The lost saucer of ‘Forbidden Planet’ reappears

Dec. 09, 2008 | 2:24 a.m.


After 38 years, a "lost" Hollywood artifact with a truly cosmic history has resurfaced and, no surprise, it’s headed straight for the auction block.

This Thursday, Dec. 11, the iconic flying saucer from the 1956 MGM classic "Forbidden Planet" will be auctioned off in Calabasas Hills and is expected to fetch anywhere between $80,000 and $120,000, which would be a nice, tidy payday for its owner, a North Carolina man who had the prop stored in his garage and didn’t realize its market value.

The silver saucer is 82 inches in diameter and constructed of wood, steel and fiberglass and, according to the Profiles in History auction house, it is "a marvel of 1950s engineering." That’s because "the central landing base extends from the bottom of the craft by internal movement mechanisms with electric motor drive, as does the ladder and two conveyor-loading ramps."

The miniature was the chief prop used to create the memorable screen images of United Planets Cruiser C-57D in the landmark sci-fi film that loosely reworked Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" and starred Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen and Jack Kelly. The film made a major sci-fi imprint on mid-century pop culture and was a major inspiration for "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, and was paid homage by filmmaker George Lucas, who borrowed a line of its dialogue for "Star Wars

The saucer ended up in the busy MGM prop department and was used for a half a dozen episodes of "The Twilight Zone," including the memorable "To Serve Man" episode. Then, around 1970, it was sold off at a studio auction, but there was no record of who bought it.


"It just disappeared, essentially," said Joseph Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History. "This is a major piece of film history, an item that collectors all over the world would instantly want to possess, and it was gone."

The saucer ended up hanging in the garage of a North Carolina man who decided recently to find out what the old model might be worth. Even after hearing the that it might fetch six figures on the open market, he had no plans to sell it — but that changed when he mentioned the dollar amount to his wife. "He called back a few days later," Maddalena said, "and explained that his wife was making him sell it."

There are plenty of other items going on sale at the Thursday auction, which is open to bids online and via phone as well as in person. Get the details here or call (310) 859-3842. The saucer is also up on eBay right now with multiple images, if you want to check them out.

Some of the items that I wouldn’t mind as a Christmas gift are the bull whip from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (expected to go for up to $60,000); the 9-foot-tall animatronic gorilla from the 1998 Disney version of "Mighty Joe Young" (predicted to peak at $120,000); one of Robin the Boy Wonder’s Batarangs from the old "Batman" television series (a mere $3,000); and one of the playing cards brandished by the late Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" (predicted to reach $500, which sounds low to me). Maybe you can get your Christmas shopping done in Calabasas Hills this year…

— Geoff Boucher


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UPDATE: An early version of this post had the wrong day of the week cited for the auction. Robby the Robot would be sorely disappointed.

More in: Uncategorized, collecting, Forbidden Planet, special effects


5 Responses to The lost saucer of ‘Forbidden Planet’ reappears

  1. David Rubin says:

    Flying saucers were ok when the price of gas was too high (saucers run on cosmic energy, eh?) but with low prices at the pumps, driving a car is fun again. Still, there's a special thrill when your date sings "Fly me to the moon" and then you take her there. This is something that a flying saucer can do for you ("…and only 3 easy payments, call the number on your screen now!") Actually, I'm quite glad that the lost saucer of "Forbidden Planet" was found. This movie was one of my all-time favorite sci-fi films and even featured the great comedy legend Leslie Nielsen in a straight dramatic role. Well, I can see by the article's little poster picture that Robby the Robot has picked up another girl for me (and they're heading this way! ;-) Gotta fly now,
    David Rubin

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  4. Will Donahue says:

    Back in the 1980's, when I was visiting some friends in L.A., they wanted to take me to Disneyland, so we went to Anaheim to visit the house of the mouse. While out there we visited a place called the Science Fiction Museum. Inside they had all these props from different sci-fi movies and boy was I surprised to see a dummy wearing the Class A "Matador-style" Uniform from FORBIDDEN PLANET!
    They didn't allow any photos but I quickly sneaked off a few. They also had a Robby the Robot, a blaster pistol and some other props from the film. They had assembled quite a impressive collection. when I took my new wife out to L.A. later on, I wanted her to see the place as well as Gene Autry's Western Heritage Museum, but the place had closed down. Man would I have liked to have gotten my hands on some of that stuff. My wife wondered if she should seek an annulment, but I convinced her otherwise, especially after she saw F.P., the movie. I'll always remember that time. Oh, I also think they had some model stuff (like the space station) from "The Conquest of Space" and the rocket used in "World Without End". Just fantastic things!
    X-RAY DELTA 9622

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