Rolly Crump, a legendary Disney animator and Imagineer, whose designs helped define the early days of Disneyland, has died at the age of 93.
Rolly joined Walt Disney Studios in 1952, working on a number of the period’s animated features in marginal positions, including serving as an in-between artist on “Peter Pan” and as an assistant animator on “Lady and the Tramp,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.”
In 1959, he was recruited by Walt to join what was then known as WED Enterprises, later Walt Disney Imagineering. While at Imagineering, he worked on designs for The Haunted Mansion (including the prototypical Museum of the Weird), the Enchanted Tiki Room and It’s a Small World, including the iconic Tower of the Four winds sculpture/statue that accompanied It’s a Small World when the ride debuted at the 1964/65 World’s Fair in Queens. (When It’s a Small World made its way to Disneyland, he designed the large, smiling clock on the building’s façade.)
“People say the term legend can get overused but Rolly was a legend,” former Imagineer Jim Shull said. “I don’t think you’d have a Disneyland without Rolly Crump. He was a character and he was also an artist. He wasn’t concerned about the business side, he was concerned with the artist side.”
As a young Imagineer, Crump took Shull under his wing. Shull remembers a day when Crump brought Shull on a tour of the Haunted Mansion. When they reached the ballroom scene, Crump instructed Shull to “go sit there.” Shull took a seat where the ghost organist sits (the organ itself was a prop from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”). “I’ve got that photograph as a precious memory,” Shull said.
When asked if Crump gave him any memorable advice, Shull said that Crump told him plainly: “Don’t take any s—. Go do good stuff. You’re not going to win awards by doing crap.”
“You can’t invent a Rolly Crump,” Shull said. “A focus group does not create a Rolly Crump.”
Crump’s designs, particularly for the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Adventureland Bazaar, would inspire an entirely new generation of Imagineers, like those behind Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel.
“There was no bigger influence on Trader Sam’s than Rolly, not just as far as design is concerned, but attitude. Rolly was wild, and the stories of those early days at WED are legendary. I wanted to capture that wildness as well,” said Brandon Kleyla, a former Disney Imagineer and one of the key creative forces behind Trader Sam’s. “One of the first things I did was go find Voices in the Wind, which was the same book Rolly used to design the original Enchanted Tiki Room lanai for Disneyland. I wanted to get in his mindset as best I could and understand where he was coming from since Sam’s ultimately was going to be mentally connected to Enchanted Tiki Room. The biggest influence for Sam’s actually came from a Rolly design for South Sea Traders in Adventureland, which was very chaotic, a lot of stuff hanging from the ceiling, it was perfect.”
Kleyla added: “He was the rockstar of that group of old Imagineers. They were all amazing but when you were around Rolly, it was like being around an old rocker.”
Crump worked on early designs for what would become Walt Disney World in Florida, and his last project for the company was a 1971 episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney” called “Disney on Parade.” (Watch it below.)
After leaving Disney, Crump would work on a number of themed entertainment projects including Busch Gardens, Circus World and Knott’s Berry Farm, where he created iconic attraction Knott’s Bear-y Tales, a dark ride that opened alongside the Roaring ’20s section of the park in 1975. In the mid-1970s, Crump returned to Walt Disney Imagineering to work on EPCOT Center, helping to design The Land pavilion (those balloons in the grand atrium are pure Crump) and the Wonders of Life pavilion. He would leave in 1981 to pursue other opportunities, before coming back to Imagineering in the early 1990s as an executive designer.
Crump meant a lot of things to a lot of people; he was an iconoclast who wasn’t afraid of coloring outside the lines while also working for one of the largest (and friendliest) corporations on earth. And the best attractions Crump worked on embraced his idiosyncrasies. They’re unforgettable for a reason.