One of the films that holds a treasured place in my heart is the original “The Day The Earth Stood Still”. It was made in 1951 and used the fears of ordinary people of that time period to achieve its goals. And it scared the socks off of me when I first saw it on the TV in the early sixties. For me, the fact that it was science fiction, centered on an alien from outer space, who had his own robot…well I was heaven ( it really didn’t dawn on me that the actor in the robot costume was over seven foot tall. When you’re a little kid everybody’s tall ).
The story first appeared first appeared in the October 1940 edition of Astounding Stories as the story “Farewell To The Master”. Klaatu is in the story as is the robot (a slight change was made for the movie. The robot was originally called Gnut in the story. This was changed to Gort for the movie). But that’s where any similarity between the story and the film ends. The producer of the film read over 200 hundred short science fiction stories and books looking a “nugget” of a story that could be used to create a fantastic film. Mankind was fearful and suspicious of the new Atomic Age, the Cold War, and pretty well anything else that could threaten the American way of life. Julian Blaustein, the producer, found the “nugget” he was looking for in the story “Farewell To The Master”. With the blessing of Darryl F. Zanuck, Blaustein commissioned Edmund North to write the screenplay. The final screenplay was ready February. 21, 1951.
The word around the 20th Century Fox lot was that this was going to be a very important picture. Claude Rains and Spencer Tracy both expressed great interest in playing the lead role. In the case of Claude Rains it turned he would be doing some work on stage at the same time of the shooting schedule so he was quickly out of the running, but when it came to Spencer Tracy producer Julian Blaustein had to put his foot down, and threaten to leave the project. This was the way he put it: “When Klaatu comes down the ramp, and takes off his helmet, people are not going to see Klaatu. They’re going to see Spencer Tracy”. In the case of Claude Rains it would be very hard to explain an alien with an English accent. And Spencer Tracy carried similar baggage. Their reputations would precede them making believability in the role of Klaatu near impossible. The solution was rather simple, and in this case, very easy to do. They needed someone completely unknown to the vast majority of the film going public. Darryl Zanuck had just come back from England where he saw an actor that was very, very, good. Always on the lookout for new talent 20th Century Fox signed Michael Rennie to a contract. They now had someone eager to do the film, someone the public was not familiar with, as well as make a name for himself. Michael Rennie was a rather thin fellow. He was described by Julian Blaustein as “being almost skeletal”.
Patricia Neal portrayed a woman widowed by World War II, with a young boy to raise. And it turned out she was the only person who seems to truly understand Klaatu. Her son, Bobby, understood Klaatu almost as well. Her characters name is Helen Benson and Billy Gray portrays her son Bobby Benson. In the film the love interest of Helen Benson is Tom Stephens and he’s portrayed by Hugh Marlowe. I found him a rather unpleasant person who sells insurance. He seemed more interested in himself, and improving his lot in life, and not caring about what circumstances his actions may bring to others.
A very important component of the film was the appearance of the army. And they totally hated the script. They did not come off looking well. After all, they were of the opinion that aliens and UFOs did not exist. So they decided to withhold any and all assistance with the film. This almost brought the shooting schedule to a hair raising crash. Somebody, nobody has claimed credit for this, suggested using the National Guard in place of the army. After all they looked the same, and they used the same equipment. And the National Guard relished showing off for the cameras. It certainly didn’t hurt recruitment any. So the National Guard were shoehorned into all the spots vacated by the army.
The robot Gort was portrayed by Lock Martin. His height is in dispute, as his own Wikipedia page lists him as being seven foot seven inches, director Robert Wise says he was seven foot one inch, and the American Film Institute states Lock Martin was 7’7”.
When Lock first came to the directors attention he was working as an usher at Graumann’s Chinese Theater. He wasn’t a very strong man and had to carry dummies of Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie. There were two Gort costumes. One that laced up the front for shots from the rear, and one that laced up from the back for shots of the of the front. A bust of the head of the costume exists in the collection of Bob Burns. Robert Wise was aware of Locks discomfort in the costume, and the two agreed he would only be in the costume in thirty minute segments. He was also in The Incredible Shrinking Man as a giant, but his scenes were deleted. He was nicknamed “the Gentle Giant” as he liked reading stories to children and for a time had a local show devoted to that.