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 Tiki Room... Restaurant?

It's hard to imagine, but the original plan for Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room was to make it a restaurant with birds singing above as you ate below. Rolly Crump knows why that didn't happen, and he remembers Walt's initial impression of those birds, too.

Most people, when they sit down for the show at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland, don't realize that if things had worked out differently, they'd be sitting there not for a show but for a snack.

Walt Wants a Tiki Room

Walt's original plan for the Tiki Room was to make it a restaurant.

I remember sitting with him and some others in a little room one day, tossing ideas back and forth, which was how many of the Disneyland attractions got their start. It's wonderful to be able to trace back a popular attraction to its origin as somebody's brilliant idea spoken aloud, then taken up by others, and then finally accepted by Walt Disney himself.

In the case of the Tiki Room, however, the idea started with Walt. We were sitting in one of those little rooms and Walt told us:

"We're making some changes to Adventureland, and I think I'd like to put a Tiki Room there, just a little Tiki, Tiki Room."

"Sure, Walt", we all said, "that sounds just fine."

"And I want it to be a restaurant."

We assured Walt that a restaurant would be just fine, too.

Walt Wants No Stuffed Birds

John Hench, who wore many hats as artist, animator, imagineer, and eventually Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering, went to work on an initial sketch of the Tiki Room. His rendition was exquisite, but it included birds in cages above the tables.

Walt assumed the birds were real.

"You can't put birds in there, John", he said.

John wasn't sure why not, but Walt was emphatic about not having birds in the Tiki Room.

Finally, Walt came out with it: "The birds will poop in the food." (Except he didn't say 'poop'.)

John explained: "They're not real birds, Walt. They're stuffed birds."

To Walt, that was almost as bad as 'poop' in the food. "We don't stuff birds here."

"They only look stuffed," John told him. They're mechanical. And they cheep."

Walt liked the notion of cheeping birds.

"Maybe", he said, "they can move a little. And sing."

And that's how the Tiki room began: as a restaurant with birds that looked stuffed but were actually mechanical and could cheep.

Walt Wants the Show to Go On

Of course, the Tiki Room isn't a restaurant, and it never was a restaurant.

It did come close. We bought tables and chairs. And we worked on a knock-out show with the mechanical birds, complete with cheeping, narration, singing, and music. Walt loved the show! He knew that everyone who came to eat in the Tiki Room would love the show.

That was the problem. People would come in for a meal, eat it, but then not want to leave because they loved the show and wanted to keep watching it.

A restaurant with people reluctant to leave wouldn't be very profitable.

Walt decided to keep the show and turn the Tiki Room into an attraction. When it first opened, people sat on the same chairs to watch the show that they would have used to eat their meals. Eventually, though, the chairs were replaced with long benches, the better to accommodate larger numbers of people, and rumors of the restaurant slowly died.

But now YOU know 'the truth of the matter'...

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.


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