Shared from the 9/15/2020 New Haven Register eEdition

Gumby’s a star in Cheshire

Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticut Media

Ron Gagliardi of Cheshire, left, who is partnering with Richard Mason of East Haddam, one of the world’s experts on Gumby and sidekick Pokey, to write a book on Gumby, at the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire.

Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticut Media

Stars were placed at the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire to honor Art Clokey and his character creation Gumby.

When I pulled into the driveway of the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire Monday and saw a large Gumby figurine sticking out of a car’s sunroof, I knew I was in the right place.

Richard Mason, described by his business partner Ron Gagliardi as “one of the world’s foremost experts on the characters known as Gumby and Pokey,” was standing next to that car. He was wearing a “Gumby for President” T-shirt with a Gumby clay model riding near his neck.

I would not notice his toenails until much later.

We had gathered together at the museum for a historic event: the inauguration of “the Barker Walk of Fame” with the placing of honorary stars in tribute to Gumby and his creator, Arthur “Art” Clokey.

Mason and Gagliardi had wanted to put down those stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but they immediately ran into financial difficulty.

“We found out it costs $30,000 to put in a star,” Mason said. “Whoever nominates somebody (and gets approval from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce) has to come up with those funds.”

“Our allowance is only about $1,000,” Gagliardi noted.

And so they gave up on the Hollywood plan, although, Mason said, “Clo-key certainly qualifies for it.”

But one fateful day while he was substitute teaching at Cheshire High School, Gagliardi noticed some stars on the floor. “They were placed in the theater in dedication to people who did nice things for that theater. And I thought: ‘Why not do that for Mr. Clokey?’”

Gagliardi, who used to work at the Barker Museum, knew the perfect place for those stars. “I remembered that the Gumby area is like a shrine.”

Gagliardi tracked down a company that sells adhesive-backed replicas of Hollywood-like stars and bought one for Gumby and one for Clokey. “I think they were less than five bucks each.”

When Gagliardi asked Gerry Barker, the museum’s executor, whether he would allow the placing of the stars there, Barker embraced the idea. Barker joined us for the installation ceremony.

Barker recalled that about 15 years ago Clokey “agreed to send a bunch of his stuff to us.” Other Gumby artifacts on display came from collectors. Barker’s father, Herb Barker, who founded the museum, liked to travel around and acquire such gems at shops and tag sales.

Gagliardi vividly remembers the day the Clokey materials arrived at the museum. “It blew me away. It’s so cool to have the original clay here.”

Some background: Clo-key is recognized as a pioneer in stop-motion clay animation. In addition to creating Gumby, he was the original voice of Gumby’s sidekick, Pokey. Those two characters first appeared on “The Howdy Doody Show” in the mid-1950s. Later they got their own show, spanning 1957-69 and 1987-89. In 1995 there was a feature-length film, “Gum-by: The Movie.”

Clokey died in 2010. Mason never met him but did have a chance to speak with him over the phone. Interesting tidbit: Clokey, who spent most of his life in California, went to a seminary in Connecticut when he was entertaining the notion of becoming an Episcopal priest.

Mason, now 62 and living in East Haddam, got hooked on Gumby at age 5 or 6. What’s the appeal? “There are so many things he can do; I like his flexibility. And I like the way he travels on one foot, as if he’s skating.”

But above all Mason likes Gumby’s message. “His characteristics are good for kids: being polite, being helpful, being resourceful.”

Mason said that of the 234 Gumby episodes (of course he has seen them all) there was only one instance where Gumby did something negative. But Mason wanted to keep that off the record. “That’s not what I’m promoting.”

Gagliardi said of Gumby: “I like him because he exhibits the positivity of life. I have a life philosophy, O.P.I.A.O. It stands for ‘only positivity in and out.’”

While we were assembling on the ground floor of the museum, Mason revealed he is working on a book about Gumby, with Gagliardi as editor. They are seeking a publisher.

These two have another project in the works: “We’re starting a Gumby University,” Gagliardi said. “We’ll grant degrees in Gumbyology. It’s a fun thing, in the spirit of Gum-by. We’ll have a website.”

“Let’s go up and see Gumby!” Barker told us.

On the second floor we beheld two large cases filled with Gumby artifacts. “These are some of the original props,” Mason noted, pointing to a tiny skateboard, a saxophone, a guitar, and larger figures of Gumby and Pokey.

I asked Mason about a very small toilet on display in the case. “That’s from an ’80s episode,” he told me.

And there was a Gumby playset, a Gumby comic book, a Gumby paint set, a Gumby disguise kit, a Gumby playhouse.

“Each character had their own personality,” Mason noted. “Pokey was always quick to point out to Gumby: ‘Do you really want to do this?’ Pokey was skeptical, more sensible.”

When I asked Mason whether people ever tell him he should “grow up” and move on from Gumby, he said: “No. Never. They say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember Gumby!’ I talk to people who acted out Gumby episodes in their backyard.”

Now about those toenails. Midway through our photo session I looked down at Mason’s feet revealed in his sandals: each toenail on one foot was painted a different color. What’s up with that? He showed me one by one: “Green is for Gumby, orange is for Pokey, yellow is for Prickel, blue is for Goo and red is for the blockheads.”

After the stars were affixed to the floor in front of the Gumby case, Mason stared down at them, lost in thought.

“It’s too bad we couldn’t do this in Hollywood but this is the next best thing,” he said. “I’m sorry Art’s not here to see it.”

Contact Randall Beach at 203-865-8139 or randall.beach

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