Monday, August 13, 2012

The Foster Brooks Robot

Dana posted a fascinating video to Twitter yesterday:

Foster Brooks was an actor who was best known for playing a lovable drunk on TV and in his comedy act.

The robot shows up at about 2:32.

Here's the real Foster Brooks: did a "Question of the Day" giving us plenty of info on the robot:


Whatever happened to the animatronic Foster Brooks that was placed in the MGM Grand when it first opened in 1994? It was described as costing over $150,000, and took over 825 man-hours to build.


It changed its name to “Oscar Goodman” and ran for mayor of Las Vegas. But seriously, folks …

Foster Brooks (1912-2001), a k a the “Lovable Lush,” was a comedian whose humor wouldn’t pass muster nowadays. He specialized in a “drunk act” and his sozzled manner earned him many a guest spot on late-night television and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. He even recorded, believe it or not, an album of song interpretations. Its jacket featured a photograph of the marquee of the old Desert Inn.

Back in 1994, Brooks’ humor was still considered sufficiently amusing that somebody at the then-new MGM Grand had the bizarre idea of garnishing the Betty Boop Bar with a robotic replica of Foster Brooks. An anonymous recollection, posted on the Internet on Sept. 26, 2005, described the spectacle as follows: “Every 5 minutes it would ‘Awake,’ mumble and slur, and wave its arms, then pass out again at the bar.”

The “Black Century” blog even managed to unearth photos of this strange creation, taken by Jack Pendarvis. The latter mused, back on July 8, 2008, on his own blog: “The robot clanked its mouth up and down in a lackadaisical fashion, hardly bothering to match up with the scratchy phonograph recording of a live Foster Brooks show [20 minutes of material, in all]. The robot was sitting at a little table, as if enjoying an aperitif in a cafe. So the laugh track seemed out of place. So did the robot, I guess.”

Even by Vegas standards, the Foster Brooks android ranked high on the eccentricity meter, to the point that it earned its own page in Mike Weatherford’s Cult Vegas. He records the actual Brooks’ reaction to his replicant as, “I look like an old man, which is what I am. It’s better than I’ll look like when I’m dead, I guess.” In a delicious irony, Weatherford adds that real-life inebriates would, in their alcohol-befogged state, mistake the Brooks robot for a real live person.

As weird as the episode sounds in retrospect, it may have been all of piece with inauspicious 1993 rollout of the MGM Grand that confronted Las Vegans with what Weatherford describes as, “goofy cartoon mascots, giant plastic French fries, and creepy Wizard of Oz wax figures.” All of those –- along with the Brooks robot and his Betty Boop Bar hangout — were evicted in a 1996-97 makeover, preceded out the door by the original CEO, Larry J. Woolf. (The latter would be exiled from the Strip for over a decade, eventually making a comeback at the Sahara.)

One Internet rumor had it that the animatronic Brooks’ demise came at the fists of Mike Tyson. Supposedly MGM’s in-house boxer was upset over something or other and took it out on the robotic Mr. Brooks. Alas, this legend is entirely more entertaining than true. According to NV Energy executive Jack Leone, who worked at MGM Grand from 1995 until his departure for Mandalay Bay in 1998, the android was a victim of old age. “It was in such bad shape, it was just thrown out,” Leone tells LVA. “Nobody knows exactly where [it went].”

So if you’re out in the desert and stumble across an inebriated white-bearded robot, you’ll have just solved one of the ongoing mysteries of the Strip.

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