Art Clokey- The man who created Gumby

Over the last week I was able to watch an episode of “Lost” in Blu-ray on a HD TV. You could see in some scenes the fake plants or sets as it was so clear. It reminded me of my early days in religious television.

To new readers of my blog, my day job is working at a large religious TV network. When I first started there I was worried of people being ‘stuck-up’ and lacking any humor. I was proven wrong by the engineering staff. They would pull a few tricks on guests to get them to lighten up and laugh. One thing that they did was to put the department’s mascot on every set they worked on. If you look at the older shows you will see a small Gumby toy in at least one camera shot. He would be in a flower, a window or a bookcase. It is funny looking at the archives and seeing Gumby everywhere.

It was really sad news for me when I heard that Gumby’s creator Art Clokey had taken his Final Taxi over the weekend.

For those who don’t know Gumby, he is a stop-action cartoon character made out of green clay. The bendable figure was the subject of a 233 animated shorts that ran for over 35 years. Clokey created Gumby in the 1950’s and he was first seen on “The Howdy Doody Show” on TV. NBC picked it up as a regular series in 1957.

Gumby was seen most of the time with his sidekick, an orange horse called Pokey. Other recurring characters were Prickle, a yellow dragon, Goo, a flying blue mermaid, his parents and his sister Minga. Others times you might meet Denali (a mastodon), Tilly (a hen), or Gumby’s enemy’s The Blockheads.

After the success of Gumby, Clokey’s was approached by the Lutheran Church in America to do an animated series for them. It was called Davey and Goliath. Clokey used the same stop action clay animation to create Davey Hansen and his “talking” dog Goliath who learned about the love of God through everyday occurrences. The series was sweet and not overly pushy about religion.

Clokey fell on hard financial times after the series ended and it looked like Gumby would be forgotten forever until a 1980’s “Saturday Night Live” skit brought him back. In it comedian Eddie Murphy dressed in a Gumby costume and becomes a crude and angry cigar smoking Gumby. It was a hit and he became a recurring character on the show. The line “I’m Gumby, damnitt” became a catch phase and everyone wanted to know who Gumby was.

The cartoon made a comeback and “Gumby the Movie” did well. Soon you could find Gumby shirts, candy, toys and stickers. My kids fell in love with Gumby and would even pretend to be each of their favorite characters. I loved the comic book that was written by “Mystery Men” and “Flaming Carrot” creator Bob Burden.

During his later years Art Clokey became an active environmentalist. Green was always his favorite color.

Jeff Burson – The Final Taxi


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