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Friday, January 15, 2010

 

Visionary Leaders for Children's Television

A week ago today Art Clokey, animator and one of the creators of Davey and Goliath (www.daveyandgoliath.org), died at age 88.

The New York Times ran a fine obituary (see www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/arts/television/11clokey.html?ref=obituaries) and the ELCA news service wrote a very fine remembrance also (see www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4385).

Clokey was the last living member of the original team which put Davey and Goliath together in the late 1950's and 1960's. These visionary men and women (Art & Ruth Clokey, Dick Sutcliff, Nancy Moore, Marshall Stross and Frank Klos) gave children a gift which, thanks to new communication formats and distribution, may be nearly eternal!

Davey and Goliath, a stop-motion animated television series for children, was first broadcast in 1960. The show focused on Davey Hansen and his talking dog Goliath, who acted as Davey's conscience. Storylines carried uplifting, moral lessons on topics such as responsibility, care for the environment, acceptance of all people, and other valuable lessons designed to affirm a child's faith in God in an entertaining way. Davey was one of the first television programs to feature non-white characters and, while produced by the Lutheran Church, was non-sectarian in its approach to faith. A ground-breaking episode on racism ("The Polka Dot Tie," tame by today's standards) was even delayed by the television networks as too controversial! I'm told the animators changed the title and put it on anyway!

Art & Ruth Clokey, creators of the well-known Gumby & Pokey series, made the Davey and Goliath programs using doll-like figures with animated faces. Eventually, the cast of the show grew to more than twenty characters.

In all, 65 15-minute episodes and six half-hour specials were produced by the former Lutheran Church in America (one of three church bodies that merged to form the ELCA in 1988). For 20 years, as many as 183 television stations broadcast the episodes on Saturday and Sunday mornings by 1980. Davey and Goliath won several Gabriel Awards and was featured in the International and American Film Festivals. Episodes continue to run on 15 - 20 cable stations across the country.

The nostalgia craze (fueled by us Baby-Boomers who grew up with Davey) helped Davey and Goliath remain popular after production stopped in 1975. The pair has been referenced on such programs as The Daily Show, Will and Grace, Project Green Light, The Simpsons, Friends and Mad TV, as well as in films such as Dead Man Walking, Frailty and Dogma.

Take a look at the testimonials from viewers on the Davey website - www.daveyandgoliath.org/testimonials.html . There was (is) something about Davey and Goliath which continues to connect with people of all ages!

I got involved with Davey during my time as Communication Director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) from 1992 - 2006. In the late 1990's, under the direction of Kristi Bangert, who now serves as ELCA Executive Director for Communication Services, and Ava Martin, ELCA Director for Public Media, we began activities to bring Davey back into production. We licensed many products (most are now out of production but available on EBay and other places online) and reintroduced the past episodes on DVD (available on amazon.com and many other places).

In 2002 we also licensed PepsiCo to use the Davey characters in a commercial for the soft drink Mountain Dew. (This was a controversial move, but really introduced Davey to a new generation of children and youth). You can find the commercial on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaDxcVPxB3g.

In front of 40,000 high-school age and adult Lutherans, Davey and Goliath appeared on stage at the 2003 ELCA Youth Gathering. A new 90-second Davey and Goliath video on baptism was part of the Youth Gathering appearances. We also produced several television "spot" ads, for evangelism and disaster response, using the Davey characters. The ELCA's publishing house, Augsburg Fortress, used Davey for their 2004 and 2005 Vacation Bible School curriculum.

In 2003, ABC television affiliates across the USA and Canada showed, Oh Davey!...History of the 'Davey and Goliath' Television Series. This one- hour documentary traced the history of Davey and Goliath from its origins in 1958 to that time (see www.daveyandgoliath.org/documentary.html).

And, in the first major new Davey production in nearly 30 years, in 2004 the ELCA produced a one hour Christmas television special, Davey and Goliath's Snowboard Christmas, which was broadcast on the Hallmark Channel and featured Jewish and Muslim characters for the first time (see www.daveyandgoliath.org/snowboard/index.html). Clokey Productions, with both Art Clokey and his son Joe actively involved, produced this new program for us. (Art and Joe liked Ava Martin so much that they immortalized her as a character in this production, Ranger Ava!) Ava Martin, Kristi Bangert and I are listed as executive producers of this program. As you can imagine, I got to know Art and Joe well during these years. (Also their attorney, Bela Lugosi, Jr. - yes, the son of the actor who played Dracula!)

At John L. Peterson's suggestion, the Luther Institute (www.lutherinst.org, now related to the ELCA's Gettysburg Seminary) honored the founders and creators of Davey and Goliath with their Wittenberg Award in November of 2004. There are wonderful photos online at www.daveyandgoliath.org/wittenberg_award_photos.html . The last photo in that gallary includes Art & Joe Clokey, Marshall Stross and me. Ruth Clokey was too ill to attend and Dick Sutcliff also could not attend. Frank Klos' widow Sally, accepted on behalf of her late husband.

There is much more online at www.daveyandgoliath.org, Davey's official website.

With Art's death, the last of this generation of visionary leaders and animators are gone. But, because their work lives on through the internet and DVD's, their contribution to children will continue.

Thanks be to God!

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