Gumby – America’s Beloved Claymation Character
In 1955, Art Clokey made a short animated film with shapes of clay moving to music playing in the background. The film – Gumbasia – was created using stop-motion animation. This technique, when used with clay figures, is called claymation. The clay object is placed on a set, and a film frame is taken. The camera is then stopped, the character is moved into another position and filmed, and the process continues until enough film frames are taken to complete the animated story.
Movie producers saw the film, and Clokey was asked to create a claymation character for children’s television. After many trials to see which form worked best with the animation technique, Gumby was born in 1956.
According to Gumby.com, Gumby’s optimal height was 7 inches tall, and his body was created from simple geometric shapes. This form allowed Gumby to be cut from a large slab of clay, and duplicate forms were easily made. This is important because, during the filming, the lights heat up the Gumby doll and he becomes misshapen from the continuous bending of his body. This requires regular replacement of the figure.
Gumby’s final shape includes an asymmetrical bump on his head. According to NPR, this shape was inspired by Art Clokey’s father, whom had a very unruly head of hair and a large cowlick that stuck up on one side of his head. Gumby’s green color reflects Clokey’s love of nature and the environment.
After the finalization of Gumby’s form, pilot shows featuring Gumby were made. In 1956, the short films were shown on Howdy Doody.
In 1957, Gumby was given his own show, The Gumby Show, on NBC. Each episode contained three animated short films and between each the host of the show would entertain the audience from “The Fun Shop”.
Gumby enjoyed many adventures with his faithful sidekick Pokey, and in the 1960s new friends came along. His dog, Nopey, and his friends, Prickle (a yellow dinosaur) and Goo (a blue mermaid) joined the show. Sometimes Gumby and his pals would run into his enemies, The Blockheads. Gumby’s parents, by the way, were Gumbo and Gumba.
During the early- to mid-1960s, Gumby merchandise was very popular. There were bendable Gumby and Pokey dolls, costumes, puppets, candy, toys, pencil toppers, key chains and more. But by the late ’60s, his popularity had waned, and the show went into syndication.
Gumby made a comeback in the 1980s, largely due to the Saturday Night Live skit with Eddie Murphy playing a disgruntled Gumby. A new series called Gumby Adventures was produced, showing the old Gumby episodes along with brand new ones by Clokey. New merchandise and videotapes were released.
Since his relaunch, Gumby has appeared on television commercials and even enjoyed a year as the spokescharacter for the Library of Congress in 1994. In 1995, the character starred in his own feature film, Gumby: The Movie.
For more than 50 years, Gumby has educated and entertained children and adults alike. A lovable character, he remains in the hearts of people all around the world.
Do you remember Gumby being a part of your childhood?