Art Clokey, creator of Gumby, dies at age 89

clokey.jpg
Despite Gumby's positive demeanor, his origins stem from tragedy. When [Art] Clokey was 9, his father was killed in a car crash. He lived with his mother for a while, but when her second husband made her choose between him and her son, Clokey was sent to an orphanage. Fortunately, he was adopted by a good family. But Clokey wouldn't forget his father, whose head shape - characterized by a cowlick hairdo - would later provide the inspiration for Gumby's trademark lopsided head.
redeyes3.jpgAbove: Clokey animating the 1956 pilot episode of The Gumby Show. In this episode, embedded below, Gumby travels to the moon.

"He also used Robots and went in and out of books. Way ahead of his time. Art still has his child-like sense about him to this day," reads the caption for this photo on the website for Clokey's production company.

Obituaries: sanluisobispo.com, latimes.com (thanks, Steve Silberman)

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  1. I’m so bummed. Just the other day my Mom was just playing with my baby son and Gumby and Pokey dolls, and the kid was ecstatic. There was something kind of powerful and wonderful about Gumby that transcended time and words. Rest in Peace, Mr. Clokey.

  2. Bummer! Gumby and Davey & Goliath are long-time favorites.

    Some new Gumby episodes were made in the late ’80s. They were pretty trippy. In one, Gumby sends a clone of some sort to do his chores while he hangs out and eats chocolate. His friends eventually investigate and find a bloated, chocolate-smeared clayboy lounging in bed. In another, Gumby dresses up as Eddie Murphy and gives his honking laugh.

    Clokey’s son Joseph is, or was, carrying on the family biz. He made at least one episode of “Davey & Goliath” (“Snowboard Christmas”). In the little documentary they made to plug it he said something to the effect that his father “was in remarkable health for someone his age” and sometimes came to the studio. That made me wonder if he had Alzheimer’s or something, so I kind have been expecting to learn of his death for years.

    Well, I hope his last years were kind to him.

  3. why is there a 2006 copyright date on it? is that for the tacked on bit before the actual episode? I hate it when they sneak copyright clock resets through like this.

  4. Neat. I hadn’t heard of Gumby before; that’s pretty cool. Though it would have been better without any dialog.

  5. (Jacked from wikipedia)
    Gumbasia, a 3 minute 34 second short film produced in 1953, was the first clay animation produced by Art Clokey. Clokey created Gumbasia while studying at the University of Southern California under the direction of Slavko Vorkapich. It was a surreal short of pulsating lumps of clay set to music in a parody of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Gumbasia was created in a style Vorkapich taught called Kinesthetic Film Principles. Described as “massaging of the eye cells” this technique, based on camera movements and stop-motion editing, is responsible for much of the look and feel later seen in Gumby films. When Clokey showed Gumbasia to movie producer Sam Engel in 1955 Engle decided to fund a 15 minute short film that became the first Gumby episode — Gumby Goes to the Moon.

    Gumbasia via the Internet Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/Gumbasia

  6. Sent to an orphanage by his stepfather? Ah yes, the good old days of family values we long to return too.

    1. I come to the defense of Mr. Harryhousen, and note that he was, in fact, a moving, breathing member of the human race…

      But we’re sad to lose a man with this kind of imagination. The world is a bit poorer today.

      [Jason Alexander might play him in the biopic, though….]

  7. wikipedia says he went peacefully in his sleep — such a gentle soul certainly deserved as much. r.i.p. art.

  8. I saw a great exhibit on Gumby with a re-creation of one of the minature sets at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. I recommend it as one way of remembering this wonderful (and very strange) contribution to animation.

  9. Davey & Goliath was one of my favorites as a child. I love that Art was not ashamed of his love for the Lord Jesus Christ, or what others thought about his devotion. RIP Art Clokey.

  10. thank you for mentioning Gumby Dharma, Doran (#2). i had never heard of it. what a gentle soul. RIP, mr. Clokey — you will never know how much your creation has brought joy to my life.

  11. ::looking through telescope:: “Yup, he’s on the moon alright. I’ve gotta go after him.”

    I love how there is no back-story at all. Just Gumby, and he’s on the moon.

  12. I took my daughter to see him at the Museum of Television and Radio in LA a few years back, thanks, I believe, to a heads up on the event I saw here in bb

  13. when her second husband made her choose between him and her son, Clokey was sent to an orphanage

    At nine?? No wonder he idolized his father, if his mother was such a heartless… wait, is it “sexist” to call her by the obvious word?

    “Sorry, Art, but the replacement I found for your Dad doesn’t want you around, and he’s more important to me than you are, so it’s off to the orphanage with you!” Unbelievable. It must have made for some interesting conversations among the neighbors, although I wouldn’t be surprised if she had to move out of town after that, to escape the snubs and withering looks.

  14. Very sorry to hear about the death of Mr. Clokey. Gumby was an important component of my childhood, one of my first memories. I own a number of Gumby video compilations and there’s something ageless and universal about the storylines, an unsentimental innocence that makes them endearing still, many years on.

    Condolences to the Clokey family and all his closest friends and associates.

  15. What his mother did is indefensible in the modern context, but remember that this was the beginning of the Great Depression, and there was no social net. She might have had to make the tough choice between starving with her son or having them both survive apart.

    This story puts Davey’s picture-perfect family (in Davey and Goliath) into perspective.

  16. Have always loved Gumby, used to watch episodes on the Sheriff John Show from Los Angeles in the 50’s and 60’s. One of the best things as a kid was to see all the rare and wonderful toys Gumby gets to interact with. To watch them all again in the late 60’s and early 70’s was even better!

  17. I was very privileged to have worked with Art in 1987 and 1988 when he was producing the 33 brand new 35mm Gumby episodes for Lorimar Telepictures in Sausalito. A time which he says was “like paradise” (Gumby Dharma).
    I had a small, funky recording studio in the South-of-Market and was friends with Jerry Gerber, who Art had chosen to compose the music for the new series. Even though he had already started the audio-post on the series at George Lucas’ studios, Art took Jerry’s suggestion and came to see my little studio, built in a 40′ x 40′ freezer of an old dairy. He agreed to try out our new way of creating sound effects and mixing on a show, and stayed for a year and a half, till all the shows were done.
    At that time he was 60 years old, but he was always looking to experiment and try new creative avenues.
    My job was to record voices, oversee my sound effects, dialog and music editors, and mix the shows.
    We also redid the sound of the shows made in the 50’s and 60’s, and for months Art and I would sit together every afternoon and mix a half-hour show.
    One thing the “Gumby Dharma” documentary missed (which I was also privileged to work on) is Art’s major contribution to the sound of the Gumby series. Art was the voice of Pokey, Prickle, Cadwallader, and Gumby’s father “Gumbo”.
    I have to laugh when I see Pokey and Prickle in dialog on screen, and think of Art performing both of those characters in the studio, expressing both sides of himself in his own words and in his own voice.
    Arthur, Gloria, Joe, & Holly were always generous and warm and caring with my wife and I. He was a mentor and an angel in our lives and we will sorely miss him.
    fly free my friend
    jeff roth focused audio

    1. This mans vision has left an imprint on every type of heart. He spawned a legacy. I’ve never commented on a persons comment before, but listening to yours made me want to sit and listen to more you have to say about Mr. Clokey. Whoever you are thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it!

  18. When I first heard this news, my first reaction was not sadness at his passing, but joy at the brilliant work he shared with us all.

    Of course I’m saddened he’s no longer with us, but what a giant. He was so out of step with the constipated, repressed world of the 50’s and 60’s when I first saw his work, that he stood out from the crowd in the same way that Jim Henson would in later years.

    I was forced against my will to go to church when I was a child, but I loved watching Davey & Goliath. Every minute I was able to watch them early Sunday morning postponed my inevitable kidnapping to Mercer Island, and the most reactionary/conservative Lutheran church in the Pacific Northwest. I wasn’t surprised when, years later, Bill Gates made the area his home… it was truly a nexus of Evil.

    But I digress.

  19. That film is a little like the Clangers from our own beloved Oliver Postgate who died in 2008. There’s a wonderful tribute here from the superb Charlie Brooker…

  20. #30: Those episodes were really strange and fun!

    Other voice fun:

    The voice of Davey Hansen’s father and Goliath was Hal Smith, who in addition to lots of other voice work was Otis the town drunk on the Andy Griffith Show.

  21. in 1981, i wanted to by a plymouth valiant station wagon, because it was a great surfmobile, and the gear shifter was not a lever, but a set of pushbottons in the dashboard where the radio would normally be. I fond one in “the recycler” free ad paper, a 1968 model, and called up. I spoke with the owner, and made an appointment to visit him in Topanga canyon to look at the car. He told me his name was “art”.

    When i arrived at the house, i met this tall modest guy dressed in khaki’s, who was soft and extremely polite… after i test drove the car, and decided to buy it, “art” incited me into the house for a cup of coffeee while he searched for the pink slip. All over the house were bits and pieces of gumby-lore… sets, pictures, flim reels… and i sort of realized, “oh, my god, this is ART CLOEY”!!! I asked him if that was his name, nad he replied, yes indeed, it was. I fell down on my knees on the spot ( i was 18 at the time), and just started mock prying to him … and he just laughed, and paated me on the shoulder and said, “hey, id, that’s enough, come on get up” and i was like “but…but…you’re ART CLOEY!””” omg, omg, omg.. i couldnt believe it….

    Any way, i bought the car:
    http://www.classycars.org/Plymouth/plymouth.1965.valiant.stationwagon2.jpg

    and drove it for a couple of years until id died one day when i was pulling into the parking lot of the Rose Cafe in Venice… an ignominous end to a brilliant car… and now, Art is gone.. May he rest in claymation heaven…..

  22. …The Gumby Goes To The Moon episode – actually the 2nd pilot, as Gumbasia is considered the first one – is one of those unsung inspirations for first-generation astrobuffs> It showed up right before the birth of the Space Age, airing on The Howdy Doody Show in 1956. Although Tommy Sarnoff in a rare act of stupidity rejected Clokey’s work, both highly positive public acclaim for this and a third pilot, Robot Rumpus, wound up being enough of a push to override Sarnoff’s shortsightedness and The Gumby Show premiered the following season. When first generation astrobuffs are asked what got them interested in all things space, the oldest ones always say “Sputnik!” and “Flopnik…er, Vanguard”, but the majority of those then usually follow up with “…oh,and there was this one Gumby cartoon about going to the Moon that got stuck in the back of my mind!”

  23. I think it was seeing Gumby and Peter Pan on TV when I was just starting to do some serious neural imprinting that helped set the course of my life. The former made me a surrealist, the latter, a romantic.

    RIP, Art. Thanks for the plasticity!

  24. The world just lost a creative genius. And a delightful soul, too. Say “Hi” to Chris & Gene for me, Art. Enjoy the journey!

  25. What a great guy! When he came to Portland, Oregon to speak during the Gumby movie, he was kind enough to sign my leather jacket; a first for both of us.

  26. I’m now at age 39, introducing my little girl to Gumby with all the old 50s episodes and she can’t get enough.

    Art was so far ahead of his time and the whole series is simple, humble genius.

    We’ll miss you, Art, always. Thank you for everything.

  27. I bought the Gumby A-frame in Topanga in 1991 – and there were still little Gumby touches like light switches and little things like that scattered in the house- it was fun – sorry to hear Art passed –

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