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Gumby has got them in his grip



Published: Sat, November 24, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Original Gumby cartoons express Zen wisdom, the collectors say.

By STEPHEN SIFF

TRUMBULL STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- Gumby greets visitors to the home of Steve Svecz and Rhonda Marr.

First there's the Gumby doll suction-cupped to the front door window.

Then there's the thigh-high Gumby on a landing leading upstairs.

That's where the Gumby room is.

Gumby, the cheerful green lump of clay who starred in short films on the "Howdy Doody Show" starting in 1956 and who was brutally satirized by Eddie Murphy in "Saturday Night Live" sketches in the early 1980s, is alive and well, at least in one home on Fairmont North East.

"Gumby is like the 'Citizen Kane' of claymation shorts," said Svecz, 44, digging through boxes of Gumby toys and memorabilia for a book called "Biography of Gumby, The World's Most Famous Clay Boy."

"I always had found memories of Gumby," said Marr, 37.

Collection: She now has a lot to remind her. Over the past decade, the couple, both librarians, have amassed hundreds of Gumbys, Pokeys, Gumbas (Gumby's mom), Gumbos (Gumby's father), Mingas (sisters) and Blockheads G and J.

On the walls and shelves of the Gumby room there are plush Gumbys and bendable Gumbys, Gumbys in combat gear and Gumbys dressed as Elvis.

A selection of their Gumbys are on display in a case at the Cortland branch of the Warren-Trumbull Memorial Library. They have more Gumbys than they are able to keep track of.

"It kind of snowballed," Marr said.

Memories: It was Marr's happy memories of Gumby -- and especially of a toy Gumby Jeep she owned as a child -- that sparked the collection.

When Svecz and Marr were dating a decade ago, he gave her another one of those Jeeps to replace the one she lost as a girl.

When they were married a couple of years ago, Gumby and Pokey were on the cake.

"Rhonda actually has the enthusiasm for Gumby," Svecz said. "I supplied the obsessive-compulsive collecting impulse."

Qualities: But there are some pretty good reasons to be fond of Gumby, especially for a pair of librarians.

One of Gumby's skills is to travel into books, to have adventures with the characters inside. And he is friendly and seems to get along with everybody.

"Gumby is a symbol of the spirit of individuality in each of us, the basis of the ultimate value of each person," his creator, Art Clokey writes, in the introduction to the clay boy's biography.

"Clokey actually incorporated a lot of Zen concepts into Gumby cartoons," Svecz said.

He cites some examples: Gumby is a pacifist, whose enemies eventually do themselves in; he has a fresh, wide-eyed approach to adventures and experiences; and when he does interfere with the natural order of things it tends to go awry, as in the episode where he gets a bunch of robots to do his yardwork and they end up wrecking the house.

"The thing about Gumby is he doesn't take himself too seriously," Marr said.

And what if Gumby and Mickey Mouse got in a fight?

"I think Gumby would kick his rear," Svecz said. "But he is not a violent guy."




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