About the Column

The best way to learn Disney history is to get it from the people who helped make it. Rolly Crump made a lot of Disney history.

Rolly was hired by Walt Disney Studios in 1952 to work as an artist and animator on such classic movies as Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmations. In 1959, Rolly joined WED ('Walter Elias Disney'), the original name for Walt Disney Imagineering. At WED, Rolly became one of the chief designers for such classic attractions as Haunted Mansion, Enchanted Tiki Room, and It's a Small World.

Rolly worked closely with Walt Disney for many years. The friendship between the two men and Rolly's long tenure with the company puts him in an increasingly rare position: he can relate important episodes of early Disney history first-hand, and he can do so without notes or sources because he experienced it himself.

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FROM: The Truth of the Matter Is Published Mondays

Rolly Crump's Babes (in Toyland)

When you talk about babes, it's inevitable that at some point the name 'Rolly Crump' will arise, especially when those babes happen to be from toyland. One of Rolly's first assignments at WED was set design for the film, Babes in Toyland.

One of my first assignments for WED began with a phone call from Walt.

"Rolly, come up to my office. I want to talk to you about something."

So up I went: it was my first time in Walt's office, and my last time, too. Walt usually met with us on the job or in meetings; and so I knew it had to be something special for him to ask me up to his office.

Jack Donahue, the director of the upcoming Disney film Babes in Toyland, was in the office, and Walt introduced us. Jack wanted someone to design a set based on the nursery rhyme, "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary".

"I've got just the guy," Walt said. "Rolly Crump."

Jack agreed, and Walt told me to get started.

In the nursery rhyme, I knew there were silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row. I'd have to design all of those elements, and more besides.

So I went to see Fred Joerger in the Model Shop. I told him about my project, and he said: "Well, Rolly, you're not only going to have to design all those things, you're going to have to build them, too. We don't have anyone available to help you right now."

I got to work designing and building. I made little bushes and put little flowers in the hands of the pretty maidens: the flowers looked something like propellors, which I had a track record for building. With Babes, I was taking my propellors to the next level!

But there was a problem. I wasn't in the union, and union rules at the time required that everyone who worked in the shops must belong to the union. They told me to be careful, because if any union reps saw me building sets or props, there'd be trouble.

I faced the same situation in the paint shop. One day, the head of the paint shop rushed over and knocked the brush out of my hand. I looked at him, surprised, and he told me that a union rep was walking around the shop. I had to stand there doing nothing until he left.

Everybody covered for me because Walt had given me the assignment. If Walt wanted to do something, and he picked someone to do it, he didn't worry about unions or any other regulations. He just wanted the work to get done.

As part of the project, I met Emile Kuri, an Academy Award-winning set director who Walt had hired in 1952. (One of his Oscars was for the set design of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.) Emile liked what I was doing so much that he asked me to design all the street lamps for Babes, and then the patterns for the building interiors.

If you'd like to hear a few stories directly from Rolly himself, buy 'A Walk in the Park with Rolly Crump', an hour-long audio tour available from Kenbow Communications in which Rolly takes you for a stroll down Disneyland's Main Street through the areas of the park that he had a hand in creating. It's the best $4.95 you'll ever spend.

You can also hear on iTunes Rolly's interview with DisneyDispatch columnist Jeff Heimbuch on iTunes for free (or download it if you don't have iTunes), and you can read an excerpt of it in a recent installment of Jeff's column, From the Mouth of the Mouse.