Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Sam Clayberger 1926-2018

I'm sad to report that one of the very last of the original Jay Ward artists, Sam Clayberger, passed away May 4th after a short illness.  Sam's influence on the studio's product was huge, starting at the very beginning when he freelanced with fellow designer Roy Morita on the Rocky the Flying Squirrel pilot in 1958 and continuing his association with the studio until it closed its doors in 1984. 

Although ostensibly a color stylist and background painter, Jay relied on him for much of his in-house design work, everything from the certificates and membership cards for the Bullwinkle fan club to the art and standees inside the Dudley Do-right Emporium, from the lettering in the original Rocky and Bullwinkle titles to virtually all of the publicity art featuring the original series characters (see below).

I first interviewed Sam at the age of 83 and his recall was exceptional, easily answering questions on the studio's history and the artists that populated it.  We were in regular contact as I was researching and writing the book but at the 11th hour, as I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript, I got a call from him asking if he could drop by my office.  When he walked in, he was carrying over 2 dozen original backgrounds dating from Dudley Do-right up through myriad Quaker Oats commercials.  While cleaning out his files, he had come across these long forgotten gems from the past and thought they might be of interest.  I immediately went back into the book and shoe horned in as much new art as I could and still managed to meet the press deadline.  A year after the book was published, he discovered a cache of color keys from his career including episodes of Fractured Fairy Tales, numerous Cap'n Crunch commercials and even keys from Hoppity Hooper.  You can see many of those keys in the archives here, here, here, here, here and here.

Although Sam had a huge impact on kids of the 1960s, probably more than he realized, his primary interest was his fine art.  Sam worked freelance while at Ward so he could pursue painting and continued to draw and paint long after his work for Jay came to an end, even renting his own art studio with weekly model sessions so that he could follow his passion.  He was most proud of his nudes while admitting that his landscapes were more likely to sell.  Some of Sam's paintings can be seen here and here.  A brief bio as well as many of his backgrounds can be seen in the now out-of-print, The Art of Jay Ward Productions.

Sam Clayberger was a warm and generous man and I will miss him. Au revoir, Sam


  1. Hi Darrell,

    You may remember me. I acquired a large painting on plywood made by Sam for the 1963 52nd state campaign. We met Sam and his daughter at his studio and he signed the piece for us. He was genuinely shocked that anyone still had it let alone cherished it. What a great afternoon. Thanks for arranging that for us. -Mitch. San Diego

  2. I'm so very sad to hear of Sam's passing. I first met Sam at a small, private gathering of some mutual friends, whom had previously set up our meeting. Sam took one look at me, and said quite loudly, "You're very round, I think you'll do!" "Round in this context meant "curvacious," which I am, not overweight just to be clear, :). He asked if I'd be willing to pose for him in the nude, I agreed and he offered a respectable compensation I couldn't refuse. We became friends, and I modeled for him/ his students on occasion, and would sometimes see him and Pat (his wife) at these gatherings/parties. I only have joyful memories of this extremely talented man...and you know what? I never realized he had such immense influence with Jay Ward, because he was so genuinely friendly, a great sense of humor and so down-to-earth. I love, and miss you Sam.

  3. Thanks for writing. Sam was completely authentic, so unassuming, and salt of the earth. He was a joy to know and very helpful on the book. Considering Jay Ward's band of misfits, he seemed one of the least likely members but he was slyly subversive in his own way. I miss him, too.