Collecting movie stills – 4 – Superman


SupermanRobotHeadThis rather unconvincing robot appeared in the TV series Adventures of Superman in an episode entitled The Runaway Robot. The series began filming in 1951 and was first broadcast in 1952. This still is taken from episode 17 of the first series. The entire episode can be viewed on YouTube, but there is a small charge to watch it. The series’ introduction titles and music can be watched below. The role of Superman was played by American actor George Reeves (1914-1958).

An eccentric staff correspondent of the Daily Planet, Horatio, brings his latest invention, an electronically controlled robot, to town. It falls into the hands of robbers who put it to work looting the First National Bank in the Superman adventure thriller, “The Runaway Robot.” Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Horatio need the help of Clark Kent as Superman when they try to stop the uncontrollable electric man.

There is, apparently, a rather strange ‘Superman curse’ which has affected actors involved in the various Superman TV shows and films over the years. It seems to have started with George Reeves who died of a gunshot wound in mysterious circumstances (officially suicide). The similarly named actor Christopher Reeve, who played superman in the four film series from 1978 to 1987, was paralysed from the neck down after a horse riding accident. Many more supposed victims of the curse can be read about here: Superman curse.

EPCO plays checkers . . . and wins

Electopak-Robot---full-picThis rare photograph, seen for sale at an online auction site recently, was, I believe, taken in about 1937. I have managed to find an article in Automatic Age magazine (link) which I believe tells the story of this robot. I’m not too certain because the vendor of the photograph states that it may have been taken in the 1950s.

Electopak-Robot---detail2 Electopak-Robot---detail1These two detail shots highlight the reward of $150 “to anyone who beats the robot playing checkers”, and the mirror above the robot on which the crowd can watch the game of checkers being played by the robot.

The Automatic Age article, The Story of Epco – the Mechanical Man, described how John T. Bradford, the world’s champion master checker player, was beaten by Epco. “Mr Bradford played two games with the Epco robot. The crowd, completely encircling the booth many rows deep, drew in closer to watch the match. It was a dramatic situation, intense from not only the competitive angle but also because of the fantastic atmosphere. … Bradford, a human genius, whose mind is highly developed and attuned to intensive thinking, and Epco, an electrical robot, a thing of cold metal, wood, wiring and electrical gadgets. They played, man against machine! The Epco robot, calmly and mechanically sure of each move, relentlessly checked every maneuver of the world’s champion to gain a decisive victory.”

They played again and Bradford, “although a true genius”, could only manage a draw.

More research is needed, but I have to say I am rather suspicious that there may have been a man inside Epco.

Life-sized Planet Robots made in the UK

Shawcraft_LogoAndy Shaw makes fantastic ‘life-sized’ robot replicas which are inspired by 1950s Japanese toy robots. His company, Shawcraft, also makes replica petrol pumps for your classic garage, games room or living room which can be used as storage cabinets, or even a cocktail bar!

Shawcraft_SAM_1408His robots are produced from purpose-built moulds and are designed for strength and simplicity. Where possible pigmented gelcoat is used, making the robots durable and resistant to scrapes and knocks.

The ‘Planet Robots’ are stunning, standing five foot eight inches tall, in gleaming black and red – just like the original Japanese tin toys. The original toys were made by Yoshia KO of Japan in the late 1950′s and were an unlicensed copy of Robby the Robot, star of the 1956 MGM film Forbidden Planet.

Shawcraft_WalkTalkToyThe toys were made in several colours and versions, the most popular being black and red with clockwork walking action and sparks shooting around the interior visible through acetate ‘windows’.

The Shawcraft Planet Robots can be supplied in any colour combination although only the black/red version is pigmented gelcoat. They can be specified with either three fingered hand or replica claw.

Just like the original the chest plate and face grill are finished then added to the robot giving a crisp, clean joint. All arm and leg joints are well defined so the robot looks real.

Shawcraft_T4They can be supplied as a static prop or with flashing lights in the dome ‘ears’. They can also be ordered with a voice, activated by passers-by, and with intermittent head-turn and flashing ‘voice light’. A radio-controlled walking version is also available.

I asked Andy when his interest in robots arose. “At four years old, back in 1967 when my Gran gave me a black and red clockwork Planet Robot.”

When he was 11, he wrote to the BBC for a copy of their Dr Who Dalek plans, which had been printed in the Radio Times. He began building a Dalek immediately then realised the plans were wrong. So he used the Dalek neck section as the torso of his first large robot.

Shawcraft_build1It takes a couple of weeks to build a Planet Robot and they are in great demand. I have occasionally seen them for sale on eBay, so I asked Andy if he has many in stock, he said, “yes, I build them for stock, but they always go before I can make a second!”

If you would like to see his robots out in the real world, they can be seen at a travelling exhibition called ‘Robot’, and they are often seen at art galleries and universities. They’re also at Randy’s Toy Shop, USA*; Metropolis Toys, Burton on Trent; Celestial Toy Store; a barber shop in Essex; Uncle Sam’s diner.

AdventuresInScienceFictionLate next year they will be at Neil Coles Adventures in Science Fiction, a new science fiction museum opening in Allendale, Northumberland.

Finally, I asked Andy how long he thinks it will be before we have domestic servant robots, or robot butlers, in our homes … and would he want one?

“Domestic robots are just about seven years away I reckon. I think they’d have been here now if the global economy hadn’t been shafted by the greedy useless parasitic financiers. I embarked, at four years old, to develop and build a domestic robot for myself. Oh yes, I want one.”

You can contact Andy Shaw by email or visit his website to see more examples of his work.

See also Pikore page.

*If you have an original Japanese Planet Robot toy with missing parts, Randy’s Toy Shop specialise in making replacements. They’re not cheap, but how else are you going to repair one of those rare toys? Prices from their catalogue (click here for website) Antenna, $55; Hands $35 each; Roller wheels $25 each.