Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Fred Allen Robot

Had the Jack Benny-Fred Allen “feud” been going on radio in 1934, the idea of a robotic Fred Allen would have been good for some gags. Additionally, the 1944 version of the real Allen would no doubt find a way to liken it to sponsors or NBC vice-presidents.

But there actually was a robot Fred Allen. It was on display at the 1934 World’s Fair. It’s fate today is unknown. Here’s a story from the Dobbs Ferry Register, June 15, 1934. The photo accompanied the story.

Wise-Cracking Robot With Human Expression Goes To World’s Fair
New York—(Special) — Simulating human mannerisms, facial expressions and gestures, a mechanical man, the first in which these human traits have been attempted, is on its way to Chicago where it will have a prominent place at the new World’s Fair.
The 1934 model mechanical man bears no resemblance to the stiff, machine-like robots of earlier vintages.
His speech has been vastly improved and he has been madę to look like a human being. He talks, moves his head, smiles, shows his teeth, raises his eyebrows, rolls his eyes, and chuckles.
In endeavoring to build a mechanical man resembling a human being, the inventors obtained permission from Fred Allen, the radio comedian, to attempt to reproduce his head, facial expressions, and voice.
A corps of sculptors and electrical engineers worked nearly three months to complete the mechanical Fred Allen which was built by the Ivel Corporation of New York. The mechanical “brain” was supplied by K. D. Andrews, said to be the only robot builder in this country. The face which is madę of a patented flexible rubber was designed by William Herrschaft, a sculptor.
The mechanical Fred Allen is the first comedian among robots for he wise-cracks and makes facial grimaces very much like the real Fred Allen. At the World’s Fair he will perform continuously as a guest of the Bristol-Myers Company in their Ipana exhibit in the General Exhibits Building where he will be known as “The Ipanaman.”

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