Sunday, June 15, 2014

Gumby Fest 2014

In what I hope will be a long new tradition, Glendora hosted Gumby Fest at the Civic Center on Saturday.  It was a day long celebration of everything "Gumby". I first became aware of it through a banner strung across the entry intersection of our uptown village shopping district. Those of you not familiar with my adopted town of Glendora, should know that it a quiet little bedroom community about thirty miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. It celebrated it's centennial in 2011 and for much of that time was most widely noted for the citrus industry. Of course in the last fifty years there has not been an orange farm or lemon ranch in sight. Just families trying to raise suburban kids in Southern California.  There were some rock stars who lived in the town, and Sally Rand and Woody Strode both called it home as well. The Surfaris originated here as well. It was news to me though, that the Art Clokey Studio where the Gumby shows of the 60s and 70s was produced was located just a few blocks from my home.

Gumby had originated at NBC championed by Thomas W. Sarnoff, the son of legendary TV executive David Sarnoff. Created by Art and Ruth Clokey in the fifties, the cartoon show was a success in it's first incarnation on the network. Later as an independent production, more cartoons were added to the series and those were produced in the local studio. The studio also produced the "Davey and Goliath" shorts for the Lutheran Church, using the same stop motion, clay animation techniques. A revival of Gumby in the early 1980s after being parodied by Eddie Murphy on SNL, produced an additional one hundred cartoon shorts that played on Nickelodeon. Even kids who have not seen a Gumby cartoon know the character because of the toys. This event was designed to celebrate the character, the studio, the creators and the town that spawned this great cultural artifact.

When my visit began, we arrived at the back of City Hall and immediately encountered a series of "eazy up" booths for community based programs. There was a Nature Conservancy, and the Library Outreach, and Kids Summer programs. The Chamber of Commerce and the City also had booths with brochures and flyers about local events. Out on the lawn were several local businesses, also making an effort to participate by showing products and selling services. My favorite local business for nearly twenty years is Richard's Framing. They have done all of my James Bond Lithographs and several other pieces for us as well and they were represented with a nice Gumby reproduction that I neglected to get a photo of. There were several specialized catering trucks serving great foods to make the carnival atmosphere even more appealing.

As we listened to several young local rock bands play and we walked around the plaza, it was not exactly clear how we should proceed, and then I found the information booth and learned that for the presentations you had to obtain a ticket for each discussion being held in the large seminar room of the library. We had missed the LAIKA Studios presentation, which is too bad because I am looking forward to their next feature "The Box Trolls", but we did slip in just in time for the presentation by"Stoopid Buddies Stoodio" who generates "Robot Chicken" and other animated fare. The five animators who spoke were all inspired by Gumby and they did some comparison talk and showed a couple of short features that they thought fit the mold of Gumby.
  It was very interesting and they answered questions for a lot of people who were interested in animation, including some very young kids who are using frame capture technology on some of their gaming systems to create their own pieces.They were very encouraging and I was impressed with the quality of questions from the audience. We also encountered one bold young man who promoted his own web site during the audience Q and A.We got in just after the introductions so I can't identify these guys for you but they did a great job.

Tickets for the next two presentations were "sold out" (which is a strange term to use since no one paid for any ticket), but we quickly snatched up tickets for the 2:00 presentation "Meet the Gumby Gang". We had a large gap until that discussion so we went down into the Glendora library, where in one of the community rooms a traveling Gumby Museum had been erected. There were old toys on display and several diorama scenes from Gumby Adventures. On the walls were a series of pictures through the years describing the creation of and the creators of Gumby and Davey and Goliath. I wanted to take pictures to post but a sign asked us to refrain from doing so, and I did, at least after I saw the sign. Here is one picture that I took of a photo wall before I realized the no photography policy. I hope it does not offend any of the organizers and if it does, let me know and I will take it down.

We went off site (home) for lunch and came back an hour before our presentation was to start. Part of that time we spent watching clips of Gumby programs and a couple of shorts from the fifties. We would like to have finished the live action/animated "Sound of Thunder" short by William Stromberg, but there was a line up to get into the afternoon event. 

Joe Clokey, the son of Ruth and Art and the keeper of the Gumby flame, presided over the two presentations that we missed and he was a big part of the final presentation of the day "Meet the Gumby Gang". This was a panel discussion involving almost a dozen former employees of the Clokey Studios who had worked on the Sixties era Gumby episodes, the late sixties early seventies Davey and Goliath shorts and the 1980's revival of Gumby. To say the panel was distinguished is to understate the situation. Animators who were major contributors to "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James and the Giant Peach", "Coraline", dozens of commercials and such non-animated fare as "Star Wars", "Terminator", "The Matrix", and a dozen or more other major motion pictures  regaled us with stories of their formative years at the Clokey studio and their start in the entertainment industry.

I wish I could relate every story that each one told and make it as interesting as they did but it is beyond my skills and memory to properly attribute all of the information to the right person. On the left side of the picture above, wearing the hat is Joe Clokey, who knew most of these guys as a child and asked some interesting questions and made some relevant clarifications when information got a bit conflated. Next to him is Norm DeCarlo, a bay area animator who worked on the 80s revival and subsequent Henry Sellick projects and owns his own studio. He had several dry comments to add to the conversation and frequently inserted a wry observation here and there to what others shared. Next to him is Chris Peterson who also was deeply involved in the 80's revival and who has contributed to LAIKA Studios productions and was part of the team that was Oscar nominated for the 1996 short film "Carhead".  We did not get to hear much from him during the regular presentation, but in the Q and A, he got the opportunity to tell a couple of amusing stories about meeting Clokey and discovering how determined and single-minded Art could be.

Harry Walton started with Clokey Productions in 1968, and as a young kid always wanted to be a part of animation production. He subsequently worked for Cascade Pictures, Coast Effecxts Associates, ILM, Tippet Studio, Skellington Productions, DreamQuest Images, Imageworks and others. He was one of the old timers who could speak to the period when the studio was located here in Glendora and talked in detail about the work environment and the techniques that the studio used to produce their short films.
Seated next to him was Doug Beswick, who started with Clokey a year before Walton, in 1967. He was known at the time as one of the "serious"guys at the studio but he told a charming story about being embarrassed by acting up and ending up in a silly situation confronted by the very serious Ruth Clokey. He has forty years of visual effects work in his background, including creating the armature of "the Terminator". Rich Zim's first job after graduating college was the Gumby animation production in the 1980s. He was quite irreverent and spoke of the falderal that took place at the studio, one episode of which left a piece of clay in Ruth Clokey's drinking water in a mysterious accident. He is another contributor to the Sellick films and directed an episodes of the PJs, the first stop motion series created for TV, featuring Eddie Murphy.

Recognizable by his mane of silver white hair is seven time Academy Award winning makeup artist Rick Baker. He was interested in make-up as a kid but was looking for any kind of job when he got connected by his father who was making a delivery and accidentally ended up at the Clokey Studio in Glendora. His dad suggested that he try going there for a job. So Rick showed up with some of the work he had done and figures he had put together, and they put him to wok doing character design and art direction. As a seventeen year old getting his first job, it sounds like he took every opportunity to learn and every chance he could find to have some mischievous fun. He worked primarily on the Davey and Goliath shorts.Carl Jablonsky who is seated next, believed he had not met Rick before, but Rick remembered a show that they had worked on together where a prop that Jablonski had created ran him over in a scene that they were shooting. Jablonski left film production but has worked in the entertainment industry as a project manager for the theme park industry including stints at Disney Imagineering where his knowledge of lighting and set design was used in many projects. He also worked for the Burbank Studios and ILM. Ron Dexter sitting next to Carl, has directed and shot television commercials for thirty years. He made helicopter gyros for movie shots and steady cams before they were commercially available.

William Stromberg, worked on the Gumby and Davey and Goliath.He also did the short feature based on the Ray Bradbury story "A Sound of Thunder". He did miniatures and and special effects for movies and commercials (including the Chuck wagon dog food adds with the tiny horses and covered wagon). He proudly shared that his two greatest productions were his sons, William a distinguished conductor for many music scores of movies, and Robert, a special effects figure who has won two Oscars and is the director of "Maleficent". A last minute addition to the panel was Alec, whose last name I did not catch but who contributed to lively discussion of Art Clokey. He is a puppeteer and was trained as such by the WPA in the 1930s. He told us about being fired by Art for wanting a couple of weeks leave back in the fifties to work on a George Pal project. Art's comment was "I'm sick of training all these people for George Pal".

The discussion went on for two hours without much prompting from the M.C. Host, the organizer of the Gumby Fest. Once these guys got talking, they had plenty to say and they were all gracious in trading off time and trying to follow up on another tidbit of information to add to the other guys story. In all it was a wonderful experience and I hope that next year, if they have it back, all of you will consider a visit to the wilderness of Glendora for a nice day celebrating a wonderful cultural reference.

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