He started 67 years ago as a little green ball of clay. Now Gumby will be re-shaped and rolled out on several platforms by Fox Entertainment.
Fox announced Tuesday that the character, introduced in the ‘50s in a series of home-made, stop-motion animated adventures, is now their intellectual property.
Gumby, Pokey, the Blockheads and Roo were all created by Art Clokey. Fox made the deal for the characters with the estate of Art’s son, Joseph. The plan is to showcase the Gumby-verse across Fox’s linear, AVOD, blockchain-based and other platforms.
In the near term, that means look for the full library of existing Gumby TV and movie adventures to stream soon on Tubi.
Gumby himself, quoted in the Fox release, seemed pleased with the deal. Fox Entertainment, he said, “have a vision for my modern, multi-platform re-emergence, which is thrilling. Throughout our conversations, Pokey and I reiterated that we are talent they can mold. Literally.”
How long before Gumby and Pokey heads are pulled off from celebrities on The Masked Singer is anybody’s guess. Hopefully Gumby insisted on a “no Guliani” clause.
Gumby was created by the late Art Clokey in 1955 and first appeared on Howdy Doody in ’56. I interviewed Art’s son Joe in 2015 who explained on the phone how, as a lad, he would watch his dad shoot the stop-motion series on giant table top set ups.
A mixture of green and other coloured Plasticine would roll out onto slabs and Gumbys would be cut out cookie-cutter style. It was Clokey’s wife, Ruth, who suggested the Gingerbread man-like design. Since the hot lights would melt the Plasticine, several Gumbys would go before the cameras each day.
Art Clokey, who died in 2010 at 88, was inspired by a photograph of his dad with a tall cowlick in coming up with the odd shape of Gumby’s head. Joe died in 2018 at 56 after suffering a heart attack. His wife, Joan Rock Clokey, was running the family business.
The series was revived in the early ’80s in part thanks to a green-suited Eddie Murphy proclaiming, “I’m Gumby, dammit!” on Saturday Night Live. SNL‘s “Mr. Bill” segments were also, in a way, a back-handed homage to the Clokey shows.
Joe Clokey told me that you can spot the occasional “giant hand” in his dad’s productions, although they were never as menacing as the giant hand that used to do despicable things to Mr. Bill. He also told me that his dad got just as big a kick out of Murphy’s Gumby as everyone else did.
While only a small group of people would have seen Gumby in colour in the mid-’50s, it was apparently the very first colour TV show on U.S. network television. I first saw Gumby in the ’60s in black and white as part of the children’s series Commander Tom on Buffalo’s ABC affiliate WKBW.
Not everything Clokey touched turned to Gumby gold. Joe said his father weathered peaks and valleys with the series, which would occasionally fall out of fashion. Art also gave away a fortune in merchandising to the toy manufacturer who sold hundreds of thousands of those green and orange Gumby and Pokey figures. The toymaker did drop off generous gifts for the family every Christmas, however, recalled Joe.
His heirs, thanks to Fox, can now buy all the toys they want.