Rolly Crump is a true original. In this interview, you’ll meet the dauntless Imagineer that worked alongside Walt Disney and co-created timeless Disneyland icons like “it’s a small world”, The Haunted Mansion, and the Enchanted Tiki Room!
An integral part of Disneyland history, Rolly’s genius is only matched by his bad boy reputation and colossal heart. We’re so excited to share this exclusive interview with our Perfecting the Magic readers!
PTM: You’ve spoken about the deep connection and affection you and Walt Disney shared, what was the most important lesson you learned from working with him?
Rolly: The greatest lesson is that I realized I was talking to the most beautiful man ever put on this planet. He was gorgeous, and if you got to know him, he became even more gorgeous. He had the common sense of a farm boy, and I loved that about him. People don’t realize what a beautiful man Walt was—both personally and in business.
Walt was a sweetheart of a guy. You could just be yourself with him. You didn’t have to be anybody else. He understood everyone as an individual. Knowing Walt was incredible. And teamwork! Absolutely. Even if he disagreed with an idea, he always wanted to hear something from everyone.
PTM: It seems like your shared connection with Walt was rooted in storytelling. Do you agree?
Rolly: Yes! We are storytellers and that was our connection.
When Walt would have people showing storyboards, he would always put two people together that didn’t get along, because he knew they’d argue about something, and that within that argument, they would come up with something perfect.
PTM: Is there anything about Walt Disney that you wish more people knew?
Rolly: That he treated everyone with respect. To give you an example, when he went to the model shop, he would say hello to everyone, no matter who they were. The janitor, the office staff, he personally went up to them and said hello. He treated everyone equally. You had to love him—his heart was so open. Anyone who had a negative thing to say about him was saying it out of sheer jealousy.
I used to give slideshows at Walt Disney Imagineering about what it was like to work with Walt. I have all of these slideshows tucked away, and they’re all about Walt. I want everyone to know how lovely Walt Disney was.
PTM: Can you tell me more about your time in Animation at Disney—was there a particular film that stood out to you?
Rolly: Everything I did, I loved. When people ask me what my favorite project was, I say I can’t choose.
When I was doing 101 Dalmatians, the head animator came to me one day and said, “there’s a sequence where all the puppies are watching television. We’ve got that animated, but we haven’t put the spots on the puppies. We need you to do it!”
I probably worked on that scene for two or three months. It was a delight, and as crazy as it was, I loved it. When I got the puppies they were all named, and one of the little puppies was named Lucky, so I decided to put a horseshoe of spots on his back!
PTM: You’ve compared Disneyland to ‘a salad’, and emphasized how unique the original park is. Can you tell me more about that?
Rolly: I’ve always said Disneyland was like a salad, and the other Disney parks are just lettuce and tomatoes. There was something about the original park that was special. The ‘croutons’ are what made it what it was. The details. I’m worried Disneyland is becoming like the rest. I don’t want to see lettuce and tomatoes. Disneyland needs the croutons again.
PTM: You created my favorite ride of all time, The Haunted Mansion. What’s your favorite illusion in the ride?
Pepper’s Ghost—the ghosts you see in the ballroom. It’s an old illusion. When we found it, we put it together and we used it throughout the ride. It’s a reflection illusion that Yale [Gracey] took to the next level. I had a great time working on that!
Walt and I always wanted it to be a scary ride, but management wanted it to be more fun. Walt said, “people love to be scared!” He liked the scary. He understood people.
PTM: You created the first stretching portraits to be used in The Haunted Mansion, but they never made it into the ride. What were they like?
Rolly: Walt had passed before The Haunted Mansion opened, and they took it away from me. When you have upper management, and Walt’s not there, you just have to go with what they say. Marc Davis’ portraits were far more illustrative. They were better. Mine were more like sketches. I didn’t get a chance to get too far with them.
I didn’t mind because I really admired Marc Davis and I thought he would be the best man to do it. But, I was the one to get the stretching portraits started. I wish I still had them. There was so much work, so many sketches, that just ended up in the trash. We created so much.
PTM: You have a reputation for being a rebel. There’s a story about you driving a red Porsche around Disneyland at night—is there any truth to this?
Rolly: Oh yeah, I’ve done a few things. Luckily, I haven’t been caught on all of them! I love being thought of as a rebel. I mean, Walt’s early business was rebellious. The things that the early animators did were crazy and wild! I always thought it was important to keep the ‘crazy and wild’ inside of you at all times—that’s where the life is.
Rolly Crump says everything he created, he loved. Chances are you love it too! The next time you visit Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, look for the window pictured at the start of this interview; it honors the Imagineer who brought his weird and whimsical brilliance to everything he touched.
If you’d like to learn more about his life, we recommend his book, It’s Kind of a Cute Story!
Be sure to follow Perfecting the Magic on socials for everything Disney, and tag us under your favorite iconic Rolly Crump creation ASAP!