When actress Ann Robinson learned Steven Spielberg was going to remake "War of the Worlds," which opens Wednesday, she "started campaigning for myself immediately."
And for good reason: Robinson, 70, starred opposite Gene Barry in the classic 1953 film version of the H.G. Wells thriller about a Martian invasion of Earth. She also reprised her role three times in the short-lived syndicated TV series from the late 1980s.
Robinson sent her photos to Spielberg but assumes they never made it to his desk because she never heard from the Oscar-winning director.
By chance, her neighbor was interviewing with a "Worlds" casting director for a role in the film, which stars Tom Cruise. He mentioned to the casting director that Robinson lived next door. "She said, 'Give her my phone number; Steven has been looking for her,' " Robinson said.
The actress was surprised they couldn't locate her because she has been a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild for more than five decades. The problem was that the guild had a long-outdated phone number for her..
She did get in touch with the casting director and now has a cameo as Dakota Fanning's grandmother.
Robinson recalled visiting the set a week before her scene for a costume fitting. "It was so cute going on the set. You had two of the most important people reduced to 12-year-olds," she said, explaining Cruise's and Spielberg's reaction when they first met her. "When I met Tom Cruise, he said, 'Oh, my God, Steven has been waiting to meet you.' I gave him a big hug. Tom said how he had rented the original movie for his children and how they loved it."
Spielberg, she reported, was lovely to her.
"He introduced me to everyone on the set and everybody was adorable. Dakota is so precious. I thanked him for inviting me to represent the old movie. And he said, 'I didn't invite you for that; I invited you because I wanted you.' "
Robinson says she never thought of Wells' tale, which he wrote in 1898, as a sci-fi story.
"It is really a tremendous story about social injustice," Robinson said. "Wells was writing about British imperialism, and how brutal they were to the world and how they gobbled up everything. It was about the annihilation of freedom."
Orson Welles' landmark 1938 radio version of "The War of the Worlds," she said, was an allegory about the rise of Adolf Hitler in Europe, with the Martians standing in for the Nazis. And in the 1953 film, the Martians represented "the Red Menace" -- the threat of communism.
Now, says Robinson, "we are dealing with Osama bin Laden. We are dealing with a terrible menace who wants to take our freedom away from us. We are right back to what Herbert George Wells was talking about."
-- Susan King