The creator of Gumby has passed away!
Art Clokey, the creator of the greenish clay figure Gumby, died on Friday at his home in Los Osos, Calif. He was 88 years old. Clokey and his wife Ruth were trailblazers in stop motion clay animation.
Animation has made giant leaps forward in terms of special effects since the heyday of Gumby, a figure cut from clay and stiffened with wire. And this year was a particularly thrilling time for animation, with such movies as “Up,” “Ponyo,” “Coraline,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Princess and the Frog.”
However, Gumby and his horse companion Pokey remind us that the true power of animation rests not in computers or gadgetry–but in stories and character. Animation is the art of bringing something to life. Gumby had character. Like The Velveteen Rabbit, that’s what made him real. He was a protean figure–springing from clay, and with the ability to change shape, which made him a kind of a superhero, the ultimate toy, and maybe a symbol to kids still firming up the outlines of their own lives. And the fact that he literally fought against squares–the Blockheads–endeared him to children who would grow up to be adult Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.
Gumby was made various ways over the years; at one point Clokey said the eyes were made from ping pong balls and the pupils from black photo paper; later, he made them from white clay discs and red beads.
Clokey was born Arthur Farrington in Detroit, and grew up making figurines out of mud. Gumby’s roots were in a short animated clay art film titled “Gumbasia” that Clokey made in 1953. “I used miniature clay forms changing shape to jazz music instead of people and regular sets, because it was a lot cheaper and faster and I could do the same thing,” Clokey reportedly once said. The character made his debut on the “Howdy-Doody Show” in the 1950s, and later appeared in a feature film, animated TV shows and a videogame.
Eddie Murphy famously sent up the character on “Saturday Night Live,” and his parody, with its catchphrase “I’m Gumby, dammit,” wasn’t an attack on the character’s innocence–it was proof of its resonance.
“Gumby is a symbol of the spark of divinity in each of us, the basis of the ultimate value of each person,” Clokey wrote in 1986. “Eddie Murphy instinctively picked up on this when he asserted, ‘I’m Gumby, dammit.’”
You can see a video of Gumby below.
"I'm Gumby, Damnit!"