Gumby’s still a part of us: an interview with Joe Clokey

(Clokey Productions)

One of the most enduring and recognizable icons in pop culture, Gumby, turns sixty this year.

Gumby is probably one of the most recognizable and historical retro animated figures of all time. Now he can be appreciated by current generations of TV viewers with the airing of an exciting event and series on Toronto’s classic cartoon TV channel, Teletoon Retro, beginning Thursday, Jan. 29 at 6pm, ET/PT.

This ushers in a new era for cartoon fans. “If you have a heart, then Gumby is a part of you” was the clarion cry for fans who grew up with Art Clokey’s claymation creation in 1955. Gumby premiered on The Howdy-Doody Show in 1956 which led to his own NBC Saturday morning TV series, Gumby, for the rest of the decade.

We got a chance to sit down with Joe Clokey, son of Art Clokey, the creator of this lovable claymation character and ask him a few questions about why Gumby has been able to remain such a popular figure to generations of television viewers.

What’s really cool is that we’re talking to Gumby’s brother. Huh? you say. Well, read on!

PM: Hi, Joe, first off I want to thank you for your time and start off by saying that I was one of those kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s knowing Gumby for the positive message and behavioral TV model that he was. Just what was it about Gumby that got you involved in the show?

Joe Clokey: Well.  Gumby’s my brother.  My mom and dad created Gumby, and they also created me.  I grew up in during the making of the 60s Gumby episodes and have many great memories of the studio where they were made.  The smell of clay in the puppet room and the smell of fresh cut wood in the prop department are still fresh in my mind.  I loved looking up at the tall shelves in the studio filled with toys (many of them mine which were taken from my room at home and brought to the studio).

PM: Tell us about Art Clokey.  What aspects of his personality could those close to him see in Gumby?

JC: Dad’s personality was very much like the characters he created.  He strived to be optimistic, helpful, imaginative, and adventurous like Gumby is.  The shape shifting, limitless form that Gumby is like Art’s spiritual side, always wanting to learn and expand.  Art’s personality was very much like Pokey and Prickle (two of the voices which he did).  Pokey loved treats such as ice cream and he loved to be the counter weight to Gumby’s optimism.  He had his four hooves on the ground, and was not always wanting to jump into a book to possibly face trouble as Gumby would.  Prickle was a Sherlock Holmes type character who liked to solve mysteries and figure things out.  Both of these characters are like my dad’s human side.  Also, Dad was very mischievous like the Blockheads.

(Clokey Productions)

PM: 60 years of Gumby… How does it make you feel to see Art’s creation continue in pop culture for so long?

JC: My brother never ages.  I love seeing each new generation discover the adventure, heart, art and kinesthetic action that Gumby brings to the screen.  My parents always loved seeing children and the kid inside adults light up when they watched Gumby Adventures.  Dad put me on a mission to get his episodes back on TV and to make new ones.  Teletoon Retro has accomplished one of those goals, and our studio is working on the next.

PM: What do you attribute to Gumby’s success as a pop culture icon?

JC: The fact that Gumby’s an “everyman hero” who has a heart and a positive outlook.  His flexibility and his shape shifting abilities that clay animation is so great at bringing out has made Gumby a name that’s used every day in news stories around the world.  “Semper Gumby” is a phrase used to denote “always flexible.”  Many athletes are said to be “Gumby-like” when they are flexible, from hockey players to basketball players and gymnasts.  There’s also something about Gumby’s ever present smile that lights up the lives of those in need of hope.  Gumby adventures are all about kinesthetic action, heart, art, imagination and adventures that always leave a place better than when he finds it.  These are attributes that transcend time.

(Clokey Productions)

PM: Pop Mythology’s mission is to explore ways of applying pop culture to everyday lives. How can you see Gumby in this role?

JC: Being flexible.  Having imagination.  Having heart.  As the 60s theme song says: “If you’ve got a heart, then Gumby’s a part of you.”

PM: What is your favorite memory of Gumby?

JC: I love that many of my bedtime stories would end up being Gumby adventures.  Dad always saw these stories as a gift of love to children.  He would always say that everybody’s Gumby.  That’s why Eddie Murphy said “I’m Gumby, Dammit.”  He was  Gumby, although his SNL version was funny because it was so not Gumby’s personality. Dad thought it was funny, as long as it was on late at night.

PM: Are Gumby, Pokey or any of the other characters patterned after anyone in particular? If so, who?

JC: My mom came up with the shape of Gumby, and through the 70s, she ran the Clokey Productions studio.  My Grandpa had a cowlick hair style that looks like Gumby’s bump.  I think that’s where dad came up with the idea of the bump.  An ode to his dad.

PM: Where do you see Gumby going in the 21st century?

JC: A new vibrant TV series and a feature film that will turn on a whole new generation.  The colors, adventures and surrealistic imagination will all be there in stop motion animation, the art form that has such amazing texture and appeal.

PM: Thanks for your time, Joe. We here at Pop Mythology wish you well and can’t wait for the 60th anniversary celebrations to begin on TV stations around the world!

Gumby is a well-recognized and popular cartoon figure by any measure. This year marks Gumby’s 60th year anniversary. To celebrate, Toronto’s Teletoon Retro is broadcasting the Gumby 60th Birthday Marathon on Thursday, Jan. 29 starting at 6 pm ET/PT. Gumby will air regularly on Sundays at 7pm ET/PT. Look for the hash tags #Gumby60 and #TeletoonRetro on Twitter for more news and fun facts about this exciting event.

About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.

One comment

  1. Awww, how nice to have Gumby as a brother. And sounds like the creator was a super cool dad!

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