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The lost saucer of ‘Forbidden Planet’ reappears

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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.

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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’sThe 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.


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