I want to tell you about the youngest Disney Imagineer, Rolly Crump.
Rolly was born February 27, 1930, in Alhambra, California. Rolly started out his career as a “dipper” in a ceramic factory before getting hired on at Disney in 1952. He only had six Saturdays of art instruction at Chouinard Art Institute under his belt. Disney had an open-door policy, so he wandered away from animation to check out the other departments and learned from other artists, sculptors, and Imagineers. With practice and tutelage, he was able to hone his skills. He worked as an in-betweener and later, assistant animator, on the films Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and others until becoming an Imagineer in 1959.
Rolly loved making propellers and mobiles. He had them on display in the studio’s library. Ward Kimball told Walt to go check out Rolly’s display because it was magnificent. After Walt saw what Rolly could do, he moved him over to Walt Disney Imagineering, but at the time it was WED. Walt was just starting to build up his WED department when he added Rolly who, at the time, was the youngest Imagineer there.
Walt met with five of his Imagineers and told them he wanted a restaurant/dinner show themed with Tahitian décor. That is how Rolly was added to The Enchanted Tiki Room project around 1962. Rolly helped come up with the design of the attraction with Imagineer John Hench. Rolly sculpted about 70% of the tikis used in the attraction, the “bird mobile,” and the fountain. He was also credited with designing the Tiki Room Preshow out in the waiting area. After all that work, Walt thought the restaurant was too good to be just a dinner show, so he made it an attraction.
Due to his design work with windmills and mobiles, Rolly was put in charge of designing the 120-foot-tall Tower of the Four Winds for the World’s Fair outside of the it’s a small world attraction in 1964. He was with the small world project from day one. He designed and constructed over 200 of the “toys” on the attraction out of Styrofoam and paper-mâché, some of which are still on the attraction today. After the World’s Fair ended and small world moved into Disneyland, Rolly assisted with the setup and layout of the attraction for the park and created the giant clock out front.
Rolly was also one of the key designers on the Haunted Mansion project in 1961. He and Yale Gracey spent a year coming up with ideas for the Mansion’s interior. Rolly came up with a multitude of concepts for the Museum of the Weird, which was to be an area for crowds to walk through but was scrapped when the idea of a walk-thru was changed to a ride-thru. Rolly and Yale were pulled off the project to work on The World’s Fair projects. After the Fair is when things changed for the Mansion’s layout and design, because of the addition of the Doombuggies, the omnimover system created by Bob Gurr. This would takeaway the need for The Museum of the Weird. In Rolly’s estimation, only about 25% of his ideas were used in the final attraction, including the séance room, phantom organ player, the changing portraits, moving busts, and a few others. One of the big losses was the nixing of the Sea Captain’s Room, which was set to have a handful of special effects.
The only remaining idea of the Sea Captain can be found as a portrait hanging in the Haunted Mansion in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Rolly came up with the first sketches of the “stretching portraits,” but then that aspect of the attraction was taken over by Marc Davis who drew the portraits, or a variation thereof, that you see today. Rolly also had concept sketches of faces for the hallway wallpaper, but that too was done by Marc Davis, who designed his wallpaper similarly to Rolly’s.
Rolly worked on the design for the Magic Kingdom’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The attraction’s tracks would split into two and the two cars would race each other. But that attraction was removed to make way for the Winnie The Pooh attraction.
Chris Crump is also an Imagineer and the son of Rolly. The only project the two of them worked on together was the Wonders of Life attraction in Epcot, which existed from 1989 to 2007. Chris recently worked on The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure in California Adventure. Rolly worked on and off for Disney over the decades before his retirement in 1996.
He is still an artist today and even has a book out titled It’s Kind Of A Cute Story, in which he tells stories of his experiences working with Walt and for the Disney company. Rolly had so many stories to tell about his time with Disney that he released a CD series called More Cute Stories. Rolly became a Disney Legend in 2004 and has a dedication window on Main Street that says “Fargo’s Palm Parlor – Predictions That Will Haunt You – Bazaar, Whimsical & Weird – “Designs to Die For” – Roland F. Crump – Assistant to the Palm Reader.”
To hear Rolly speak, check out my podcast, The Magic Behind The Ears Podcast, and look up episode #3. It can be found on iTunes, SoundCloud, the podcast app, FaceBook, or you can listen right from online at www.ThemeParkology.com/podcast.
There was a documentary produced in 2016 about Rolly called The Whimsical Imagineer: The Incredible Life Of Rolly Crump.
Rolly was kind enough to write the foreword to my book. If you liked this biography, get a copy of my book with over 3,700 Disneyland and Disney Movie fun facts in it. There are also over 50 mini-biographies just like this one in it as well.
(all photos are the property of Disney or other respective owners)