‘Gumby’ creator Art Clokey, dead at 88, had an especially animated life

Jan. 09, 2010 | 6:59 p.m.

My Los Angeles Times colleague Jason Felch has written an especially insightful obituary for Art Clokey, who died Friday. Here’s the piece along with links added by me and some video to take us all back to the days of clay. — Geoff Boucher

Art Clokey gets a leg up on Gumby 

Art Clokey, the creator of the whimsical clay figure Gumby, died in his sleep Friday at his home in Los Osos, Calif., after battling repeated bladder infections, his son Joseph said. He was 88.

Clokey and his wife, Ruth, invented Gumby in the early 1950s at their Covina home shortly after Art had finished film school at USC. After a successful debut on “The Howdy Doody Show,” Gumby soon became the star of its own hit television show, “The Adventures of Gumby,” the first to use clay animation on television.

(Here’s some video from the 1960s version of “Gumby”…)

After an initial run in the 1950s, Gumby enjoyed comebacks in the 1960s as a bendable children’s toy, in the 1980s after comedian Eddie Murphy parodied the kindly Gumby as a crass, cigar-in-the-mouth character in a skit for “Saturday Night Live” and again in the ’90s with the release of “Gumby the Movie.”

Today, Gumby is a cultural icon recognized around the world. It has more than 134,000 fans on Facebook. As successive generations discovered the curious green character, Gumby’s success came to define Clokey’s life, with its theme song reflecting Clokey’s simple message of love: “If you’ve got a heart, then Gumby’s a part of you.”

“The fact is that most people don’t know his name, but everybody knows Gumby,” said friend and animator David Scheve. “To have your life work touch so many people around the world is an amazing thing.”

Gumby and Art clokey, 1985 

Clokey was born Arthur Farrington in Detroit in October 1921 and grew up making mud figures on his grandparents’ Michigan farm. “He always had this in him,” his son, Joseph, recalled Friday.

At age 8, Clokey’s life took a tragic turn when his father was killed in a car accident soon after his parents divorced. The unusual shape of Gumby’s head would eventually be modeled after one of the few surviving photos of Clokey’s father, which shows him with a large wave of hair protruding from the right side of his head.

After moving to California, Clokey was abandoned by his mother and her new husband and lived in a halfway house near Hollywood until age 11, when he was adopted by Joseph W. Clokey. The renowned music teacher and composer at Pomona College taught him to draw, paint and shoot film and took him on journeys to Mexico and Canada. Art Clokey attended the Webb School in Claremont, whose annual fossil hunting expeditions also inspired a taste for adventure that stayed with him. “That’s why ‘The Adventures of Gumby’ were so adventurous,” his son said.

Clokey served in World War II, conducting photo reconnaissance over North Africa and France. Back in Hartford, Conn., after the war, he was studying to be an Episcopal minister when he met Ruth Parkander, the daughter of a minister. The two married and moved to California to pursue their true passion: filmmaking.

During the day, the Clokeys taught at the Harvard School for Boys in Studio City, now Harvard-Westlake. At night, Art Clokey studied film at USC under Slavko Vorkapich, a pioneer of modern montage techniques.

Clokey’s 1953 experimental film, “Gumbasia,” used stop-motion clay animation set to a lively jazz tempo. It became the inspiration for the subsequent Gumby TV show when Sam Engel, the president of 20th Century Fox and father of one of Clokey’s students, saw the film and asked Clokey to produce a children’s television show based on the idea.

In the 1960s, Clokey created and produced the Christian TV series “Davey and Goliath” and the credits for several feature films, including “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”

Gumby’s ability to enchant generations of children and adults had a mystical quality to it, said his son, and reflected his father’s spiritual quest. In the 1970s, Clokey studied Zen Buddhism, traveled to India to study with gurus and experimented with LSD and other drugs, though all of that came long after the creation of Gumby, his son said.

His second wife, Gloria, whom he married in 1976, was art director on Gumby projects in the 1980s and ’90s. She died in 1998. Besides his son Joseph, Clokey is survived by his stepdaughter, Holly Harman of Mendocino County; three grandchildren, Shasta, Sequoia and Sage Clokey; his sister, Arlene Cline of Phoenix; and his half-sister, Patricia Anderson of Atlanta.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests contributions in Gumby’s name to the Natural Resources Defense Council, of which Art Clokey was a longtime member. “Gumby was green because my dad cared about the environment,” his son said.

– Jason Felch

RECENT AND RELATED

Green

The 15 geatest green characters: Where does Gumby rank?

Lloyd: Why”Gumby” is still special (and scary)

Gumby and greening of pop culture

ELSEWHERE: The official “Gumby” website

Gumby, wih his Maine-shaped head, endures

Photos: Top, Art Clokey gets a leg up on Gumby in a 1995 photo (Lacy Atkins/Associated Press). Middle, Gumby and his creator in 1985 (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Comments


22 Responses to ‘Gumby’ creator Art Clokey, dead at 88, had an especially animated life

  1. Patrick Tierney says:

    The "authentic Gumby theme song" that the Times has posted is certainly not the "authentic" Gumby theme song for hard-core fans of Gumby. For my sympatico boyhood friends and me, that cloying theme represented , a dividing line between the purer surrealism, non-linear stories and silent-type Gumby of the late Fifties, and the more commercial, scripted, and far less mysterious Gumby of the Sixties.

  2. Geoff Boucher says:

    Patrick, the You Tube headline is beyond my control…The Times didn't label that as authentic, the person who posted it to You Tube did. If you find some 50s video I will be happy to sub it out. Thanks for reading and posting a comment

  3. Randy Waage says:

    Art certainly had tragedy early on in his life, but how lucky for him that others cared enough to step in, adopt, & mentor him. Plus, what a wonderful legacy of bringing joy to millions of children (and continuing to be relevant with 134,000 FB friends & constant re-airing of his programs – they had repeats on when I was a little kid in the 1970's) with something you created.
    Thanks for giving me the inside scoop on this fascinating man who created such well loved characters. With the success of Alvin & the Chipmunks I wouldn't be surprised if there's a big screen adaptation of Gumby somewhere in the works or how cool would it be to have a movie based on this man's life?

  4. dsfdsfsdfs says:

    YouTube

  5. NaturesWonders says:

    The only Gumby intro dated previous to that one, from the '50s show, that's on YouTube is audio-only. So, that is the earliest example of an opening for Gumby shows with animation included. For those of us who grew up in the '60s, the one posted here is the one that we remember. There's also a later intro from shows done in the '80s on YouTube. They're all authentic, because they were all specially produced by Clokey.

  6. John Sangiorgi says:

    Art also had a daughter named Ann. She was beautiful.
    Like Art… she was talented, creative, fun-loving and kind. She passed away in 1974. She would have done amazing things. The world is poorer for the loss of them both.

  7. Jim Balderrama says:

    He did have a lot of tragedy in his life it seems. I went to school with Ann in Covina and knew her pretty well. She was very pretty with gorgeous eyes.

  8. Joe Clokey says:

    Yes. Ann was a truly amazing soul. She had inherited Art's creativity and spiritual yearnings, plus she was the best sister ever. She was caring and fun. She used to work at the Gumby studio in the art department and her poetry and pottery were both amazing. Now Art is finally with her again.

  9. Gumby says:

    Few people know PrimaToy company which built a business relationship marketing toys based on Gumby Pokey and other toys and products. At first the gumby.com domain was used as a clubhouse type portal and was taken from the founders because they were small it was easy to bowl them over with threats of suit later ( after the domain was surrendered)it was determined to not be in any violations of copywrite or trademark and sadly the 300,000 plus monthly users of the portal evaporated. Art Clokey. Thank you for Gumby

  10. Robert Mutert says:

    For fun, check out The Puppetoon Movie.

    Hope Art enjoyed it, honoring his great role model, George Pal,

    who did the King Kong figure and that fantastic fight scene with the T Rex.

    Is it true that the shape of Gumby’s head was derived from the big wave in the hair in the portrait photo of Art’s dad that was always on the mantle? Please elaborate on this. Its a terrific story.

    Long live Gumby and Pokey. Art Clokey…..Genius At Work….thank you. Enjoy your beloved daughter and the fans you now laugh with in Heaven. R.M.Chicago

  11. sanne says:

    proficiat

  12. measumma says:

    nice!

  13. Chris says:

    Gumby is like family for me

  14. Mike Gee says:

    http://www.google.com today (12th Octover 2011) has an interactive logo giving tribute to Art Clokey.

  15. noreen says:

    Loved Gumby as a child…love Gumby (and friends) now. Gumby will be around forever. Thanks for the loveable character, Art…and rest in peace.

  16. GoMommyGo! says:

    I knew Art in the early 70's, when I was an art and music student. He was so encouraging to me and even came to one of my shows! What a wonderful guy. Wish I had kept in touch! We'll see him in heaven one day again.

  17. Hank says:

    I still have memories of those cartoon years. They are sometimes "jogged" by the simplest things. Google deserves kudos. Now I remember the silent Gumby!
    "Fireball XL5". The "Seaview"! The Cessna from "Sky King"…
    The candy advertisement "OPEN WIDE FOR 'CHUNKY' "!!

  18. armando says:

    grew up with gumby and pokey,rest in peace mr. clokey you were one of the good ones.

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