Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Remembering Art Clokey, Part 3

"They were charming little stories and they pleased a lot of people. I'm grateful for that. It kept animation alive, too." Ray Harryhausen

Fast forward to 1960. Gumby cartoons, after making their debut on The Howdy Doody Show, have become a huge success on television and receive massive nationwide airplay.

Now just how did Gumby, along with Jay Ward Productions' highly satiric Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, represent the yin and yang of animation produced for TV in the late 1950's and early 1960's?

There were two approaches to children's TV. One was to produce shows starring characters that, while appealing to kids, also featured clever scripts and storylines filled with witty repartee for the grownups. This approach was pioneered in the late 1940's by the legendary Jay Ward and Alex Anderson (Crusader Rabbit), as well as former Looney Tunes director turned producer Bob Clampett (note: the Time For Beany show had a "dream team" writing staff that included Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, Charlie Shows and Bill Scott).

The second approach was to create an alternate universe so compelling that only the stodgiest, most boring, most dreadfully unimaginative parents could resist taking that journey with their toddlers. Dialogue and story did not delve into satire, parody or social commentary, but created a vivid fantasy world where anything can happen anytime. That world is the essence of Art Clokey's animation.

Since the studio of Art & Ruth Clokey succeeded at this with such flying colors, offers to produce additional series inevitably followed. Enter the Lutheran Church, with aspirations to produce their own children's TV show. Art & Ruth produced the Davey & Goliath series, which presented a (forgive this joke) "model family" that in no way, shape or form corresponded to the broken home of Art's early childhood, or for that matter, the lives of most people.

It is definitely tempting to hold a self-satisfied, cynical 21st century "shallow hip" viewpoint regarding Davey & Goliath, but these days, as Mr. Blogmeister plunges yet deeper into the dreaded "middle ages", his evaluation - especially of the episodes penned by Art Clokey (Silver Mine, A Sudden Storm) - has become increasingly less snarky and more positive towards the series. Although the messages and morals in the stories are not exactly subtle, they're nonetheless handled skillfully.

The fact that Art Clokey had to battle the Lutheran Church staff over screen credit - they did not give him screen credit for writing these episodes until he called them on it - amuses your correspondent no end. At least Art subsequently got a bit of revenge by incorporating Davey & Goliath mainstays as unsympathetic characters in Gumby cartoons!

There's more to this story - stay tuned for Part 4.

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