The 1956 film Forbidden Planet is considered to be one of Hollywood’s greatest science fiction movies. The robotic character of Robby may be the picture’s most iconic figure from the screen story, but if there is a second it has to be the 25-year-old blonde blue-eyed Anne Francis who became a screen pin-up by way of the film’s poster. Indeed, it’s an unconscious Francis that is being carried in the steel arms of Robby the Robot in the marketing collateral MGM used to promote the picture. That image has been a constant in the artwork of Forbidden Planet‘s DVD covers, posters and miscellaneous merchandise every since its release.
Francis’ look was modeled after the space women on the covers of sci-fi pulp magazines from the 1930s-40. Her short-skirted garb was just the second time that a movie actress had worn a mini-skirt on-screen, and it came nearly twenty years after the first appearance of such an event. The actress’ legs along with a suggestive swimming scene likely earned the movie a PG rating.
“I was wearing a nude undergarment. One did not swim in the nude in those days,” Francis said of the infamous swimming scene in an interview. “It was risqué if you didn’t know that I was wearing a nude undergarment. But I think you could SEE that I was. You could tell. They made SURE that you could tell!”
Popular culture remembers Anne Francis and her Forbidden Planet role in a number of ways. Listen to the lyrics of “Science Fiction Double Feature” in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and you’ll hear the actress’ name and the movie mentioned, that’s how big of a role she had in the genre.
“I remember that there were some costumes that they decided were too revealing,” Francis once said of her first screen costume in the film. “One was a silver lame jumpsuit with silver boots – just absolutely gorgeous. It’s rumored that [studio production head] Dore Schary’s wife Miriam nixed it, saying that it was too sexy, too extreme.”
MGM’s marketing department ran with all they could at the time to draw the attention of male moviegoers to the picture. Even with Anne’s miniskirt clad character being carried by the strange looking Robby the Robot in the movie poster, the studio issued various lobby cards and promotional photos to draw even more buzz to their product.
Away from the sci-fi set, MGM staged a shoot with Anne Francis and Robby the Robot in a more everyday setting. If the robot didn’t get your curiosity raised, the movie marketing people hoped that Anne would.
Lobby cards were used to whet the interest of cinema-goers. When lining up for popcorn or taking a bathroom break, the audience member would spot these stills hanging on the theater’s wall. An intriguing scene, a notable famous face, or a woman’s pair of legs might attract the eyes of the passerby.
This lobby card for Forbidden Planet likely slipped by the notice of the motion picture association. Morals of the 1950s were safeguarded by the Hays Code which forbade explicit use of swearing, sexuality, drug use and other taboo subject matter. What would the Hays Code officials have done if they had caught a flash of the underwear of the movie’s only female character displayed for all to see in the lobby of movie theaters across the land? The shock of it!
Later in her career Francis would leverage her pin-up looks to star in a short-lived TV detective show (Honey West) and guest appearances in other television series. Yet, the role that she was most remembered for continued to be as the scientist’s daughter Altaira.
Until the appearance of Carrie Fisher as the feisty Princess Leia in Star Wars, Anne Francis was the poster girl for science fiction in cinema for two decades. Even today, her one and only retro sci-fi role is an influence to pin-up culture and art, especially with artists that draw pin-ups in outer space settings.