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 2

Last week, Rolly told us how Walt came up with the idea for a 'little boat ride', which later became It's a Small World, and now Rolly is busy creating some of the toys for that ride when Walt surprises him with a birthday present from Europe.

Walt had just returned from a trip to Europe when he walked in the office and handed me a box. "Happy birthday, Rolly," he said.

It wasn't my birthday, but I took the box and said thank you.

Inside the box I found a beautiful toy: a little character on a bicycle with a length of wire. I put the bicycle on the wire and it would ride back and forth, back and forth.

After Walt had left, Jack Fergus (one of the Imagineers working with me on It's a Small World) said to me: "You know, Rolly, now you're going to have to change your birthday."

But I wasn't thinking about that; I was thinking about the toy, and how maybe it would make a nice addition to Small World.

So, with Yale Gracey, I built a bigger version of the toy, with two guys on a bicycle riding across an overhead wire. We had it on pulleys, and Yale put a bucket of sand at one end to keep the wire taut. Lifting the bucket gave the wire some slack, and the bicycle would then start following the track across the wire.

When Walt came over, I told him, "We took that little birthday gift you gave me and made a bigger one."

"Oh, good," he said, "let me see it."

While we were showing it to him, Walt grabbed the bucket and started pulling it up and down, up and down, trying to get the bicycle to fly off the wire.

"Walt," I yelled, "what are you doing?"

Walt had a good reason: "I want to make sure the bicycle won't come off the wire and hit someone on the head when it goes over the top of them."

I built that toy back in the 1960s and it's still running today at Small World in Disneyland. Every time I'm there I see those little guys on the bicycle, and I remember this story.

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.