Gumby–the green, animated, clay boy who has graced children’s television since 1956—is an acquired taste. I can’t honestly say that I acquired the taste; I must have seen some Gumby cartoons as a child, but I don’t remember them. And while I thoroughly enjoyed a Gumby evening at the UC Theater (of blessed memory) many years ago, complete with a live appearance by creator Art Clokey, I never became a fan.
But Gary Meyer, who ran the UC back then and now owns the Balboa, clearly has a taste for Gumby. In addition to the show he put on back then, he’s presenting the documentary Gumby Dharma this Thursday. It’s a memorial for Clokey, who died in January at the age of 88.
And while I’m not a fan of Gumby, I do like Art Clokey. Or at least I like the Art Clokey that filmmakers Robina Marchesi, Klara Grunning-Harris and Tim Hittle present in their Emmy-winning PBS documentary. He’s engaging, spiritual, and upbeat, yet brutally honest about his many mistakes.
Even if he hadn’t created a long-running TV character, Clokey’s life would be worth learning about. He was abandoned by his mother at a young age. Then, in middle age, he abandoned his own wife and children to pursue a hippy lifestyle. Raised a religious Christian (he studied to become an Anglican minister), he later dabbled in Eastern religions, becoming a follower of guru Sai Baba. One of his children committed suicide. Yet he could still show a certain playfulness before the camera.
Speaking of playfulness, the documentary is narrated by Gumby, himself. That’s gimmicky, of course, but it oddly works. Gumby even gets serious when the narrative demands it.
Gumby Dharma runs less than an hour, and by itself isn’t worth a movie theater admission. But the evening also includes a panel discussion with local artists and animators. And composer J.Kleinberg, who scored the documentary, will give a live performance.
I don’t know if there will be any Gumby cartoons.