RATON — 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
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
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
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
"He's like a
kid who is enormously thrilled by all this stuff, and he just
has to share it with others."
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.
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
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.
life I've gotten to play with these really cool things,"
he says. "What could be bad?"
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.
fall in my lap," he says. "My wife calls me Ricky
Gump because I just end up in the right place at the right
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.
'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."
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."
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
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."
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.
circuits now, like that kid in the movie - 'I see dead
Tom Atwood, editor
of Robot magazine, says he thinks Newman's robot collection
may be the world's largest.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.'
robot: 'Robby the Robot from the movies Forbidden Planet and
The Invisible Boy. He was big, strong and smart.'
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
To see the entire
Robot Collection Click Here