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

The Small World Saga: Toys, Part 1

One of the classic attractions for which Rolly Crump did much of the work is It's a Small World at Disneyland. Quite a few others were involved, including Mary Blair, whose 'child-like' style best reflected Walt's vision and which Rolly had to emulate.

One day, Walt called a meeting to talk about a new project.

"I've been thinking about this for quite awhile," he said. "There's still one piece of real estate left at the World's Fair."

He paused, looking at us, and then continued: "I want to use that real estate for a little boat ride."

We weren't sure what he had in mind. "A little boat ride," I thought to myself. "What's he talking about?" All I could think of was the Storybook Land boat ride we already had running at Disneyland.

But Walt's idea was much more ambitious.

After explaining in general terms what he wanted, Walt had Dick Irvine ask Marc Davis to create a rendering of the new ride.

Get Me Mary Blair

A week later, we were together again with Walt, who had the rendering in front of him. Davis had drawn a color illustration of small children dancing and riding a merry-go-round with a big canopy top.

Walt looked up from the drawing and said: "What's Mary Blair doing these days?"

Davis hadn't captured Walt's vision. His rendering didn't have the 'child-look" that Walt wanted.

So Dick Irvine called Mary Blair, who had retired and moved to New York with her husband. Walt hired her to draw some renderings of her own. He wanted her to draw the different parts of the world as seen through the eyes of a child. Her work was very stylized, and when Walt saw her drawings of some of the European countries - France, England, Italy - he knew that he wanted Mary as his set designer.

Meanwhile, Walt asked me to start developing the toys themselves.

In the Workshop with Rolly

Marc Davis had done a whole series of sketches of what we called 'rubberheads' - the little figures that play instruments and dance. It was my responsibility - and that of Jack Fergus, who was working with me - to give these figures a 'toy-like' look.

In fact, there were two types of figures in the ride: the realistic-looking figures, which Blaine Gibson scultped, and the toy-like figures, such as the little wooden soldiers, which Jack and I were building from papier mache.

Jack and I knew that Mary had illustrated a series of Golden Books for children, so we went out and bought a bunch of those books to analyze her style. We wanted to build the toys as if they had been designed by her, and we wanted to remain faithful to her style.

We'll continue next week when Walt brings back a present for Rolly from Europe...

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.