it two or three times.”
Seated at the convention table next to Dix was his colleague Anderson. The two actors met on MGM’s enormous Stage 27 while filming Forbidden Planet, and they remain friends to this day.
“I did 24 movies at MGM over a period of six years,” Anderson reminisced. “I was under contract, and Forbidden Planet started out as a B-movie. It was just another job. The film came out, and it made money, but no one had any idea about the legends that would come out of this movie. It was unique, and it became something that is eternal.”
Many Generation X fans know Anderson for his role as Oscar Goldman, a character who appeared in two ’70s TV series—The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Younger fans also know this character, thanks to 2005’s hit comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which Steve Carell portrays a collector of vintage toys who cherishes his Oscar Goldman action figure. The gregarious Anderson adorned his convention table with a couple of Oscar Goldman action figures and other memorabilia from the ’70s.
Anderson also played General George Meade in the 1993 film Gettysburg. One fan at the convention, a Civil War buff from Georgia, engaged Anderson in a detailed conversation about military strategy during the war. The fan, who had corresponded with Anderson through the mail, was thrilled to meet the actor in person and add to his collection of items signed by Gettysburg cast members. The entertaining discussion clearly illustrated that Anderson had done extensive research for his role as Meade.
Current and Future Pricing
Among the dozens of memorabilia dealers at the convention was Sean Linkenback of the Atlanta-based company Platinum Posters. He offered a Forbidden Planet title card priced at $1,480, and a lobby card for $440. “Demand for that title is always strong, not just from sci-fi collectors, but from movie collectors in general because it’s considered such an important film,” Linkenback said. “The Forbidden Planet one-sheet poster has sold for as high as $10,000, but it usually sells in the $6,000 to $7,000 range.”
Some dealers and collectors are stocking up on memorabilia in anticipation of a new version of the film. A proposed project to remake Forbidden Planet has been bouncing around Hollywood for years. According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling) will write the screenplay. One director reportedly interested in the project is James Cameron (Aliens, Titanic). In the 2005 TV documentary Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us, Cameron lauded Forbidden Planet, saying, “It was amazing as a technical accomplishment in its day, just for its scope, just for the scale of its imagination.”
When the remake finally does arrive in theaters, a new generation of cinema buffs will discover the wonders and horrors of the planet called Altair IV. Increased interest in the original film could result in higher prices for vintage memorabilia and, of course, for signatures from the trailblazing cast members.