One of my favorite Imagineers is Rolly Crump, who worked on classics like the Enchanted Tiki Room, It’s a Small World, and early designs for The Haunted Mansion. But that description only scratches the surface of Crump’s lengthy career. A perfect starting point is his 2012 autobiography It’s Kind of a Cute Story, which he co-wrote with Jeff Heimbuch. It’s a warm, honest story of Crump’s life with gorgeous images to support his words. It’s a detailed book, yet even that title wasn’t enough to include many of Crump’s best stories.
Beginning in 2013, Crump and Heimbuch released short audiobooks that expanded the story. Titled as More Cute Stories, the series has now expanded to six volumes. I’ve spent the past week listening to each one, and Crump has been a welcome companion to my daily commute. Now well into his 80s, the former Imagineer clearly recalls his many years working at Disney. For this article, I’ve offered my thoughts on the first three volumes and will discuss the others next week. If you’re a fan of Disney history, I highly recommend checking out this entire series.
Vol. 1: Disneyland History
Although he covers some familiar material, Crump has so much to say about Disneyland and its early days. His connection to Walt’s efforts makes this an easy sell, even if you’re less obsessed with Disney history. The opening track “The Beginning” is a cool primer into the origins of the park and WED. Hearing the story directly from Crump’s voice is quite different than reading it. His insights into the work of other early designers like Ken Anderson and Bob Gurr are rare. Crump could easily record more volumes just on Disneyland; this one barely scratches the surface.
Crump doesn’t assume we know the basic Disneyland lingo, which helps to make this series for more than the experts. He takes the time to explain concepts like weenies that were important to the park’s success. It might seem too basic to some but still has enough to make it worth your time. There are plenty of secrets or lesser-known stories within the mix. A paint shop once existed in It’s a Small World, which is hard to comprehend. Some of the street lamps in the Town Square even came from an old boneyard, including the flagpole.
It’s the personal anecdotes that make this volume about more than history. Crump has so many stories about the people that worked in the park, including sponsors and lessees at the shops. There’s also a fun mention of an original way that Crump was paid for some sculpture work. Instead of a normal check, he walked out with a 400-pound park bench. It was a different era than the corporate world of today, and Crump embodies that initial time for Disneyland.
Vol. 2: Animators and Imagineers
This second volume dives further into the people that helped create Disneyland and Disney’s films. It’s a cool introduction to names that will be familiar to some and new to others. Ward Kimball and Yale Gracey are well-known, but others like Wathel Rogers and Walt Peregoy aren’t as recognizable. The group includes more from the latter category. Crump’s warm approach makes it easy to digest, though it’s not low-hanging fruit like Disneyland.
The segments are short and mostly just quick stories from Crump’s experiences with the artists. They paint a clear picture of the atmosphere at Disney in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Crump was younger than most and explains how this group helped him to get more involved. Crump’s propeller work with Rogers is what attracted Walt’s eye initially. It’s amazing to note that Crump actually needed to get an extra job in masonry to pay the bills. He even did some work on Peregoy’s yard using the new skills. Disney was hardly a lucrative gig at the time for a junior artist.
I didn’t find this volume as engaging as Volume 1, but it’s hard to compete with Disneyland. The stories weren’t dull but didn’t include as many surprising tidbits about the company. Some are just fun moments for Crump involving the figures listed on each track. We do learn about Crump’s less family-friendly work, including erotic art and even a piece called “Heroin Airlines”. Disney has a squeaky-clean image as a company, but artists typically aren’t so conservative. There’s nothing truly scandalous, but this volume is more on the adult side. It is refreshing to have a three-dimensional perspective of Crump beyond his attraction work.
Vol. 3: Museum of the Weird
I can’t learn enough about Crump’s work on the Museum of the Weird, which never came to fruition after Walt’s death. This volume does more than just cover that potential walk-through attraction; Crump describes the framework for how WED functioned in the ‘60s. It’s similar to the Disneyland volume but works even better since the stories are less familiar. Crump is quite candid about politics inside the company and challenges he faced as a younger guy. Dick Irvine was not a fan, and that made it trickier to move Crump’s projects forward.
The effects that Crump describes from the Museum would still be incredible today. The Haunted Mansion reminds us how well the Pepper’s Ghost effects can succeed in the right hands. What’s surprising is that Crump isn’t a big fan of the Mansion. He even believes the famous séance scene with Madam Leota is poorly executed. I suspect this is because Crump’s so close to the material and knows what other ideas were possible. He also wasn’t directly involved in the finished product, and that has to create some resentment towards the attraction.
I also enjoyed hearing Crump describe the experience of presenting his Museum creations on the Disneyland TV series. He explains the fun in working with Walt in the fake model shop built for the show. While it doesn’t surprise me to hear the real place was less comfortable (to say the least), I prefer to maintain the friendly illusion that we saw on TV. It’s too bad that we never saw the Museum in all its glory. Based on Crump’s descriptions in the final chapters, it would have been unlike anything that we currently have in the parks.
Learn more about More Cute Stories at the Bamboo Forest Publishing site.