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Rolly Crump

WED Imagineer / Artist

In 2003, Disney enthusiast Damien Montanile interviewed WED "Illusioneer" Rolly Crump about his history with the Walt Disney Company. Here is an excerpt of that interview, covering Rolly's time working on the Haunted Mansion project with Yale Gracey, and his memories of WED at the time.

Rolly Crump: Man of "La Mansion"
Interview by Damien Montanile

Damien: You worked Imagineering from '52 to...

Rolly Crump: Well I started in Animation in '52. I worked for Animation until '59 and then in '59 I went to Imagineering.

And you were originally an inbetweener.

I was an inbetweener, then I went to a breakdown, to a cleanup, to an assistant, then ended up being an assistant to one of the nine old men - Eric Larson.

How did that opportunity come to pass? And how did you come from Animation into WDI?

Basically I guess it's because I got - I fell in love with Alexander Calder and his mobiles. So I was building mobiles all the time, and I'd bring the mobiles to work and I'd hang them up in my office. And then, because of Wathel Rogers and his littler propeller. I started making propellers. And so I ended up with Propellers and mobiles in my office. And finally, (because of) Tee Hee, who was with Walt clear back in the 30s. He and I were very good friends, and he said "Rolly, you should have an exhibit in the library at the studio." All the artists had paintings or sculptures in our library. It was a dinky little library, but they had a room about the size of this room here that you could show your original paintings or sculpture that you did outside of it and put them on sale!

So, I said "ok," and I signed up and put my propellers in there along with my mobiles and my marijuana posters, and Walt went down to see my show because Ward Kimball told him "you have to go see Rolly's show because he's got his propellers down there," because Ward had fallen in love with my propellers. It gave him the idea to do some creative sculptures of his own.

So Walt saw the show, then Walt asked Ken Peterson, who was head of the Animation Department, to ask if I would like to join them at WED because Walt was looking for new people to come to work at WED. They used to call Wed "Cannibal Island" because they were pulling in so many people from the Animation Department and then you never saw them again (laughs).

What they did was - and I didn't know this - they told Eric Larson that Walt would like to have Rolly work at WED, and he said "No, Rolly's too important at Animation." The reason I was important to him was because I used to give him back rubs and play his favorite radio station, and I used to have a bottle of water because he was really a sweetheart of a man - and so he said "no." Well I found out later that Walt said to Ward and some of the guys, "We've really got to find some people" and Ward said to Walt, "What about Rolly Crump?" Walt said "no, Rolly's too important to Eric Larson." Then Ward said that it wasn't true - so ask him again. This time Eric was in Europe. So when they asked me, I said "When can I start?" and that was it.

When Eric came back I was no longer his assistant. He accepted it. He knew at one time I was looking for work outside of Disney because I felt that I had pretty much become stagnated with being an assistant animator and I didn't see any growth. I didn't want to be an animator. I knew that I didn't have the drive or the talent. So I needed something else. I'd been building mobiles and doing little things that were kinky, and Walt liked the imagination - so that's how I got started.

Throughout your time with WDI, you've had loads of stories. Some range from somewhat emotional, to ridiculously hysterical. One most notably a prank that was played in Animation.

When I was working overtime on Peter Pan, with the assistant animators to Milt Kahl... These were crazy guys. I came in one night and they were drilling a hole in the wall, they had lined up the hole in the wall with the hole in the animation desk where the extension cord goes through that lights up the desk. So when Milt Kahl was sitting there working, they took a syringe with a big squeeze ball filled with Talcum Powder and went "WOO." They'd shoot him in the crotch. Being shot in the crotch with powder, you're not goin to feel it. He (Kahl) would get up and there'd be talcum powder all over his crotch. Of course he'd look under the table and see nothing because they'd plug the holes back. (Laughter) This went on for weeks and used to drive him nuts! He'd yell and scream and they'd do it about once a week.

What was the story of you and the Stretching Portraits for the Haunted Mansion?

Yale (Gracey) and I had built a model of the elevator stretch room. It was about half inch scale. We did it out of metal and you can see how the elevator went down and what would take place. Yale said, "Rolly why don't you develop the look of the Stretch Paintings?" and so, it was just Yale and I developing this elevator and this stretch room. So I did and I had a half a dozen that I had done in just simple pen and ink layouts. Somewhere along the line, Marc heard about it, and he came in and he looked at my sketches and basically said, "they're no good - I'm going to redo it." So I said fine. It didn't bother me because I had admired him so much because of what he was in Animation. I thought he'd do a better job than I would anyway. I kind of roled with it. It didn't bother me.

Without a doubt when people talk about you, they think of the Haunted Mansion. Can you tell us about your time working on this and what ideas you had that might not have made it into the final attraction.

We worked so fast. Yale and I worked for a year developing illusions. Because I wasn't involved in the final Haunted Mansion at all, I would say that out of all of the illusions that Yale and I did, 25 percent were used. That was based on the change of the storyline, because when we worked on it, it was a walkthrough. When they made it into a ride, that eliminated a lot of the illusions that we had presented, because they wouldn't work in a ride. They would only work if you had the audience standing still for a bit.

We actually got it to where you were in each room for three minutes and each room had a show all of its own. I really think that would have made the Mansion, a far better attraction than what it is. I think it's fine, but Walt always wanted it as a walkthrough - he never wanted it as a ride. It was posed to him as a ride, and he said "no, I want it as a walkthrough." Because he was comparing it to San Simeon. What happened after Walt passed was that everybody panicked. The Operations people panicked because they thought, "Oh my God, if we don't have someone keeping an eye on them..." There was an overconcern which was really kind of sad. That's what happens."

There was one gag that Yale and I came up with. We developed the whole story for that room. It was a Sea Captain's room. That's where he lived. He had killed his wife, a bricked her up in the fireplace. He drowned out at sea. As the story goes, he would periodically come back to his room. We actually had a full scale mock-up of this on the soundstage to show Walt. You'd see the curtains blowing. You could see the ocean off in the distance, the waves breaking. You could hear the cry of a coyote or wolf. We had a lot of special effects that we'd put into that. Then all of a sudden, this skeleton with a rainslicker and hat holding a lantern appears slowly but surely in the middle of the room. We actually had a shower that was coming off of him onto the floor. It looked like water was running all over the floor. It was one hell of an illusion! As he kind of turns and looks around the room, you see her ghost skeleton appear behind the bricks - and all of a sudden she comes flying out! She has a white silk outfit on, she raises her arms, and with her mouth wide open, screaming, coming right at him - they both just disappear. I think that would have done the job. That was the best piece of Pepper's Ghost that'd been done. Of course, that went down the tubes, because everything in there was a cycle animation. They could have done that into a preshow area right before you got on the ride, like when you walk from the elevator down by all of Mark's paintings. That could have been a room that the entire elevator was released into, and you can do the show in a room. See, when we did the original Mansion, it was a back to back Mansion - there were two Mansions, not just one. So you would get the hourly capacity that you needed.

Which is why there are two stretch rooms.

Yes. That's why there are two stretch rooms.

What other attractions did you work on that you might not have been so easily associated with?

Well, you work on everything. I worked on Mr. Toad for Disney World. We did something different there. Some people aren't aware [of it]. Dick Nunez came to me, and told me that the Mr. Toad ride at Disneyland is the most popular dark ride we have. So we want twice the size, so we could have twice the capacity. So what I did was design two Mr. Toads, but they were two different stories. What would happen is that this first section was Toad Hall. Then one of them you'd brake and go into the kitchen, and the other, you'd brake and go into the library - so there were two entirely different stories. Then in the center is where you'd come together and almost hit each other in an alleyway. Then you'd both turn and go around town square. One of them would break into a jail, then the other one would break into a courtroom; one of them would go through a gypsy camp, and one of them would go through a barn with a bunch of chickens in it. The end, of course, was the same thing with the train hitting you, and then you going to Hell.

Everyone's favorite part!

It was kind of cute. It was still the most popular ride at Florida - then they took it out to put the Pooh ride in.

When did you start going off into your own freelancing ventures? You started your own design company.

I always had things on the side. Disney didn't pay that much. I enjoyed working there, but I did toys on the side, and I did aprons on the side. There was a Japanese importer that I worked for and I used to do a lot of things for him. After I did Small World the third time, and after Walt had passed away, I realized I couldn't stay much longer because I really couldn't put up with the politics.

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