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The following article appeared June 19, 2010 in the

 DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! No, no danger, but Boca's Rick Newman may have the largest collection of robot toys in the world.

By Staci Sturrock
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Posted
June 19, 2010

   B — It's a peaceful suburban morning in Boca Raton's historic Old Floresta neighborhood as robot collector Rick Newman casually reaches for his cellphone.

   But his hand passes too close to some toy robots wired to motion sensors, and suddenly, the family room crackles with a catchphrase familiar to Baby Boomers everywhere: "Danger, Will Robinson!"

   "Yeah, yeah, yeah, hush," the 54-year-old Newman says absent-mindedly, as if the toy were a relative who habitually badgers him.

   This robot, and the other robots in Newman's collection - more than 1,000 and counting - are very much a part of the Newman family, along with wife Jeanne, dog Toby, cats Missy, Boris and Natasha, the life-size Halloween ghoul by the front door, the astronaut mannequins in the living room, the Gort, Cylon, Wall-E and talking Elvis head in the garage …

   "You walk in his house and you think, 'Oh, my gosh,'" says Jim Rollings, former director of West Palm Beach's South Florida Science Museum. "His house is, of course, a museum, but the thing is, a great deal of his collection is scattered about many different places."

  Newman, who owns a video-, data- and DVD-duplication company, has loaned items from his various collections (robots, space artifacts, electric cars) to schools, libraries, science expos and museums around the world, including the South Florida Science Museum.

   A science prodigy who skipped college but almost immediately began making a mint with his own penny arcade in the Catskills, Newman never charges a fee for the loan of his items, nor does he bill the schools and Scout camps where he installs science and learning centers.

   "Rick seems eccentric and maybe a little over the top at first," says Rollings, "but then you learn that he is driven by just an extremely sincere dedication to educating and informing others about things that he himself is so excited to know and learn about.

   "He's like a kid who is enormously thrilled by all this stuff, and he just has to share it with others."

   Newman's fascination with robots, in particular, stems from Lost in Space, the mid-1960s TV series about the Robinson family and their attempts to reach Alpha Centauri.

   "Everybody in those days was in love with the robot," he says. "Who wouldn't want to be Will Robinson and go on space adventures with a robot friend?"

A stroke of genius

   New Yorker Newman grew up in Flushing, Queens. His father sold furniture and his mother was head of psychology at a mental hospital.

   "I was an only kid, and I hated being an only kid," says Newman.

   The family lived in a two-bedroom apartment "and I had my little 10-by-12 foot area to do my thing. That was it."

   That was enough. In the second grade, Newman built a binary computer and won his school's science fair.

   More than a decade of science fair victories would follow, and as a high school sophomore, he clinched top honors at New York's statewide science fair.

   The victory earned him a short-lived gig as junior co-host of a Boston, Mass., TV science show. But the born tinkerer was drawn to the light boards, sound systems and fog machines behind the scenes.

   "My whole life I've gotten to play with these really cool things," he says. "What could be bad?"

   Newman eventually became stage manager at a Catskills resort, where he produced more than 5,000 live shows with the likes of Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Red Buttons and his favorite, The Brady Bunch's Florence Henderson - "I've done several shows with her, and each time she was a doll."

   Newman says he created a microphone system to amplify Gregory Hines' taps when the dancer was performing on Broadway, and worked backstage at the Woodstock reunion concert.

   "Things just fall in my lap," he says. "My wife calls me Ricky Gump because I just end up in the right place at the right time."

The Newman's met 20 years ago in a dinner club in Monticello, N.Y., when Rick asked Jeanne if he could sit in an empty chair at her table.

   "He said, 'Can I buy you a drink?'" Jeanne recalls. "And when the waitress came over, she laughed and said, 'I shoulda known. You're the only two people in this entire place drinking ginger ale."

   The couple shared more than a favorite beverage. "I'm a science geek also," says Jeanne, who now works as a paralegal. "We're a little outside the box, but I don't have a problem with it at all."

   (Newman admits that Jeanne wouldn't mind if he moved the astronauts out of the living room, though.)

For the past few Halloweens and Christmases, the Newman's have produced an elaborate sound, light and laser show outside their home that attracts thousands of visitors.

   "He grew up alone," Jeanne says, "so I think he gets joy out of getting people to light up. It's his way of giving."

   Newman's scientific gifts unexpectedly multiplied seven years ago, Jeanne says, after he suffered a minor stroke.

   "After he had the stroke and recovered - and people think I'm crazy when I say this, but I was there - his intelligence levels just went off the charts," she says. "Now he can do things in his head" - such as programming the elaborately timed holiday shows - "that most people would find astonishing."

   His desire to share his love of science with others also "went off the charts at that point," Jeanne says. "That's when he really got inspired to do things."

   Newman was temporarily paralyzed on one side of his body and still struggles with fatigue issues, but "if you compared the day before the stroke to the day after," he says, "it was like something had awoken in my brain.

   "I see circuits now, like that kid in the movie - 'I see dead people.'"

'Mad scientist'

   Tom Atwood, editor of Robot magazine, says he thinks Newman's robot collection may be the world's largest.

   "I've talked to hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are into robots, and I have never found anybody with a collection that even comes close to his."

   Like many collections, Newman's sort of snuck up on him. He began purchasing robots when his duplication business took off, and then friends and family wrapped up robots for his birthdays.

   "I just kept going. I just kept collecting," he says.

   Standing in Newman's neat-as-a-pin garage, with its fluorescent lights overhead and its commercial rubber flooring underfoot, it's apparent why Jeanne lovingly refers to her husband as "the mad scientist of the neighborhood."

   He's skinned a dinosaur robot so kids can see the mechanics of the toy's skeletal system, and he's removed half of robot Elvis' facial skin for a side-by-side comparison when The King sings.

   Over at his workbench, surrounded by neatly stored servos, switches, wires, batteries, paints and pliers, Newman is wiring the head of a Terminator robot to blink with blue lights - just getting a head start on Halloween.

   "People like watching them move, seeing the flashing lights," Newman says of the small army of robots arrayed on the floor of his garage. "They have a magical draw all to themselves."

   Newman certainly feels that draw to bring more and more robots into his fold. "Why do I do it? Because I can."

   He always loved kids, he says, and that's why he freely loans items from his collection - to see the delight that a simple, unexpected warning of "Danger, Will Robinson!" can elicit.

   "If I can do that, it makes my millennium."

   Boca Raton robot collector Rick Newman on his favorites.

   Favorite TV robot: 'It would have to be the Lost in Space robot. He walked, he talked, he was a great companion.'

   Favorite movie robot: 'Robby the Robot from the movies Forbidden Planet and The Invisible Boy. He was big, strong and smart.'

   Favorite spacecraft: The Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space. 'If I had the money, I would build a house exactly like it, except mine would have toilets. The one from the TV show didn't. Next would be the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. How cool would it be having a holodeck to play in!'

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