How Art Got His Big Break: The Power of Gumbasia

“Well, I was tutoring Sam Engel’s son in English. I was teaching at the time at the Harvard Military Academy which is now the Harvard School in Studio City in Los Angeles, and my wife and I were invited to 20th Century Fox. Sam Engel was a producer, and he was president of the Motion Picture Producers Association. He was at the time producing a film with Sophia Loren and some other famous actors.”

“Sam was very appreciative of what I was doing for his son. He invited us over to the studio to see some previews of the new films of competitors, and at one time he said ‘Why don’t you bring your little art film. I would like to see it.’ I mentioned it to him one time. So when I brought it over, he showed it in the big Daryl Zanuck projection room. It must have seated 100 people. And they projected it on the big screen. It was really beautiful. It was only 3-1/2 minutes long, like a music video. Clay moving to jazz music. After the first screening of Gumbasia, Sam got up and paced back in forth in front of the screen while they were rewinding it to show it again. He said ‘Art, that is the most exciting film I have ever seen in my life,’ and he said ‘We’ve got to go into business together.’ And I could just see me mingling with all the big stars, like Sophia Loren.”

“In the next sentence he said ‘Can you make little clay figures out of that clay and animate them?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if you can pick some stories and make the characters I will finance the pilot film. I want to improve the quality of television for children.’ That was his main concern. He wasn’t thinking of earning money. In fact he gave the whole entire film to me—he didn’t want any piece of the action, he just wanted to get me started on doing something for children of high quality. He wanted me to show the pilot film to Tom Sarnoff at NBC and Hollywood. That was in 1956.”

“When Tom Sarnoff gave us a contract for seven years to produce a Gumby series and put on a Gumby show, Sam Engel just said, ‘You take it Art I don’t want anything from this. I just want to see something good for children put on TV,’ and he achieved that. He was very generous in spirit.”


Art Clokey Speaks about Gumbasia – A Clip from Gumby Dharma