Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Lost Saucer of 'Forbidden Planet' Reappears

Flying Saucer Forbidden Planet
By Geoff Boucher
LA Times

     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."


  1. By pure luck, I ran across this old story about the rediscovery of the Forbidden Planet saucer. I can "fill in the gaps" on some of this prop's history.

    It was bought at the MGM auction by a University of Southern California student, John Martini, for, I believe, $15 (or something equally ridiculous.) I believe there were originally three saucers: A partial but full scale version; a small model and this "in between" version. It was also used in a well-known episode of Twilight Zone, starring Agnes Moorhead.

    Martini later decided to move to the San Francisco area and did not want to transport the bulky item with him. Also, it needed some restoration and repair.

    He offered it to me for $25. I loved that movie and wanted to buy the prop, but I had a small student apartment--the saucer would have been like getting a roommate. Reluctantly I said no. And I have regretted it ever since.

    I did fear that it had been trashed and am happy it resurfaced.
    That still leaves a gap in its history. And I'm curious what it sold for and to whom.

    Marc Mancini

  2. Love Forbidden Planet,one of my favorite Science Fiction films. Obviously one of the Inspirations for Star Trek.


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