Animator's lean character was pop culture phenomenon
Animator Art Clokey, whose bendable creation Gumby became a pop culture phenomenon through decades of toys, revivals and satires, died Friday in Los Osos, Calif. He was 88.
Gumby grew out of a student project Clokey produced at the University of Southern California in the early 1950s called “Gumbasia.”
That led to his making shorts featuring Gumby and his horse friend Pokey for the “Howdy Doody Show” and several series through the years.
Clokey taught school at the Harvard School for Boys during the day and studied filmmaking under Slavko Vorkapich at USC at night.
Sam Engel, the father of one of Clokey’s students, saw his experimental film and asked him to produce a children’s television show based on the idea.
He said he based Gumby’s swooping head on the cowlick hairdo of his father, who died in a car accident when Clokey was nine. And Clokey’s wife suggested he give Gumby the body of a gingerbread man.
Clokey said that though Gumby eventually became one of the most familiar toys of all time, he was at first resistant to roll out the bendable doll, because he didn’t want parents to think the creators were trying to exploit their children.
Clokey also created the moralizing and often satirized claymation duo “Davey and Goliath.”
The Lutheran Church hired Clokey to make the “Davey and Goliath” shorts, and Clokey used the money to help bring a Gumby series back to television in the 1960s.
Eddie Murphy brought a surge in Gumby’s popularity in the 1980s with his send-up of the character on “Saturday Night Live” as a cigar-smoking show business primadonna.
Murphy’s Gumby brought new toy sales and eventually led to a new syndicated series starting in 1988.
It was only then that Clokey started seeing serious financial returns on his creation.
Clokey is survived by his son Joseph, a stepdaughter, a sister, a half-sister and three grandchildren.