Art Clokey’s stop-motion TV and movie star Gumby popped inside several read-along book and cassette sets and a CD that took a bizarre journey outside the mold.
THE ADVENTURES OF GUMBY:
THE WITTY WITCH
Tele-Story/Superscope Audio Cassette with Book STC-75 (Mono / 12 minutes)
THE GOLDEN GOSLING
Tele-Story/Superscope Audio Cassette with Book STC-76 (Mono / 12 minutes)
GUMBY CROSSES THE DELAWARE
Tele-Story/Superscope Audio Cassette with Book STC-77 (Mono / 10 minutes)
SON OF LIBERTY
Tele-Story/Superscope Audio Cassette with Book STC-78 (Mono / 9 minutes)
Released in 1984. Producers: Jeff Ehrhart, Larry Tamblyn. Adapted by Larry Tamblyn, Bette Ellen from Characters & Story Created by Art Clokey. Illustrations: Jack White. Licensed by Ziv International.
Voices: Mona Marshall, Hal Smith, Will Ryan.
It’s surprising to realize that, while so many other animation characters had come and gone since his emergence in 1953, Gumby was popular for more than 30 years before he was featured on any audio products.
The first children’s label to press Gumby into service for listening was Superscope, whose Tele-Story series offered smaller and shorter books than their counterparts at Disney, Golden and Peter Pan. The books resembled Whitman “Tell-a-Tale” volumes. Tele-Story utilized cassettes exclusively, from the early seventies until the compact disc era, first in thick vinyl pouches and later in taller packets.
The earliest Tele-Story sets were narrated primarily by Disney Legend Ginny Tyler, who was the Disneyland Storyteller (and on-camera Mickey Mouse Club host) of the early ‘60s. For Gumby, Tele-Story called upon another of their narrators, Mona Marshall, who also voiced Gumby with the traditional slight increase in playback speed. Marshall enjoyed a solid career with supporting roles for Disney, Hanna-Barbera, DIC, Miyazaki, and Sony, most recently in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.
“Son of Liberty” as a film
“Son of Liberty” as a read-along
All four Gumby read-along stories—”The Witty Witch” (1960); “The Golden Gosling” (1966); “Son of Liberty” (1966) and “Gumby Crosses the Delaware” (1966)–were adapted and re-dramatized by a top-drawer cast including Will Ryan (see this Spin) and Hal Smith (see this Spin) and some pleasant original scoring in place of the library music Clokey used in the original films. The adaptation and production chores were shared by Larry Tamblyn, who was not only a founding member of the ‘60s rock group The Standells (“Dirty Water”) who guested on a groovy episode of The Munsters, but is also the younger brother of West Side Story and tom thumb star Russ Tamblyn.
Playback quality and longevity tends to be challenging with cassettes, so it’s a shame that Tele-Story never allowed us to have more permanent versions of these stories, but they’re lovely productions just the same.
“Gumby Crosses the Delaware” as a film
“Gumby Crosses the Delaware” as a read-along
Buena Vista Presents
CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS
Buena Vista Audio Cassette with Book 290-DC (Stereo / 12 minutes)
A WILD WEST ADVENTURE
Buena Vista Audio Cassette with Book 291-DC (Stereo / 10 minutes)
Released in 1989. Producer: Ted Kryczko. Writer: Margaret Ann Hughes. Editor: Ann Braybrooks. Engineer: Dave Hernandez. Art Director: Claudia Mielnick.
Voices: William Woodson, Dal McKennon, Art Clokey, Gloria Clokey, Holly Harman.
When children’s record companies enjoyed a character licensing boom from the late ‘70s to the ’80, Disney led the pack with Peanuts, Rankin/Bass, Star Wars (ten years before the rest of the Disney company followed suit), Star Trek, Willow, Labrynth and pop culture icon Gumby—for which they had some very special plans indeed.
Two of the releases were fairly standard Disney/Buena Vista product. Two book and cassette sets were released (R. Michael Murray lists vinyl versions in his book The Golden Age of Walt Disney Records, but no evidence of such discs have emerged as of this writing), both based on episodes from the “hip” new ‘80s revival series, Gumby Adventures.
Gumby Adventures introduced a few new characters, a more open format with larger sets and bigger casts, electronic music and a techno-pop band for our hero called The Gumbys. This would be the second cartoon-inspired pop band associated with Dal McKennon since The Archies, though once again he wouldn’t actually be singing. (Incidentally, this Thursday would have been his 99th birthday.)
“A Miner Affair” (1988), which became “A Wild West Adventure”
Buena Vista lifted the soundtrack dialogue from the episode “Goo and the Queen, Parts 1 and 2” for “Castle in the Clouds” and “A Miner Affair” for “A Wild West Adventure.” The title changes presumably made the read-alongs a little more general for consumers less familiar with the characters and settings of the Gumby universe.
“Goo and the Queen” (1988), which became “Castle in the Clouds”
Except for narrator William Woodson, a familiar voice to Disney read-along listeners and television viewers especially as TV’s Odd Couple announcer (“On November 15, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence…”) The music has a richer sound than the completely “zoided” electronic buzz of the new Gumby scores (not always a fan pleaser at the time), instead using some familiar Disney read-along underscores and music beds from other albums.
Most historically notable is that these two Gumby recordings mark the final appearance of longtime Disneyland Records alumnus Dal McKennon on his home label. His last performance for the label was the narration of the Bedknobs and Broomsticks Storyteller LP in 1971 (see this Spin). His miner voice on “A Wild West Adventure” is a nod of sorts to his classic old timer voice in the queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland.
GUMBY: THE GREEN ALBUM
Buena Vista Compact Disc CD-017 (Stereo / 39 minutes)
Released in 1989. Executive Producer: Shepard Stern. Associate Producers: Ron Kidd, Pat Patrick. Art Direction: Dick Duerrstein.
Performers and Original Songs:
• Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa: “(In Love) With You Gumby” by Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa
• Brave Combo: “Zydeco Gumby Ya Ya” by Jeffrey Barnes
• Sly & Robbie: “Gumby, We Love You” by Sly Dunbar
• Jonathan Richman: “I Like Gumby” by Jonathan Richman
• Brave Combo: “Pokey’s Polka” by Carl Finch, Mitch Marine, Jeffrey Barnes, Cenobio Hernandez
• Rick Schulman: “The Ballad Of Gumby” by Shepard Stern
• Flo & Eddie: “We All Are Gumby” by Michael Silversher, Jeff Borgeson
Performers and Cover Songs:
• Eddie Wade: “Concrete And Clay” by Thomas Moeller, Brian Parker
• Donna McElroy: “Bend Me, Shape Me” by Laurence Weiss, Scott English
• Frank Sinatra Jr.: The Gumby Heart Song (Original TV Theme) by Pete Kleinow
The Green Album came along when CDs were a new phenomenon. Adults were re-buying their vinyl collections on disc to see what their albums sounded like with crystal clarity and digital remastering. Kids were mostly still listening to cassettes. Gumby was freshly rebooted for a new crop of 80s kids and their boomer parents. The combination of adult Gumby fans with musical knowledge of rock, zydeco, classic pop and experimental music were the targets, who presumably would be sharing this with kids who were newbies for Gumby.
The people behind this album were the same Disney talents who made other fine children’s albums of the day, like Silly Songs, Mousercise and Children’s Favorites Volume Four. For Gumby, they were evidently able to cut loose and allow their baby boomer instincts to inspire some selections and the talents involved take other selections in new directions. Overall, the effect is pretty startling—how did they get away with that?
Ironically, they were acting under similar assumptions to those made by Jimmy Johnson and Tutti Camarata when they released eclectic their own eclectic, sophisticated records of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, when budgets allowed for experimentation. Retailers couldn’t always decide where to display the records. This was undoubtedly a problem for the Gumby Green Album because it’s really not a kid’s disc. The Zappa song is first on the track list to make that abundantly clear. The reality is that children end up being the audience for a licensed character product even if the parents listen in as well.
Whatever the outcome, we’re fortunate that this album was made, if only to marvel at the creativity, artistry and gushy Gumby love. Quite a few, like Jonathan Richman’s “I Like Gumby” and Rick Schulman’s Marty Robbins-like “The Ballad of Gumby” seem tailor-made for Dr. Demento.
Two Gumby-ish related classic pop songs are included: “Concrete and Clay,” which might not be recognizable by its title, but more from its line “My feet begin to crumble, but our love will never die” sung by Eddie Wade; and the more obvious “Bend Me, Shape Me” by Donna McElroy