October 12, 2012 - Happy Birthday, “Gumby” Creator Art Clokey

Now we call it “claymation.” Back when Art Clokey started his career, they called it brand new.

(And they also called it “Gumby”!)

Art Clokey, born on this date in 1921, was a pioneer in stop-motion clay animation. His 1953 film experiment was called Gumbasia, and later Clokey and his wife came up with the characters Gumby and his horse Pokey.

I shuddered when I read about Clokey's childhood. He was born Arthur Farrington, in Detroit, Michigan, and his parents divorced when he was 9. He stayed with his father—but then his father died. Tragic—but he still had his mother, right? Apparently not; she had remarried, and her new husband didn't want to raise another man's son, so Clokey went to an orphanage! Yikes!

But here's the wonderful part: When Art was 11 or 12, a man named Joseph Clokey adopted him. His new father was a classical music composer and organist and college professor. He taught at Pomona College in Claremont, California—a town just a few minutes away from where I live! Art learned music, art, and film making from his adoptive father, and he went on trips to Canada and Mexico. Art went to the wonderful Webb School, where he went on fossil-digging expeditions. He attended at least three universities, too (as well as serving in the military during World War II); his stop-motion experiment was influenced by a film professor at USC.

Gumby was a star of his own TV show in the 1950s and 1960s. A revival of popularity occurred in the 1980s, partly thanks to comedian Eddie Murphy's parody of Gumby. In the 1990s, even more fame came to Gumby and Clokey: a full-length movie, a gig as spokescharacter for the Library of Congress, appearances in Cheerios commercials, video games, and toys. In 2007 Gumby got a YouTube deal, and a website, and in 2011, Google played tribute to Gumby and Clokey.

Clokey had a good, long life and managed to see most of the popularity of his character. He died at age 88 in 2010.

Learn about claymation here and here.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the death of nurse and heroine Edith Cavell 

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