Gumby and Pokey
Do you know the story behind Gumby and Pokey ? I came across a very interesting interview with Art Clokey (1921-2010), who died this year. Art was the creator of gumby and pokey, the claymation character animated with stop motion animation that was so popular with a generation of children growing up in America in the 70′s and 80′s. The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on July 19, 2001 for the Archive of American Television. Copyright goes to them, I reproduce some excerpts from the interview here for your study.
Interviewer: Ok we’re talking about the Gumby and Pokey series in the 80’s and how things were different. Has the audience changed at all? Have the kids become more sophisticated in their viewing? Do you notice any differences?
Art: Well our stories were a little more sophisticated. We brought in historical things and Don Quixote. I’m always wondering about. They say kids are getting more sophisticated watching television, they’re getting more hyper. I don’t see that happening here. When my son shows his children Gumby and pokey and I show it to other children here, it’s still complete engrossment, as though they’re hypnotised and can’t get away from their screen. Fantastic babysitters! Up until around 7 years of age, I really don’t care much about reaching the older children. The Catholic Church used to say ‘give us your children until they’re 5. You can have them afterwards.’
Interviewer: In 1995 you produced ‘Gumby: The Movie’ That was the first feature that Gumby and Pokey was in. How did that come about? Why did you decide to do a feature?
Art: I wanted to do a Gumby feature for many years and we suddenly got the opportunity and the money. With that too we put much of the money was made from doing the series from Lorimar into the movie and Lorimar had bought the equipment for us, camera and lights and space and they were all there ready to go after 1988 after we stopped producing the series. So we produced the movie at a terribly low price. It should have cost at least 6 million dollars but we did it for less than half of that. The animators were working for half salary actually, instead of $1200 a week they were getting $750 a week and then they went right over to Disney and James and the Giant Peach and they got $2000 a week.
Interviewer: How did the film do?
Art: It never had a chance to do anything because I foolishly gave the film to a distributor in New York who was a crook. He didn’t have sense of ethics so he told us he was going to advertise for so much money and he didn’t advertise. He got it in 20 of the top markets of all the big cities and he didn’t advertise. It was in San Francisco and Los Angeles and nobody knew it was there. Except people who would se the little notice on the movie page but no other advertising.
Interviewer: Now today in 2001 Gumby is being used again on ABC
Art: ABC yeah. And Disney, we just finished negotiating a contract with Disney, they want to do a movie with people and Gumby. They also wanted to do a new series with me as an Executive Producer, that would be interesting.
We got them to agree to do most of it in clay animation. We use computers for special scenes because computer animation, no matter how refined, looks artificial. Like in cartoon and clay animation the artist is hands on, he has his paintbrush connected to his nervous system, though hi hand, through his heart and his brain but not in a computer. When you go through this electronic network with a button, you push a button here and a click there, the artist has nothing to do with it. His nervous system is not involved.
Interviewer: Why do you think Gumby and Pokey remains popular after almost 50 years?
Art: Well, Hans Christian Anderson wrote some stories and they’re still popular. I think it’s just because they didn’t do it really to make money, they did it because they loved doing it for art and they loved children I suppose and people. As I’ve said Gumby started out not to make money but to give the children something of value on television. I didn’t need the money in those days I was making television commercials for Coca-Cola and Budweiser. Doing clay animated Gumby was an interesting challenge. And I had my two children.
Interviewer: Were your children influential in the series? Did they watch Gumby?
Art: Oh yeah. I told them stories every night before they went to sleep. That was an act of love for your children so I considered every Gumby story was an act of love for children. Love, love, love as the Beatles said.
Interviewer: What is your philosophy regarding merchandising and character toys?
Art: Oh I didn’t tell you that. I bought the series and all the right from NBC back in 1959 maybe and NBC hadn’t gotten off the ground as far as merchandising was concerned. I decided that because we had such a good rapport with the parents at the station that I didn’t want to give the parents the impression that I was trying to exploit their children for products or make their children buy our products. So for 7 years from 1957 to 1964 I didn’t allow any merchandising. Then in 1964 some people told me that a lot of children were asking for little Gumby and pokey dolls that they could hold while they were watching Gumby and pokey on TV. So we decided to form the Gumby Toy Corporation and put out the first Gumby and Pokey bendable and I got such good response from people I was so glad I was putting them out. That was very idealistic, I studied for the ministry so it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
Interviewer: What advise would you give to an aspiring producer, what would you say to them?
Art: To inspire a producer?
Interviewer: For someone who as just starting out as a producer
Art: It all came about so naturally with me, I don’t know, just if they want to be a producer I thin they should search inside themselves to see why. If it’s just to make money, that’s not good, if it’s to do something for their fellow man or fellow woman or serving society in some way. Service to society, that’s why I’m still keeping myself alive and as young as possible so I can service society more so that new Gumby films maintain their integrity.
Interviewer: What do you consider your biggest career highlight, what are you especially proud of?
Art: Some of the films I’ve written, stories. I don’t know, they all came out of my subconscious so it was like I’d go into like a daydream and I’d write a story and it would come from somewhere, some news would come. I remember Joe Clokey people would ask him about his compositions of music and he would say ‘It’s just the muses I don’t know where it comes from’ it comes from cosmic consciousness. I don’t believe we’re the doers, we don’t do these things, we’re not the real directors of our life. Our true self is the director, which is, I believe part of the overall cosmic consciousness or god so I don’t take any credit for it.
Interviewer: Did Joe Clokey live to see any of your accomplishments.
Art: Yes, yes. I remember he was traveling on a freighter traveling across Europe to Paris and to sent him a telegram that I’ just gotten the contract signed for the David and Goliath series, we got the NBC series before that. So that was a great pleasure to him.
It’s been a big miracle.
Interviewer: The last question we ask our interviewees is ‘how would you like to be remembered?
Art: As a lover of children, a server of society. I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared for everybody and tried to act that out in whatever I do. Love, love, love. At the Hard Rock Café, Isaac Tigrett, he’s also a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba and he had pictures of Sai Baba in his new House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard and he has the sayings ‘Help ever hurt never’. Don’t worry be happy, what are the other sayings? I can’t remember them right now
- End of Interview -
The photo is of Art’s father. He died in a car accident when Art was 9 years old. This photo inspired Gumby’s bump on his head. Art fondly remembers his father and always noting the quif in his hair shown in the graduation from high school photo.