You may have seen that Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby and Pokey, died this weekend at the age of 88. Most of the obituaries (including this extensive one today at The New York Times) focused on his more-famous creations, the green man and his little red horse who stop-motionedly walked in and out of books on kids's TV shows for decades. Their theme song neatly summed up both their talents and appeal: "He can walk into any book with his poney-pal Pokey, too. If you've got a heart then Gumby's a part of you!" A Jesuit aside: Gumby and Pokey have been two of the mascots of the novitiate of the Society of Jesus of New England since 1985, and their by-now bent, crumpled plastic representations have been passed down from novice to novice for over 20 years. Gumby even showed up at my ordination, though the Jesuit who brought him did not, as he jokingly threatened, set him face down in the aisle alongside me during the ordination rite. One common joke is that Gumby and Pokey have stayed in the Jesuits longer than many of the novices have. On the other hand, they've never made it out of the novitiate. But that's another story.
Given shorter shrift in today's obituaries of Mr. Cokey's is his other creation, "Davey and Goliath," something that proved much more meaningful to me as a young boy than any plastic figurine. Leading off with a group of medieval-looking pages tooting a catchy trumpet melody, the 1950s-era show was sponsored by the United Lutheran Church of America, and used to run in the Philadelphia market, appropriately enough, on Sunday mornings. (I suspect this was the case around the country.) Only many, many years later, during a Mass, did I glance down at the familiar hymn we were singing and realize with considerable embarrassement that the tune that ran through my head post-show was not in fact the theme song of "Davey and Goliath," but "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," somewhat rather well known in its own right.
Davey lived with his clean-cut and right-thinking mother and father, his generally dutiful sister, Sally, and their oversized dog, Goliath, who talked. (His parents and sister talked too, of course.) That Goliath spoke (and spoke a lot) never seemed much to faze many people, least of all Davey. The little 10-to-15 minute showlets were probably the first morality plays that I would ever see, and also introduced me to a kind of sensible American Protestant morality. Often the shows went like this: Davey's parents warned him not to do something bad, or rather encouraged him to do something good. Sally seconded them: "Davey, Mom and Dad told you not to do that!" As I always expected, Davey ended up doing whatever it was that he was not supposed to do. (Davey seemed to forever be fallling into wells and getting lost in caves, though perhaps that episode was simply repeated in Philadelphia). Davey, not surprisingly, got into trouble. Davey was scolded. Davey felt guilty. But then at the end, the kindly local minister would often step in (as I recall, he roamed the streets a good deal) and offered a little moral, free of charge, often drawn explicitly from the Bible. Davey felt better and usually told Goliath that he'd never do that again. Goliath's clay face often seemed to doubt this.
"Davey and Goliath" didn't always make sense, even to a grammar-school mind. At one point Davey ran into a deer, who spoke to him (no doubt warning him not to do something). When Davey passes this along to his dog, Goliath says--and I believe this is verbatim--"Don't be silly Davey. Deers don't talk." Even when I was little, I thought, "This coming from a talking dog?" And I recall my Jewish friends in college rolling their eyes at "Davey and Goliath," which they remembered, too, from their childhoods. As more than one pointed out, there never seemed to be anyone but Lutherans in that neighborhood.
But the show's gentle morality made an impression. One summer I watched it several times while going to a little "Bible school" run by some neighbors down the street. We made models of Jesus' tomb in yellow clay, discussed the Bible, talked about the apostles, and considered what it meant to do "right" and "wrong." Of course I learned the same things at home and did the same things in CCD (except for the yellow clay, which I lamented), but these Protestant lessons had, somehow, a different flavor to them. It reminded me of what the minister used to give Davey: sensible, straightforward, no-nonsense morality. So I'm not embarrassed to say that, still today, whenever I hear the familiar strains of "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," it's not Martin Luther I think of, but his progeny, Davey and Goliath.
Art Clokey, R.I.P.