Thursday, April 18, 2024

Remembering Walt Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump

March 15, 2023 — Disney Legend Rolly Crump, an Imagineer who was instrumental in the design of early Disneyland and Walt Disney World attractions, passed away Sunday in his Carlsbad, California, home. Crump was 93.

Described as a “true original,” Crump brought his artistic talent to a multitude of Disney projects, most famously during his time at Walt Disney Imagineering. He served as a key designer for Disney’s attractions at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, as well as beloved classics like Haunted Mansion and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

Disney Legend Tony Baxter, who worked alongside Crump on EPCOT and other Imagineering projects for Walt Disney World Resort, said, “Rolly was always able to see a different way of doing things. I think that fascinated Walt Disney, who was always looking for innovations. When Rolly was right with his innovative approaches, they often turned out to be among the most memorable aspects of Disney Parks. Another thing that distinguished Rolly was his total enjoyment of creative work, and being around other creative people at Imagineering.”

Kim Irvine, Executive Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering, added, “Rolly was a quintessential element of my, and many others’, mentorship at Imagineering. Of all the original art directors of the 1970s, Crump was the ‘fun guy.’”

Born Roland Fargo Crump on February 27, 1930, in Alhambra, California, Crump always had his eye on The Walt Disney Company. First, Crump took a pay cut as a “dipper” in a ceramic factory to join The Walt Disney Studios in 1952—then, he started building sewer manholes on weekends so he could pay his bills and continue working at Disney. His early work at Disney Animation included serving as an in-between artist and (later) assistant animator, contributing to Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and others.

In 1959, he joined show design at WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, or WDI) and became a key designer from some of Disneyland’s most iconic attractions and shops, including the Haunted MansionWalt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and Adventureland Bazaar. While helping design “it’s a small world, he created the famed Tower of the Four Winds marquee. He continued to design striking entrances for “it’s a small world” when the attraction moved to Disneyland in 1966; the larger-than-life animated clock at its entrance, which sends puppet children on parade with each quarter-hour gong, is straight from Crump’s imagination.

Still from 1965’s “Disneyland 10th Anniversary Show,” with Rolly Crump, Disneyland Ambassador Julie Reems and Walt Disney. Crump is showing designs for his “Museum of the Weird,” a companion attraction to The Haunted Mansion.

His unique nickname of “Rolly” was born during his time with Disney. Crump recalled Walt’s struggle to recall his real name: “I started off as Roland, then I was ‘Owen’ for a while, and then I became ‘Orland,’ but of course, I would answer to anything he called me,” he remembered, laughing. “But the crowning glory was when he called me ‘what’s his name.’” Eventually, Walt landed on “Rolly” as a nickname, and so Rolly he remained.

His peers at Imagineering considered him an accomplished collaborator—a skill that his son, Chris Crump, took note of as he followed in his father’s footsteps to join WDI. As Chris explained, “What I observed was that Rolly had really great relationships with the people that he worked with. It is important to know the skills of your co-workers, and to trust and respect them. I watched Rolly interact with his peers and was impressed with how well-respected he was.”

As the world of Disney Parks expanded, so did Crump’s creations. Besides working on the initial designs for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, he contributed to EPCOT Center (later known as EPCOT) after a brief period away from the company. Crump served as project designer for The Land pavilion and developed concepts for the Wonders of Life pavilion, later redesigning and refurbishing The Land and Innoventions.

“In the 1980s, as WED [now Walt Disney Imagineering] was seriously concentrating on other projects around the world, [Imagineering leaders] Marty Sklar and John Hench asked Rolly to develop a team that would stay focused on Disneyland,” Irvine recalled. “Three colleagues and I would drive down to Disneyland at least two times a week and walk the park with Rolly. It was such a wonderful experience, as he knew the backstories of so many elements of Disneyland. Today, our team is 45 cast members strong and still providing the new designs and direction for the Disneyland Resort!”

Crump participated in master planning for an expansion of Disneyland until 1981, when he again left Disney to design for other companies—and to launch his own firm, the Mariposa Design Group, developing an array of themed projects around the world, including an international celebration for the country of Oman.

Crump “retired” from The Walt Disney Company in 1996, but continued to work on a number of creative projects. He published an autobiography, It’s Kind of a Cute Story, in 2012.

Crump’s career has served as an inspiration for many future artists and Imagineers—including Disney Legend Marty Sklar. “Rolly’s very personal, sometimes outrageous art and design style continue to flow,” Sklar once said, “and the many collectors of his art, including me, continue to be inspired by his talent and his sense of humor.”

“This Earth is sorry to lose him,” Irvine said. “But I can only imagine the party that all the original Imagineers that have gone on before him are having in the Great Hereafter. Rolly’s back in town!”

Crump, who was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2004, is survived by his wife, Marie Tocci; his children Christopher, Roxana, Theresa; and three grandchildren.

2004 Disney Legends ceremony. (L to R) Karen Dotrice (“Mary Poppins”), Rolly Crump, Imagineer Bob Gurr

Images and text courtesy The Walt Disney Company

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