Art Clokey, creator of Gumby, is celebrated in a Google Doodle today on what would have been the stop-motion clay-animation pioneer's 90th birthday.
Clokey and wife Ruth created Gumby in the 1950s. The green guy with the distinctive slant to his head and his faithful pony pal, Pokey, became TV stars and even reached the big screen.
Gumby bowed on "The Howdy Doody Show," went on to have his own show in the 1950s and then, as Clokey's L.A. Times obituary notes, staged successive comebacks in the decades that followed. In the 1960s, he found popularity as a bendable children's toy. In the 1980s, Eddie Murphy parodied Gumby as a crass, cigar-smoking character on "Saturday Night Live," and the '90s brought "Gumby the Movie."
After Clokey died on Jan. 8, 2010, friend and animator David Scheve said that few knew Clokey's name "but everybody knows Gumby. To have your life's work touch so many people around the world is an amazing thing."
Clokey's early life was marked by tragedy. The boy who grew up making mud figures on his grandparents' farm in Michigan lost his father in a car accident when he was 8. After moving to California, he was abandoned by his mother and her new husband and lived in a halfway house near Hollywood until he was 11 and adopted by renowned music teacher and composer Joseph W. Clokey.
Eventually, the adult Clokey turned to filmmaking, a passion of his, and studied at USC. There, he created the 1953 experimental film "Gumbasia" with stop-motion clay animation. Then-20th Century Fox President Sam Engel saw the film and asked Clokey to produce a children's television show based on the idea. The rest is Gumby history.
An interesting piece of trivia: The unusual shape of the Gumby's head was modeled after one of the few surviving photos of Clokey's father, which shows him with a large wave of hair protruding from the right side of his head.
-- Amy Hubbard
Photo: Art Clokey in 2009. Credit: D. Ross Cameron / Associated Press