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The Gospel According to Davey and Goliath
By Chuck Miller (from Animato!, issue 35, Summer 1996)

It didn't have space aliens, karate-kicking mutants or even a pre-sold toy line. But for 15 years, three million children watched Davey and Goliath, the story of a boy, his dog, and the teachings of the Lord. Animated by Art Clokey's Premavision studio, and with scripts provided by the Lutheran Church, the adventures of Davey Hansen and his talking dog became both a popular children's series and an indelible piece of baby boomer pop culture.

"I think, of all the things that I have done in my life, I am most proud of Davey and Goliath," said Ruth Clokey Goodell, who worked with the series from the beginning. "We were really doing something to help the children of our country, and of the world. I really am proud of that. This show had a message. It wasn't just junk."

The Lutheran Church not only funded the series, their broadcasting division wrote many of the scripts, and gave the shows for free to 190 TV stations around the world. Back in the 1950's, when religious broadcasting usually involved Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and a blackboard, Franklin Clark Fry, president of the United Lutheran Church in America, set aside $1 million in the church treasury to fund production of future television programs. For Fry, he saw how a mixture of the medium and the message might help the Lutheran Church spread the word of God to new places.

By the late Sixties, Davey lived in a more culturally diverse neighborhood. The few faces included, from left to right, barbershop owner Henry Lee, Jonathon Reed, Davey's new best friend, and Pops the street vendor who calls his hot dogs "frankfurts" in front of Goliath.

A few years later, the ULCA noticed that a small clay green character and his orange horse - Gumby and Pokey - mesmerized children across America. The Church envisioned Biblical lessons as told through this "trianimation" technique. Within days, the ULCA contacted Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby, and asked if his Premavision Studios could produce a new children's show, Davey and Goliath, for them.

For Clokey, the Lutherans' offer was his chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. "I went into Hartford Seminary in 1947 to become a minister," he said in a telephone interview. "Now there were Lutherans, Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox and Episcopalians training to be ministers in their particular denomination. I went there with the idea of becoming a minister. But in the middle of the year, I wanted to make religious films, so I left the seminary in 1948, and went to Hollywood to make religious films. Cathedral Films was the first place I went to. They couldn't take me, because I wasn't a member of the Union. So I went into business for myself, and made commercials for Coca-Cola and Budweiser. I designed and produced TV spots for them for about three years, until I got a chance to make Gumby. It's a wonderful miracle that the Lutheran Church saw Gumby on WPIX, and I flew out to California to make a deal to use the Gumby technique to make this religious series. It was just what I wanted to do."

The first Davey and Goliath episode, "Lost in A Cave," premiered in 1960. Each episode was a day in the life of Davey Hansen, his blond-haired sister Sally, and his talking dog Goliath. Of course, Goliath only spoke to Davey; to everybody else he just barked and growled. When he wasn't doing chores, studying at school, or playing with his friends Jimmy, Nat and Teddy, or hanging out at the "Jickets" clubhouse, Davey learned how his world was influenced by God and family.

Each episode was essentially a parable, explained so children could easily understand religious and Scripturological concepts. For example, in "The Runaway," Davey returns home after a quixotic attempt to join the circus, much like the Prodigal Son returned home. A boy who wears "The Polka Dot Tie" is ostracized for being different, in a thinly veiled discussion of tolerance. And in exploiting an untapped area - children's television - with their message, the ULCA found that kids learned Bible lessons in the same way they would learn multiplication tables and conjunction junctions ten years later.

All the human characters on the show - Davey, Sally, his parents, his friends and the adults in the town - were assembled the same way. "They were foam rubber," said Art Clokey, "they were cast in hydrocal molds. First we placed ball and socket steel armatures in the mold, and then cast the foam around it. All but the head. The head was cast in epoxy. I wish we had done it in clay. We would have gotten a better feeling. The lips were cut out pieces of construction paper. And the eyes were like Gumby's eyes - a white surface, and we'd push the pupil, which would be black or blue, around on Vaseline. The pupil would be a piece of photographic paper that had been exposed and was black."

Goliath, the talking dog, was also foam, except his eyes had the same plastic ping-pong ball look as did Gumby and Pokey. "Jim Danforth was the only one who could get Goliath to walk convincingly," said Spencer Gill, who worked with many of Davey and Goliath's animators on other projects. "Goliath had no shoulder joint, just a joint where the leg met the body so the leg couldn't extend outward as Goliath took a step. To see what I'm talking about, move your arm without moving the shoulder, and then do it normally while mimicking the walk of a dog while you are on all fours. You will immediately see why Goliath walked so awkwardly."

Whatever the characters lost in mobility, they made up in durability. According to Art Clokey, the same figurines could be used over and over again. "They could last for the whole series, for two or three years, because we would take them in, put on clean clothes and repair the armatures if one broke. They weren't replaced the way Gumby was. We'd take a whole tray of Gumbys and give them to the animator and he would use up a dozen Gumbys every day."

"The actual storylines were given to us by the Lutheran Church," recalled Ruth Clokey Goodell, "and we had to work within that framework, they supervised all the editing of it and everything. We didn't start shooting until the script was written and sent to them. Howard Coleman was the man that we worked with the most."

Once Coleman approved the scripts and sent them back to Premavision, filming began. Working one frame at a time, making slight positioning adjustments per each film exposure, the Premavision animation team could crank out a minute of usable film per day, one 15-minute episode per month. And where Gumby's sets and backgrounds were abstract models, clay sculptures and oversized toys, the sets for Davey and Goliath were realistically replicated, as a railroad hobbyist might build a village for his train set. "For 'The Silver Mine,' we built a miniature mine shaft in the middle of the studio," said Clokey, "and actually it looked like rock on the sides, but they were actually painted aluminum foil. For 'A Sudden Storm,' we had to go outside the studio, there was a big empty lot next door, and we constructed a huge pond that became the lake set. We used actual water. It must have been 30 feet long, 20 feet wide. People ask us how we made such detailed sets - it was simple, we just didn't use a computer."

"Raymond Peck was our supervisor," recalled Ruth Clokey Goodell, "It wasn't thrown together in just a day's time. You would have been amazed had you ever watched the whole process. It really was detailed. It kept our staff very busy. They had good training."

Each episode was created on a shoestring budget. Premavision charged the ULCA $900 per animated minute, $15,000 per episode. "They got a good bargain for us, I tell you," said Clokey. "With Gumby today, it's now $15,000 a minute. We produced Davey and Goliath on a nonprofit basis. We just made salaries, and no residuals. We were hoping that they would let us make a Davey doll and a Goliath doll and maybe a Sally doll as toys, but they wouldn't. I don't blame them, because they felt it would have commercialized the series."

In 1962, the ULCA merged with the larger Lutheran Church in America, and the LCA took over Davey and Goliath's funding. By now 39 episodes had been produced, and thanks to the National Council of Churches Broadcasting and Film Corporation, a major distributor of religious programming, episodes were airing all over North America. Davey and Goliath even made inroads into the foreign markets, as the show was translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Cantonese.

By 1965, the LCA funded a 30-minute holiday special, "Davey and Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found." In this episode, Davey decorates his house, trims the tree and even organizes a Christmas pageant - but doesn't feel Christmasy inside. On the night of the pageant, he offers his role as one of the Three Kings to another kid, and then understands that in giving away what he treasured most - his role in the pageant - Davey realizes why giving is so important in Christmas.

"Christmas Lost and Found" was so successful that the LCA funded five more Davey and Goliath half-hour specials, which stations aired during the holidays. One of these vignettes, "Happy Easter," was a ground breaking episode featuring a subject most childrens' programs wouldn't dare discuss.

In "Happy Easter," Davey's grandmother dies three days before Easter, and Davey is grief-stricken that he will never see her again. His father, with help from an Easter pageant passion play, explains the concept of death, resurrection, heaven and the afterlife. Davey fights back his tears, knowing that he will see his grandmother again someday - in heaven. "The Easter special was my favorite episode," said B. Baker, who watched Davey and Goliath as a child in Jackson, Mississippi. "The appearance of the sweet, kind grandmother -- the sort of grandma all of us could use -- her extremely sudden off-stage death, and Davey's sorrow. Heck, MY sorrow."

By 1969, the series had become so successful that the LCA asked Premavision to create another run of 15-minute episodes. While Art was no longer part of the series (he and Ruth Clokey were divorced in 1966), Ruth continued to supervise production of the series. "My father was a Lutheran minister," said Ruth Clokey Goodell, "Father Joseph Parkander. I had a lot of training in the Lutheran Church. My whole background was formed by him. It would have been difficult to continue this series if I hadn't had that kind of background."

The new series reflected both the social and multiethnic diversity of the 1960's, and replaced some episodes like "Ten Little Indians" and "The Gang," whose questionable stereotypes did not age well. Davey's friends now included Cisco, a Hispanic boy, and Jonathan, the first black recurring character on the show. Jonathan's father owned a pharmacy/soda shoppe, and the kids hung out there. Other adults in the neighborhood included Mr. Lee, the barber; Pop, the absentminded hot dog vendor; Miss Lindsey, Davey's new schoolteacher; and Officer Dan, the new cop on the beat.

Episodes now concentrated on racial tolerance and integration, charity and community spirit, while still focusing on the life lessons of God and of the Lutheran Church. Davey and Jonathan would redeem pop bottles for movie money, only to discover another boy who hopes to redeem the pop bottles for breakfast money ("Boy in Trouble"). When Davey thoughtlessly pours red paint into a well, he discovers that his "joke" affects the entire ecological community ("The Caretakers"). And stories about polka dot ties were replaced with stories about the deaf ("Louder, Please") and race relations ("Blind Man's Bluff").

The final Davey and Goliath episode, a 30-minute feature called "To the Rescue," premiered in 1975. But within a few years of that broadcast, Davey and Goliath faded from the airwaves. Television stations were no longer under an FCC mandate to set aside time for religious programming, and Davey and Goliath was replaced by other profitable ventures like off-network sitcoms and syndicated cartoons. In an ironic twist, many of those time slots were also snapped up by televangelists, who could pay stations to air their sermons - the same stations who originally aired Davey and Goliath in those time slots for free.

But the show didn't disappear for long. Al Eicher, president of one of the first companies to market motion pictures for home video, purchased the secular marketing rights for Davey and Goliath from the Lutheran Church in 1986. "I got a call from Chris Lee from the Lutheran Church in America. Chris had been in touch with me since 1983, asking if I'd be interested in marketing Davey and Goliath on home video. I made a deal and bought the rights from the Church. Over the years, we've moved about a half million units. I was initially only permitted to market it to the Christian bookstore market and catalogs (a competing property, Augsburg Press, reserved other rights). But in the last year, Augsburg got out of the video business, so the church called me and said 'Al, the market's open to you.'"

Since 1990, Eicher has released some of the most popular episodes on videocassette, including such classics as "Christmas - Who Needs It?" and "Happy Easter." Eicher even made some feature-length movies, such as Davey and Goliath: Lost and Found, and Davey and Goliath on Vacation, by re-editing some of the episodes that had similar themes.

Davey and Goliath can still be found on some religious and public broadcasting stations, including the VISN and Cornerstone networks. Thanks to Al Eicher, an open-captioned version of Davey and Goliath appears each week on the Disability Network. Newly-dubbed episodes can now be seen in Korea, Germany and the former Soviet Union. The series itself has become a part of pop culture, as references to Davey and Goliath can be found on shows like The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Mad TV.

Even Art Clokey is amazed by the sustained popularity of Davey and Goliath. "In the 1980's, my wife Gloria and I went on a tour of colleges and theaters, giving lectures and showing episodes of Gumby to students, but at the end, when it was time for questions and answers, they would always ask about Davey and Goliath. I was proud that it was so well-received, the spiritual or religious messages were so well-received by so many. And that we had a hand in making them, directing them and so on."

It has also inspired Clokey to create a new religious series, this time starring Gumby. "I was just thinking of a new type of religious series, this time using Gumby, where he goes into various situations that bring out the historical facts about what each religion teaches. The Muslims, Sufis, the Buddhists, the Hindi, and so on. Christians of various faiths, various denominations. At the earliest, we may start production in 1998. But I think it's badly needed, because there's so many misconceptions about other religions, so to speak."


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