Art Clokey, the creator of the classic children’s show Gumby, died in his sleep Friday at age 88 in his Los Osos, California home.
Clokey first came up with the idea for Gumby in the early 50’s, and grew out of a film project called “Gumbasia” that satirized the movie “Fantasia” and consisted of expanding and moving lumps of clay. Gumby first made his debut on “The Howdy Doody Show,” and then moved to his own television show, “The Adventures of Gumby,” which was the first program to use clay animation on television.
Gumby’s unique shape and color were all based on elements or figures in Clokey’s life. The figure was green because it was Clokey’s favorite color, he looked like a gingerbread man because his wife felt it would be the best option, and his characteristic slanted head was modeled after one of Clokey’s only pictures of his father, who died in a car accident when he was 8.
In the picture, there is a large wave of hair protruding from his father’s head, due to a cowlick hairstyle.
Although Clokey didn’t know it at the time, the success of Gumby and his friends, including his sidekick Pokey, would span over 50 years, helped by numerous resurgences over time. The first came in the 60’s, after a bendable Gumby toy was released. Clokey was originally hesitant to release the toy, stating that he was trying to be idealistic and keep parents from thinking the show was trying to exploit their children.
Exploitation or not, the toy was a hit, leading to the filming of new episodes in the late 60’s.
Later, Gumby would gain popularity again, with the unlikely aid of Eddie Murphy. In his time on SNL, Murphy would play a crass, cigar-smoking version of the character that was a sharp contrast to the happy, loving Gumby of the TV show. After the sketch aired, toy sales jumped, and the show was reincarnated for syndication in 1988.
This time, the show even led to a feature film, “Gumby: The Movie,” in 1995, which further established Gumby for a new generation of children. In recent years, Gumby has even made it into the video game world, with the 2005 “Gumby vs. the Astrobots,” for the Game Boy Advance.
Clokey’s life extended beyond Gumby, however. He also created and produced the Christian TV series “David and Goliath,” another stop-motion claymation production which helped fund Gumby’s 60’s revival.
In the 70’s, Clokey’s path diverged sharply from Gumby when he began to grow interested in Zen Buddhism and went to India, experimenting with LSD and other drugs. According to family, this spiritual quest was an extension of the mystical quality of Gumby to enchant children, even though his dabbling in Buddhism and drugs came years after creating Gumby and was unrelated.
In the end, it seems we are left with the simple message of Gumby’s theme song to remember this iconic creator: “If you’ve got a heart, then Gumby’s a part of you.”
Here is the original pilot of the show, “Gumby Goes to the Moon.”
And this is an example of Eddie Murphy’s satirical look at Gumpy, circa the 80’s.