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Feet of Clay? Sure, but as DVD Debut Shows, He's Still Got Legs

April 09, 2002|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was once a little green slab of clay

Gumby! You should see what Gumby can do today

Gumby! He can walk into any book, with his pony pal Pokey too

If you've got the heart then Gumby's a part of you

--"Gumby" theme song,

by "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow

*

Since making his TV debut in 1956, Gumby has never taken unfair advantage in any situation. He's environmentally aware and loves books and reading. Gumby drinks fruit juice and is especially fond of carrot juice. He's never been mean and he doesn't drink or smoke.

And now the little green boy made of clay and his pony friend Pokey are making their DVD debut this week in a seven-disc set from Rhino Home Video ($100 for the set; $22 for a single disc; $10 each for two separate VHS volumes).

The set features episodes from "The Gumby Show," beginning with its 1956 premiere on NBC to the syndicated episodes from the late 1960s. The seventh disc offers extras: an interview with creator Art Clokey and his son Joe, the pilot episode of "Gumby," an interview with Dal McKennon (the voice of Gumby), Gumby storyboards, new scenes featuring Gumby, Pokey and Rocky Rhino, and several of Clokey's early art films, including "Gumbasia."

During the last 46 years, Gumby has taken on a life of his own. "He's bigger than any of us," said Joe Clokey. "In the '80s, when my dad traveled the country speaking to colleges, they would always say, 'We love Gumby.' Wherever he goes now they say, 'We love Gumby.' There is something about Gumby that connects with kids. I don't know what it is--maybe the love Gumby has for kids and [that] Dad has for kids."

Unlike most animated characters, Gumby practices nonviolence. "He was before 'Sesame Street,'" said Joe Clokey. "Before there was PBS, there was Gumby and 'Davy and Goliath.' Both my parents did those series. They were the only ones that weren't that violent. They were more innocent. They had a lot of adventure and excitement for kids, but they didn't use beating up on each other as that adventure."

Art Clokey, who is now 80, made Gumby green because he is a great fan of Walt Whitman's book, "Leaves of Grass." "Green was the color I chose because of the universality of grass," said Art Clokey. Pokey, he added, "is down to earth. He has his four feet on the ground. He has an earthy color--the color of ceramic brick."

Gumby's name is derived from the word gumbo. "On my grandfather's farm in Michigan, when it rained sometimes we would get stuck in the gumbo--the muck, the clay soil," said Art Clokey.

Clokey became interested in art and clay when he was a child.

"He used to draw all the time when he was a little kid in Detroit," said his son. "It was amazing. He could have been a cel animator, he was so good at it. I looked at these old drawings and they were amazing. He also used to make soldiers out of clay."

During the early 1950s, Art Clokey was in Los Angeles, working as a schoolteacher by day and attending USC film school at night. He studied under Yugoslav montage artist Slavko Vorkevich, who taught kinesthetic film principles--a technique that induces a sensation of movement and excitement through cuts, timing, screen direction and color. Clokey put them to use in the first stop-motion animated installments of "Gumby."

"If you look at the mid-'50s episodes, the first 42 episodes [on the DVD], they are very Vorkevich," Joe Clokey says. "Dad had very little dialogue. It was all action. Gumby was tripping around in toy land."

Adding to the enduring success of Gumby was the character's sweet, high-pitched voice. "I just elevated my voice in the back of my throat," said the veteran actor and voice performer McKennon. "I think the thing that really sold Art Clokey on the voice was not just the voice [of Gumby], it was the fact I could do all the other voices and the dialects."

Both Clokeys enjoyed Eddie Murphy's takeoff on Gumby in the '80s on "Saturday Night Live," playing him as a demanding, cigar-smoking egomaniac.

"The reason it was funny was because he is an American icon that people love," Joe Clokey said. "That wasn't over the line. Later, 'Mad TV' went over the line. They had Gumby and Pokey on LSD."

"Gumby" is coming back to television in a new movie scheduled for ABC's "The Wonderful World of Disney."

"We spent 10 months on the contract," said Joe Clokey. "My dad is executive producer and he'll be creative consultant. If there is any clay animation [in it], they will probably have us do it. We have a new studio and we are hiring the best clay animators in the world."

And the spiritual "Davy and Goliath" is also making a comeback. The Lutheran Church, which sponsored the long-running series, has hired the Clokeys to revive the show. "Right now, we are doing a couple of 30-second spots for the church," said Joe Clokey. "It's kind of like the old days."

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