Rolly Crump joined the animation department of the Walt Disney Studios in 1952. He was hired as an in-between artist and rose to the role of assistant to work on Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, among other Disney films.
Walt Disney noticed Crump’s work when the artist had a show featuring mobiles and propeller sculptures in the library of the studio. Within a year Disney moved Crump to the design department of Disneyland, where he became an Imagineer. Director Sarah Colt sat down with Crump in his living room to interview him on-camera for Walt Disney.
Sarah Colt: Do you think that Walt Disney was good at spotting talent?
Rolly Crump: He was the best casting director that ever lived. He knew exactly who to put on what. And he had some very unusual theories. A good example was he’d always have two guys working on a story that were in conflict with each other. He always felt he’d get a better end product if you had two of ‘em kind of arguing about stuff rather than both of ‘em agreeing on everything. He felt that it would boil the end product to a better surface.
Sarah Colt: What do you think Walt Disney remembered about your exhibit?
Rolly Crump: I think he loved the feeling of all these little things animating and then looking at them and seeing each one was different, each one had a lot of imagination in it. So I think it really intrigued the hell out of him… [At WED, where the designers for Disneyland worked] they were called “Imagineers.” So he was looking for people that had imagination and I think that’s the one thing I had to offer. I wasn’t that good of an artist but my imagination of doing kind of these strange little things, [CHUCKLES] [was what Walt wanted.]
Sarah Colt: Tell me about creating Disneyland's Haunted Mansion?
Rolly Crump: I was assigned to work with Yale Gracey on coming up with ideas for the Haunted Mansion. Once I started getting involved with the mansion I realized it was corny. And I just felt that we should get to the next level and really scare people. And Walt even said people like to be scared, you know. Snow White was the scariest ride going. When the kids were little, my daughter would go on Snow White, put her hands over her eyes, and go through the whole ride and not even look at it, she was so scared in that little tiny ride. So he knew that there was something there.
So, I always felt that there should be some real surrealistic pieces in the mansion. So I started doing these weird drawings and -- they could be statuary, or they could be part of the architecture, they could be part of the fireplace, or they could be part of a column. And so I did all these sketches, and all of us that worked on the mansion were to present this to Walt -- our ideas. And Dick Irvine that I worked for, he and I didn’t get along too well [chuckles]. And so all the stuff I had that I had done, he put in the corner.
And so when Walt came in, he came in the doorway this way looking at the three walls of the presentation, and my stuff was way around in the corner. And, so, he came in and sat down, and we had about a three hour or four hour work session. And finally Walt said to Dick Irvine, he says, "Is that it?" And Dick says, "Yeah. That’s it." And he said, "Well, what’s this stuff in the corner?" You know, he, you never got anything by him. And he said, "Well, that’s something Rolly did.” And he says, "Well, what did Rolly do?" He says, "We don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?" So Walt said, "Rolly, what did you do?" And I said, "I don't know." He said, "Let’s talk about it."
So we both took our chairs, they had wheels, and we wheeled ourselves over to it, and I started taking him through all this stuff. And he kept saying, “Well, how are you gonna use that?” And I said, “I don't know.” He said, “Well then why did you do it?” And I said, “I felt we needed more imagination in the mansion.” And then I took him through the different movies that I had seen, and how I was impressed with those and felt that some of that feeling should be in the mansion.
So we went back and forth with it for quite a few, I don't know, maybe five or 10 minutes, with me always saying, “I don't know, Walt.” So he said, “That’s it. I’m out of here.” And he got up and he left.
Well, the next morning I came to work at seven o'clock in the morning. He’s sitting in my chair at my desk. And I came in and I said, "Oh." And he was still dressed in the same clothes that he had on when he left and he said, "You son of a bitch." And I said, "Ooh." He said, "No, no, no." He said, "I just want you to know I didn’t sleep last night. All that crazy stuff you showed me, I couldn’t sleep." So he said, "I laid there and thought about it and thought about it." And he says, "Now I've got it figured out." And he said, "I know what we’ll do with it." And I said, "Oh, okay. [chuckles] What are we gonna do with it?" He said, "We're gonna make a museum and we’re gonna call it The Museum Of The Weird and Rolly," he says, "you can build any of the weird stuff that you want, as far as you wanna go, and we'll put it in the museum.
And when people leave the Haunted Mansion after they’ve gone through the mansion they can go through the Museum Of The Weird." And I said, "Wow. That’s, that’s kind of neat."
See, and that’s him taking it to the next four or five levels. So then he had all the guys come back into the model shop where I was and then he gave ‘em a half hour presentation on the Museum Of The Weird and they all said, "Oh, God. That’s great, Walt," you know. I mean he, he knew exactly what to do with a little, tiny idea. He would explode it story wise into something bigger than life.