ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Entertainment and Media»
  • Cartoons & Animation

Gumby: The Resurrection of Clay Animation

Updated on August 5, 2015
Art Clokey
Art Clokey

Gumbasia: The Journey of Art Clokey

Clay animation was, by no means, a new creation in the 1950’s. It had been around almost as long as film itself, at least as far back as 1908 when Thomas Edison’s studio experimented with it. But after cel animation had cemented itself as the primary form of animation, clay was largely tossed aside. However, one man has often been credited for resurrection clay animation and bringing it to the forefront of pop culture: Art Clokey.

Clokey’s interest in animation is partly attributed to his adopted father, classical music organist Joseph W. Clokey, who tutored him in the arts at a young age. Art Clokey initially got into the field of animation by doing commercials for Andersen’s Pea Soup, which led to him doing ads for Coca-Cola and Budweiser. In an effort to better refine his craft, in 1953 at the age of 22, Art Clokey went to the University of Southern California, where he was tutored by Serbian-American film director Slavko Vorkapic.

The result of his time at USC was a 3 minute short entitled “Gumbasia”, a surreal parody of Disney’s Fantasia with multi-colored clay balls building and tearing themselves down in various strange shapes set to jazz music.

Art Clokey painting the spaceship from "Gumby on the Moon"
Art Clokey painting the spaceship from "Gumby on the Moon"

Clokey began to shop the short around, hoping to land a deal at a Hollywood studio to make a clay animated feature film. He eventually met with producer Sam Engel at 20th Century Fox; After showing Engel the short, he paced around a bit and decided he was impressed enough to hire Clokey. However, he didn’t want Clokey for films, but rather to improve the quality of TV shows aimed at children. Clokey and his wife Ruth, who had an infant daughter at the time, agreed that television needed better programming for kids, and thus Clokey began work on a pilot.

Gumby

Airdates
Network
Studio
1955-1957
NBC
Clokey Films
1962-1968
Syndication
Clokey Productions
January 2 - August 20, 1988
Syndication
Premavision
The photograph of Clokey's father which inspired Gumby's slanted head shape
The photograph of Clokey's father which inspired Gumby's slanted head shape

One thing that had been suggested to Clokey for a potential series was the one thing Gumbasia was missing: A clearly defined cast of characters. Clokey designed his star character first: Gumby. Gumby was green in tone, which Clokey had specifically chosen as he felt it was a racially neutral color. His body shape was inspired by the traditional appearance of the fairy tale Gingerbread Man, with long wide legs so he would stay upright during animation. The slanted shape of the top of his head was based on a photo of Clokey’s biological father, Charles Farrington, where his hair stuck up on one side. The name itself, “Gumby”, was derived from a nickname for what Art Clokey’s family used to call the muddy clay on his grandparents’ farm, “gumbo”.

Gumby made his debut on a 1955 installment of NBC's long-running Howdy Doody Show
Gumby made his debut on a 1955 installment of NBC's long-running Howdy Doody Show

Howdy Do(ody) to Gumby

The pilot episode, entitled “Gumby on the Moon”, introduces Gumby as a curious boy who finds a spaceship. He lets his curiosity get the better of him and activates the ship, sending him flying to the moon, becoming stranded when the spaceship explodes. He soon encounters triangular moon creatures, while his father Gumbo attempts to (and eventually does) rescue Gumby. With Sam Engel’s help, Art Clokey pitched the show to Tom Sarnoff, son of NBC founder David Sarnoff.

The pilot was then tested on the Howdy Doody Show, and was a hit with kids. NBC gave Clokey’s new Hollywood studio, Clokey Films, the greenlight to produce 22 eleven-minute episodes, airing as “The Gumby Show”.

Gumby with his family and friends
Gumby with his family and friends
Gumby's voice actor Dallas McKennon, seen here in his most famous live-action role as Cincinnatus the Innkeeper in NBC's "Daniel Boone"
Gumby's voice actor Dallas McKennon, seen here in his most famous live-action role as Cincinnatus the Innkeeper in NBC's "Daniel Boone"

The Gumby Show: Gumby of the 50's and 60's

The series centers around the adventures of Gumby and his orange pony sidekick Pokey (whom Gumby meets in the third episode, “The Lost Little Pony”) as they explore the world around them. Much of the time, they reside within a toy store, where they can travel within inanimate objects such as books and records, which take them to other worlds and other time periods in history. Occasionally they are joined by the yellow dinosaur detective Prickle and the blue shape-shifting mermaid Goo. Their fun is often disrupted by the Blockheads, two red square-headed troublemakers based on the comic characters The Katzenjammer Kids (an early 20th century comic strip about two boys who’d cause mischief at the discomfort of others).

The voices for some of the characters would widely change over the years, with no less than four voice actors credited to Gumby alone during in the 50’s and 60’s; The most famous and longest lasting was Dallas McKennon. Art Clokey himself voiced Pokey for the majority of his appearances.

The series did well for NBC, running from 1955 to 1957, after which Gumby went into syndication in 1959. As popularity remained strong through syndication, Gumby was revived in 1962 for 87 new episodes. The animation of the 60’s shorts are somewhat different; whereas the character models in the 50’s Gumby shorts were made using rolling pins and cookie cutters, the 60’s models were created using poured molds, which led to more consistency at the sacrifice of looser character movement. A heavier emphasis was placed upon Gumby’s time travel adventures as he went everywhere from the prehistoric to the American Revolution.

These shorts were produced until 1968; By the late 60’s and especially into the 70’s, Gumby’s popularity had waned. He was starting to become a product of the previous generation of kids, and wasn’t making the impact he once had.

Eddie Murphy's foul-mouthed portrayal of Gumby on "Saturday Night Live" helped play a role in reviving Gumby's popularity
Eddie Murphy's foul-mouthed portrayal of Gumby on "Saturday Night Live" helped play a role in reviving Gumby's popularity

Gumby Adventures: Gumby of the 80's and 90's

Gumby’s revival in the 80’s was thanks largely to two factors. One was due to Saturday Night Live; Eddie Murphy, who was a cast member from 1980 to 1984, did a recurring sketch where he played a foul-mouthed Gumby, which was by far one of his most popular contributions to the show. The other was the launch of the Disney Channel, which played Gumby shorts in late night slots to audiences who either had never seen the series before or were former child viewers now watching it with their own kids. This sowed the seeds for an all-new Gumby series, entitled “Gumby Adventures”, to debut by the end of the decade.

Gumby's sister Minga, a new addition for the 80's series
Gumby's sister Minga, a new addition for the 80's series

Gumby Adventures, which consisted of 33 half-hour episodes with three segments each (as well as five standalone shorts), was produced by Art Clokey’s Premavision studio and premiered in syndication in 1988. These new episodes brought along a gimmick, in that Gumby and his friends were now part of a musical band. The revived series also added two new characters to the mix: Gumby’s sister Minga and their mastodon pal Denail.

Many of the animators who worked on the 80’s Gumby episodes would go on to work at Disney on stop-motion films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James & the Giant Peach”.

Gumby: The Movie

This revival culminated in “Gumby: The Movie”, released on October 9, 1995 (though it was completed in 1992). The plot centers around Gumby's band and their journey to rescue Gumby’s dog Lowbelly from the Blockheads, eventually encountering clones of themselves.

Sadly, however, this film was a colossal failure, due in large part to the extremely limited theatrical run (of only 21 theaters) that resulted in only earning $57,100 against a $2.8 Million budget. The film was also heavily criticized for being “out of touch” with 90’s audiences, considered “quaint” and “old-fashioned” compared to The Nightmare Before Christmas two years earlier.

Gumby with Art Clokey late in his life
Gumby with Art Clokey late in his life

Gumby Lives On

Art Clokey resurrected clay animation to the public eye and managed to make it a legitimate animation technique. Many would follow in his footsteps, such as Will Vinton (California Raisins) and Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit). Art Clokey passed away not too long ago in 2010, but Gumby lives on, continuing to hold a place in the collective hearts of decades of children young and old.

Clokey did have similar lasting success of a different sort with his other series, Davey & Goliath, which he produced for the Lutheran Church. But that is one storybook that will be explored another time.

Further Reading

Official Gumby Website: http://www.gumbyworld.com/

Official Website for Art Clokey's Premavision studio: http://www.premavision.com/


© 2015 Josh Measimer

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I used to watch Gumby when I was a kid. But I never knew all the historic facts that you wrote about here. I found this extremely interesting. Great work on your research.

    • profile image

      christinemariezzz 2 years ago

      Gumby-Yay! because a fellow hubber I follow Gypsy Rose joined your hubs; I got to read this one. You took me back to when I was 6, thank you.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 2 years ago

      Thanks for Sharing This Fun Hub-Page "Art Clokey's Gumby: The Resurrection of Clay Animation"

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)