Crow T. Robot: This Is Your Life!
© 2003, 2004 Neal Bridges. Certain images courtesy of Jack Theakston.

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Crow's Workshop
KTMA: Crow is Born
Closeup of KTMA Crow - colorized by Jack Theakston
Closeup of KTMA Crow

Joel Robinson and friends in the pilot tape
Crow, Joel Robinson, and Beeper in the pilot tape

Behind the scenes at KTMA - colorized by Jack Theakston
Behind the scenes at KTMA

Crow and Servo, Episode K01
Crow and Servo, Episode K01 — note that Crow has teeth!

Crow and Joel and Servo, from episode K04
Crow and Joel and Servo, from episode K04

Season 0 (1988-1989), Episodes K00-K21

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 series (MST3K) premieres on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988, on the small independent Minneapolis UHF station KTMA-TV, channel 23.

Joel Hodgson from Season 4 All the bots are orignally designed by the creator of the show, Joel Hodgson, pulling an all-nighter to build them the day before the pilot tape is shot. The bots are made from thrift shop junk — 'found objects'. (Joel had spent a year building probably fifty such bot puppets of various designs and sold them in an upscale gift shop in Minneapolis called 'Props'.) Joel said of the bots, "They're kind of a collage, a bunch of junk — plastic junk that looks good together."

Joel Hodgson plays the role of 'Joel Robinson' on MST3K.

Trace Beaulieu with a Season 4 Crow Crow is puppeted and voiced by the very talented actor/stand-up comic Trace Beaulieu.

Crow is made of various 'found objects':

  • Web is a Cooper hockey faceguard (model XL7FG, designed in Canada in 1982) with the straps and chin padding removed, bolted to the beak (a)
  • Eyes are white 38mm ping-pong balls, fixed in place, with pupils made from 16mm squares (well, squarishes) of electrical tape (b)
  • Cowl is an entire Schwarz Brothers Plastic, Inc. soapdish (from a late-1950's "4 Piece Bath Set", #5936) with floral decal on top (c)
  • Unlike in Season 1 and after, there's no backplate on the soapdish
  • Beak is an Empire Toys 'crown' plastic bowling pin, cut in two, held shut by an elastic string (d, e)
  • In the pilot tape, and episode K01, Crow had teeth drawn on paper in his lower jaw
  • Body is an epergne, specifically a Tupperware Tuppercraft Floralier Centerpiece (parts 532-1, 533-1, 534-1), designed in 1962 (f)

    From the November 1962 Tupperware catalog:

    "Changing Beauty… by Floralier! Each day gives new opportunity to exercise your creative imagination with the exciting Floralier. This classic three-tier beauty is actually four different flower arrangers in one, for with a twist of the wrist the Floralier disassembles and converts to the attractive arrangers shown at the right. (Four pictures illustrated the different setups.) The bottom tier is ideal for floating flowers and petals. Designed to reflect your decorative tastes… and your decorative imagination!"
  • Backbone/neck is ½" CPVC pipe (g)
  • Beak string is ordinary white string running through an eye-screw in the neck (after episode K04, friction breaks the string; it is knotted and hangs down the front for the rest of the season) (j)
  • Arms are ½" CPVC, with foam insulation, tied to the Floralier with string
  • Entire 'grabber claw' toy used as hands (h)
  • Foam insulation wrapped around neck with electrical tape
  • Body, hands, and head (except for the eyes and arms) are painted plain gold (i)
a) Cooper XL7 faceguard
b) ping-pong ball c) Schwarz Bros. soapdish
d) plastic Empire Toys bowling pin e) embossed crown logo on bowling pin
f) Tupperware Floralier, shown here upside down
g) ½-inch CPVC pipe
h) grabber claw toy i) plain gold paint j) white string
Crow's extra tubing (from pilot stills)

In his earliest form, Crow had additional narrow flexible clear plastic tubes running through the neck insulation and down over the Tupperware.

Comedy Central: Crow Matures
Season 1
Crow and Servo, Season 1

Behind the scenes #1, Season 1 - colorized by Jack Theakston
Crow, Gypsy, and Servo, behind the scenes

Behind the scenes #2, Season 1 - colorized by Jack Theakston
Crow and Trace, behind the scenes

Season 1 (1989-1990), Episodes 101-113

The show is picked up by the Comedy Channel (a cable channel that will later merge with a competing channel and become 'Comedy Central'). The key minds behind MST3K form a new company, 'Best Brains Inc.' (BBI).

Crow is substantially re-designed by the Art Director, Trace Beaulieu. The fundamental shapes are the same — hockey-mask web, soapdish cowl, bowling-pin beak, grabber-claw hands, and Tupperware body — but a number of key details are changed:
  • Eyes are still 38mm ping-pong balls, but now:
    • glued together
    • mounted on a mechanism that makes them movable — left, right, up and down (a)
    • painted Krylon #R00439 OSHA Safety Yellow, a.k.a. KD1813 Daisy Yellow (though in this season they're sometimes white – episode 113, for instance) (b)
  • Pupils are 13mm squares of vinyl electrical tape
  • Cowl is a hollow vacuformed copy of the Schwarz soapdish painted flat black on the inside, rather than an original soapdish; the extra space is needed for the movable eyes and mechanism (c)
    (Vacuforming is a technique wherein a sheet of plastic is heated until pliable, then stretch-formed over the original object by the suction power of a vacuum.)
  • Plastic backplate behind the hollow, vacuformed cowl
  • Beak is an Empire Toys 'e' bowling pin, painted flat black on the inside, now held shut by a black elastic string (d)
  • Beak string is now thin black nylon line threaded through Crow's control rod via a hole in the neck just above the Floralier tray (though this first line broke just as the earlier Crow's string did: from episode 110 through to episode 113, the beak string is again a thick piece of white string hanging down the front)
  • Second Tupperware Floralier tray in body
  • 4"-diameter corrugated drainage tubing between the Floralier trays (same tubing as used for the Gypsy bot); painted semi-gloss black (e)
  • Black ribbed-tubing detail on neck and shoulders (f)
  • Neck is painted semi-gloss black
  • Shoulders are each made of part of a Wallace WL81 'Genie' extending desk lamp (yellow circle in picture to the right shows which part), bolted through the Floralier trays (g)
  • Arms made from the 3/8"-square metal tubing arms of the same Wallace Genie lamps, very long and heavy, with ½"-pipe foam insulation on the upper and lower arms (to stop them from wreaking untold damage on the set & crew when they swung around)
  • Base pivot from the Genie lamp used as wrist joint
  • Only the claw part of the 'grabber' toy used as hands
  • Web, body, cowl, beak and arms painted Testors #1642 Lime Gold Metal Flake with a plain gold base coat underneath (h)
  • Floralier trays also painted Testors #1642 Lime Gold Metal Flake on the inside
  • Unpainted cover on the upper Floralier pot
a) movable eye mechanism b) Krylon #R00439 OSHA Safety Yellow paint
c) Vacuformed copy of the Schwarz Bros. soap dish, shown here painted gold outside, and flat black inside
d) Empire Toys plastic bowling pin with embossed 'e'
e) section of corrugated 4-inch drainage tubing
f) ribbed tubing for neck and shoulder detail
g) Wallace WL81 'Genie' extending desk lamp
(the yellow circle shows which part is used for Crow's shoulder)
h) Testors #1642 Lime Gold Flake paint

KTMA Crow, modified for theater useKTMA (Season 0) Crow is re-used in the theater segments during this season: a second Floralier tray, lamp shoulders and arms, drainage tubing and a few details are added to make its silhouette more closely match that of the production version.

Crow is almost 24 inches tall, from the bottom edge of the lowest Floralier pot to the top tab of the hockey mask.

Season 2 Gypsy, Crow, Joel, and Servo, Season 2 Season 2 (1990-1991), Episodes 201-213

Bot construction is in the hands of "Toolmaster" Jef Maynard. Jef Maynard and Crow

Joel Hodgson: Yeah, they changed, you know. We went in and fixed them up, you know, we upgraded them so they looked a little crisper.
  • Arms are shorter, now made of ¼"-square Plastruct tubing
  • Neck is now kept from sliding through the Floralier by a short ring of CPVC forced around the ½" pipe where it meets the top of the Floralier
  • Forearms are slightly shorter than upper arms
  • Triangular shoulder and trapezoidal elbow joint shapes are retained from the Wallace Genie lamp arms
  • Wrist are joints formed out of sheet styrene, in a guitar-pick shape
  • Hands are fixed at a specific angle relative to the wrist joint
  • Foam insulation is sometimes removed from the arms

This Crow is 'Crow as we know him'. Only minor changes are made over subsequent seasons.

Season 3
Crow and Servo, Season 3
Season 3 (1991-1992), Episodes 301-324

Until this season, BBI has only one production version of each bot — the originals. Concerned with having at least two of each, during this season they have an outside party create rubber molds of parts they have found impossible to locate (most notably Crow's shoulders, and Servo's barrel and engine). With these molds they can (and do) cast as many resin replicas as needed.

Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy at work No changes to Crow from Season 2.

Season 4
Crow, Joel, and Servo, Season 4
Season 4 (1992-1993), Episodes 401-424

Theater silhouettesThis season onward sees the use of a white lumikey method (instead of chromakey) in the theater, resulting in a considerable improvement in the appearance of the silhouettes against the movies.

  • Insides of Floralier trays are now painted flat black
  • Shoulders are now resin copies of the Wallace Genie lamp part, painted semi-gloss black
  • The cover on the upper Floralier pot is painted semi-gloss black
Season 5
Crow, Joel, and Servo, Season 5
Season 5 (1993-1994), Episodes 501-524

Joel Hodgson left the show mid-season (episode 512), to be replaced as on-screen host by head writer Michael Nelson.

  • Tiny extra detail added to inside of shoulder pivots — plastic insulated spade-lug terminals, also painted Testors #1642 Lime Gold Metal Flake

    extra shoulder detail insulated terminal

Mike Nelson and friends in Season 6
Crow, Mike Nelson, and Servo, Season 6
Season 6 (1994-1995), Episodes 601-624

Jef Maynard leaves BBI at the end of this season to form his own company, "Blue Thumb Scenic", initially taking Patrick Brantseg with him.

BBI is having trouble finding more of the Tupperware Floraliers used to build Crow's body. Jef Maynard makes an appeal for the required parts to fans at the ConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama in Bloomington, MN, in September 1994.

No changes to Crow from Season 5.

MST3K: The Movie
Crow Hits The Big Time
Production still from MST3K: The Movie
Production still from MST3K: The Movie

MST3K:TM poster Filmed during Season 6 (1994-1995), in theaters April 1996

Robert Lane Robert Lane is credited as "Puppet Builder" for the movie.

A Swarm of Servos
A Covey of Crows
As part of the promotional effort for the movie release, BBI creates replicas of Servo and Crow and, in April of 1996, presents them to seven Planet Hollywood locations across the country. The fan community is instrumental in providing some of the rarer parts (Cooper XL7FG hockey masks for Crow, for instance).

  • Ribbed neck detail is shorter
  • Forearm is the same length as upper arm
  • Wrist attachment is modified so that the angle of each hand can be adjusted
  • Hockey faceguard is set slightly farther back
  • Cowl sits slightly higher above the beak
  • Slightly larger pupils (14mm)
  • Hole in the neck is now metal-reinforced with a rivet (to keep the beak string from breaking as often)
  • More sophisticated internal construction
…Comedy Central
Season 7
Crow, Mike, and Servo, Season 7
Season 7 (1995-1996), Episodes 701-706

Helena Espinosa with Tom Servo and Kevin MurphyBot construction is in the hands of Prop Master Helena Espinosa and Prop Builder Dean Trisko.

Crow and friends in September 1996, at the BBI Studios

Crow from MST3K: The Movie is used on the show this season.

This is Trace Beaulieu's last season with the show, and with BBI. Bill Corbett takes over the puppeteering and voice of Crow in subsequent seasons.

SciFi Channel: Crow Has a New Guy Hanging Off His Butt
Season 8
Crow, Mike, Servo, and Gypsy, Season 8
Season 8 (1997), Episodes 801-822

Bot design and construction is in the hands of Patrick Brantseg (Art Director) and Beth 'Beez' McKeever (Prop Diva).  

Patrick Brantseg and Crow Beez McKeever with Crow and Timmy (theater Crow)

Puppeted and voiced by Bill Corbett. Bill Corbett and Crow

Crow looks a bit different in this and the following seasons. Some of that is due to Bill Corbett's handling — he holds Crow more upright than Trace did, and that gives Crow a somewhat younger and more innocent expression. Also, the set lighting is quite different during the SciFi years.

Season 9
Crow, Mike, and Servo, Season 9
Season 9 (1998), Episodes 901-913

Halloween Crow No changes to Crow from Season 8.

BBI is again having trouble finding more of the Tupperware Floraliers used to build Crow's body; in September 1998, they make an appeal to the fan bot-building community for spares.

Season 10
Crow and Mike, Season 10
Season 10 (1999), Episodes 1001-1013: Final Season

Crow with a beer No changes to Crow from Season 9.