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Gumby Fest may bring new life back to the claymation classic

He was once a little green slab of clay, but this weekend Gumby will celebrate his 60th birthday. Gumby Fest kicks off this weekend in Glendora, longtime home to Clokey Productions, which shaped stop-motion claymation character Gumby and his pals Pokey, Prickle and Goo.

Son of Gumby creator Art Clokey, Joe Clokey and his wife helped put together the Gumby Fest along with the free Gumby Museum with original stop-motion puppets at Citrus College (the actual location for the festival). The festival will host a variety of classes, rock bands, and animation stations for kids to learn how to create their own stop motion creations.

On the phone with the Los Angeles Times, Joe Clokey reminisced about being on set for “The Gumby Show” waxing nostalgic about the smell of clay, the sawdust from freshly made sets, and all the future big names who contributed. “It was an interesting group. Rick Baker’s very first job was in the puppet department.”

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Hollywood makeup legend Baker actually spoke last year at the inaugural Gumby Fest, giving the green guy a lot of love for helping jump start his career.

One of the speakers this weekend is “Maleficent” director Robert Stromberg, whose father, Bill Stromberg, was an original animator of Gumby and the gang. However, Robert Stromberg was quick to point out on the phone that the term “animator” is limiting because the “Gumby” crew did everything. “They built the little sets, they did the camera work, the lighting, the animation all that stuff,” Stromberg said. “He and the crew wore many hats. It was actually a very small crew doing all of that work, so they all pitched in to to do whatever was needed.”

“One thing in particular I remember, and I’m really horrified now, is that [my dad] would bring his clay figures home -- the actual ones -- and I remember very distinctly squishing an actual Gumby into a ball,” Stromberg said. “I wish had that today, not just for sentimental value, but to have one of the original Gumbys would would be kind of a cool thing.”

But Gumby was more than just a plaything for Stromberg. “What I learned from the show is just a sense of anything is possible. It taught me to not be afraid and to push the boundaries. I think those original ‘Gumby’ episodes pushed crazy things as if it was completely normal.”

And that passion for Gumby is still inspiring Stromberg even today. The director revealed that he’s been circling the property, dreaming up a way to expose it to modern audienes. “It would be interesting to take and see how relevant and current you should make it, and see what the world’s reaction would be,” he said.

When asked if this means bringing back a new Gumby series or movie, Stromberg wasn’t ready to fully reveal his plans. “We’re taking the property and looking at it together. I know that the Henson group is also evaluating what to do with it and are doing something. So we’re all just circling it right now. I just want to concentrate on what it meant to me and my father and work with Joe Clokey and company and evaluate what the potential is for today. We’ll see what happens.”

Stromberg did drop hints that he was thinking larger for the clay character. “I recently, a year ago, started a virtual reality company and it’s well known, the virtual reality company. And I’m really excited about that. There’s potential for Gumby and virtual reality. There’s potential for many things -- not just a film or a new show. So we’re looking at all aspects of what it could be. I think Gumby could touch a new generation if approached correctly.”

The idea of being able to walk through a book with Gumby is actually pretty enticing, but until that fantasy is a reality, we have Gumby Fest.

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Twitter: @MdellW

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