By Mike Barnes
Robert Kinoshita, a production designer and art director who designed the iconic robots for the 1956 science-fiction classic Forbidden Planet and the 1960s TV series Lost in Space, has died. He was 100.
Kinoshita died Dec. 9 at a nursing care facility in Torrance, Calif., family friend Mike Clark told The Hollywood Reporter.
For Robby the Robot on Forbidden Planet, Kinoshita cobbled together several concepts contributed by MGM's art and special-effects departments and made a miniature prototype of wood and plastic. The model, with a domed head of clear plastic, was quickly approved, and Kinoshita completed its construction. The film received an Oscar nomination for special effects.
Kinoshita was in the work pool of 20th Century Fox’s art department in the mid-1960s when producer Irwin Allen selected him to become the first-season art director for Lost in Space, which aired for three seasons on CBS from 1965-68.
Kinoshita’s bubble-brained Robot — a late addition to the cast whose famous line was “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” — featured a metallic barrel chest, light-up voice panel and rubberized legs. Kinoshita rushed to deliver the complicated costume shortly before the show entered production. (Dick Tufeld provided the voice.)
The Robot received as much fan mail as its the human cast, and a nationwide organization of fans, The B9 Robot Builders, has built more 100 full-size Robot replicas.
For the series, Kinoshita also modified the Robinson family’s spacecraft, designed for the pilot by Bill Creber, to include a lower deck with living quarters, dining room, lab and Robot dock. He stretched the production budget by creatively raiding props and discards from the Fox backlot.
Born in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1914, Kinoshita grew up in the Boyle Heights area. He attended Maryknoll Japanese Catholic School, Roosevelt High School and USC’s School of Architecture and became interested in the movies, receiving his first practical experience on the 1937 film 100 Men and a Girl.
He and his wife Lillian were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II, but a sponsor allowed the couple to leave before war’s end and move to Wisconsin, where he became proficient in industrial design and fabricating products out of plastic.
Kinoshita came back to California in the early 1950s and returned to the movie industry just as MGM was gearing up for production of Forbidden Planet. In addition to Robby, Kinoshita designed several sets including the lab of Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon).
Also in the 1950s, he also created the robot Tobor from Here Comes Tobor (1957) and worked for ZIV Television on such series as Science Fiction Theater, Highway Patrol, Sea Hunt, Bat Masterson and Men Into Space.
Later, he served as associate producer and production designer on the independent films The Phantom Planet (1961) and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970) and was a free-lancer on such series as Hawaii-5-0, Barnaby Jones and Gene Roddenberry’s pilot Planet Earth.
Kinoshita claimed his longevity was due to clean living and daily doses of apple cider vinegar, Clark said. He is survived by a daughter, Pat.
A private service was held on Dec. 23 at Green Hills Mortuary in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Born: 2/24/2014, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Died: 12/9/2014, Torrance, California, U.S.A.
Robert Kinoshita’s westerns – set designer, art director:
The Broken Star – 1956 [set designer]
Tombstone Territory (TV) – 1957-1959 [set designer]
Gun Fever – 1958 [art director]
The Rough Riders (TV) – 1958 [set designer]
Mackenzie’s Raiders (TV) – 1958-1959 [set designer]
Bat Masterson (TV) – 1958-1961 [set designer, art director]
Klondike (TV) – 1961 [art director]
Belle Starr – 1980 [art director]