Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Remembering Art Clokey, Part 4

""The Gumby stories were an act of love for all children." Art Clokey

We begin this blog's final Much Ado About Gumby piece spotlighting the clay animation of Art Clokey with a note on the series' distinct chronology.

The Four Phases Of Gumby

  • 1953-1958 Gumbasia and the first two seasons of Gumby cartoons: all directed and written by Art Clokey

  • 1960-1964 Art was involved in writing and direction, but the responsibility for the films increasingly would be handled by Ruth Clokey during this time. There's a lot more dialogue and new characters Prickle and Goo were introduced.

  • 1965-1968 Produced, directed and edited by Ruth Clokey and written by Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Ray Peck.

  • 1986-1994 The last series and The Gumby Movie, produced by Art Clokey.

The late independent filmmaker Robina Marchesi produced Gumby Dharma, a brief but illuminating documentary about Art Clokey in 2004.

Gumby and Pokey narrate and there is a brief yet funny appearance by voice artist Dallas McKennon. Quite a bit of interview footage includes Art's son Joe Clokey, stop-motion animators Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James & The Giant Peach, Coraline) and Tim Hittle as well as friend of this blog, historian and film programmer Gary Meyer.

Unfortunately there is no interview footage with Art's first wife, Ruth, a key figure in the creation and development of Gumby and the producer of the late 1960's episodes, or Art's second wife, Gloria, who passed away in 1998. Art, well into his 80's at the time this was produced, showed courage in baring his soul, warts and all.

Art, as tens of thousands did in 1965-1967 (but relatively few from his WW2 generation) chucked it all, including his family and studio, to "tune in, turn on, drop out". Ruth Clokey continued the series through the end of its 1960's run. Animator and steel guitar wizard Sneaky Pete Kleinow wrote the theme song for the 1967-1968 Gumby series and, with Ray Peck, penned the majority of the storylines.

Since Art, at the age of eight, was abandoned by his own mother (who left his dad and ran off with a policeman who had been boarding with the family), this comes across to latter-day observers and armchair psychologists as a sad and uncanny replay of his own childhood. In truth, the stable family structure seen in Gumby and Davey & Goliath in no way shape or form paralleled anything in Art's own life, at least until his adoption by genial professor and world traveler Dr. Joseph W. Clokey.

Meanwhile, Art, no longer making Gumby cartoons after the 1960s series, but nonetheless a claymation Don Quixote, continued his lifelong quest for creative freedom and began working on his second experimental film, Mandala, in 1973.

Mandala stands as both fitting followup/companion piece to the imaginative Gumbasia and a unique stop-motion addition to the animation tradition of "motion painting", mastered first by Viking Eggeling, Alexander & Claire Alexeiff, Oskar Fischinger and Len Lye back in the 1920's and 1930's, then later in the films of Norman McLaren and Jordan Belson. It's likely that National Film Board Of Canada artist Ishu Patel saw Mandala, and so did many others in the experimental animation field.

In the 1970's, hard times hit Art and Gloria Clokey. During the early phases of Mandala's production, the tragedy of the Art's life struck when his daughter Anne Helene, responsible for much of the sculpting and color design on the film's opening sequences, committed suicide in 1974, by all accounts as a direct result of trauma from witnessing the death of a friend. The television distribution of Gumby stopped, and with it all residuals, and Art & Gloria dropped out of sight for the better part of a decade.

Theatrical Gumby retrospectives curated for Landmark Theatres by Gary Meyer coaxed the Clokeys out of early retirement, starting in the late 1970's.

The clay-boy's adventures were a most unexpected smash hit with audiences. These sold-out shows, along with Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live spoof - a jaded, cigar-chomping Borscht Belt showbiz variation on the beloved Gumby - brought the character back into the public eye.

Eventually, this resulted in the production of a new Gumby series and The Gumby Movie. As with all the series, the Marin County-produced episodes have many imaginative moments and the genuine affability of the characters shines through. The musical segments tend to be the most successful - especially those featuring The Gumbys. All the Premavision Gumbys can be seen on via The Gumby Collection channel on YouTube.

It was great that Gumby and Pokey had a 50 year run. Shall close this series with a fun fact about Your Blogmeister's favorite clay-boy: The Gumby Album, from 1989, was produced by Pat Patrick of the SUN RA ARKESTRA!

For background material throughout this four-part series, big time acknowledgements from Your Blogmeister go to the Gumby World website, a Gumby filmography which is part of the Wikipedia entry for Art Clokey, and, posthumously, documentary producer/director Robina Marchesi. And last but not least, thanks, Art, Ruth, Gloria and all the claymation artists who made the magic happen!

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