Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gumby Creator Art Clokey R.I.P.

Art Clokey, the creator of popular clay animation character Gumby, passed on January 8 at the age of 88. Recently he had fought off a number of bladder infections.

Art Clokey was born Arthur Farrington on October 12, 1921 in Michigan. As a young child on his grandparents farm he would make figures out of mud. Not long after his parents divorced, when he was 8 years old, his father was killed in the car wreck. His mother moved with him to California and abandoned him soon afterwards. He lived in a halfway house until he was adopted by famous educator and composer Joseph W. Clokey. It was Joseph W. Clokey who taught Art Clokey how to shoot film, draw, and paint.

Art Clokey attended the Webb School of California in Claremont. Clokey served in the military during World War II, and conducted photo reconnaissance over North Africa and France. After World War II Clokey studied to be an Episcopalian minister in Hartford, Connecticut. It was there that he met Ruth Parkander. The two eventually married. They also moved to California with the goal of entering the film industry. To make a living Clokey taught at the Harvard School for Boys in Studio Studio by day. At night he attended the University of Southern California. It was there that he studied under Slavko Vorkapich, the filmmaker best know for his work with montages.

It was while he was at the University of Southern California that Art Clokey made the experimental film Gumbasia in 1955. He also made another short film, The Clay Peacock, which featured a clay rendition of the NBC Peacock. Gumbasia would lead directly to the creation of Gumby. Sam Engel, then president of 20th Century Fox, saw the short film and asked Clokey to create a children's show based on the short. Clokey made the first pilot for The Adventures of Gumby on his own. He took this pilot to NBC, who signed Clokey to produce the new series. It was decided to give the new series a test tun on the popular Howdy Doody Show. The Adventures of Gumby episode "Robot Ruckus (actually the third one made) debuted on The Howdy Doody Show in August 1956. On March 19, 1957, The Adventures of Gumby debuted as its own show on NBC.

The Adventures of Gumby, also known as The Gumby Show, centred on the clay figure called Gumby and his sidekick, the talking pony Pokey. Together they would journey to the moon, competed in rodeos, and hunted lions. Gumby's shape was largely dictated by practicality. The figure had to be able to stand up during the stop motion process. The shape of his head may have been based on pictures of Art Clokey's biological father, Art Farmington, whose hair style featured  a prominent bump at the top. Gumby was made green simply because it was Art Clokey's favourite colour.

The Gumby Show would prove to be an incredible success. The original series would run until the end of the 1967-1968 season. The Gumby shorts would continue to be popular in reruns and were revitalised by the advent of the VCR. The character made an appearance in The Puppetoon Movie in 1987 and a new Gumby series was produced in 1988. In 1995 the movie Gumby I was made. Since then the character has been the subject of a video game and a comic book. Starting with YouTube in 2007, The Gumby Show is now available on many video sites.

Art Clokey was also responsible for the creation of Davey and Goliath, which followed the adventures of a boy named Davey and his dog Goliath. The show's genesis went back to 1958 when Franklin Clark Fry, president of the United Lutheran Church in America, allocated $1 million for the production of a children's show which would promote the church's values. In 1959 the Lutheran Church contacted Art Clokey about the producing a stop motion programme for children. Produced by Art Clokey and written by children's author Nancy Moore, Davey and Goliath ran from 1961 to 1975.

Art Clokey was also responsible for the clay animation titles for the movies Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965).

There can be no doubt that Art Clokey was one of the most talented stop motion animators of all time. Working with a limited budget on television, he created some of the most inspired animated shorts of all time. The quality of Clokey's work was incredible. What is more, The Gumby Show may well have been one of the best written children's shows of all time. The show was so imaginative and intelligent that it could easily be enjoyed by adults. As the creator of one of television's most memorable characters and a great stop motion animator, Art Clokey will be remembered for years to come.

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