If you’ve visited Disneyland in the last 57 years, then you have been touched, and very likely moved, by the artistic genius of Roland Fargo (Rolly) Crump. He first worked for Disney as an animator on Peter Pan in 1952, before moving to WED to join the Disneyland Imagineering team in 1959. Rolly is responsible for many elements of the Enchanted Tiki Room, It’s A Small World, The Haunted Mansion, much of the look of the Adventureland Bazaar, and elements of Tomorrowland, to name just a few of his contributions. He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2004

Walt and Rolly at the 1964-65 World's Fair
Walt and Rolly at the 1964-65 World’s Fair, birthplace of It’s A Small World.

The early Imagineering staff on Walt’s nascent Disneyland project were on uncharted ground in creating their entirely new art form. There was no yardstick with which to measure the success of their progress before an attraction opened. One couldn’t look at the Enchanted Tiki Room and say, “That’s a really good Enchanted Tiki Room show compared to all the others I’ve seen.”

The Haunted Mansion is replete with effects and elements designed by Rolly
The Haunted Mansion is replete with effects and elements designed by Rolly.

This held true throughout the early years of the park. Men and women of great artistic skill were called upon (perhaps “directed” would be a better term, since so much of the park’s charm is cinematic in nature) to make real the ideas of Walt Disney. Even in this most unique of workplaces, it’s very likely that many of those involved saw their day-to-day efforts as “just a job.” A great job, a fun job, to be sure, but a job just the same. Here lies fertile ground for the sprouting of the “impostor syndrome.”

The famously creepy wallpaper in the Corridor Of Doors is Rolly's work.
The famously creepy wallpaper in the Corridor Of Doors is Rolly’s work.

There can be no doubt that the experience of being human is vastly improved by the existence of great works of art. Art that transcends the ordinary and rises to the status of cultural icon isn’t common. While it’s difficult to believe that the artists creating great art didn’t know they were doing it at the time, that’s usually the case. Most artists are just doing what they love, or are moved to do, or sometimes just what they’re told to do. Many might even consider their work “just a job” with the end goal of paying the bills with a skill they happen to possess.

We can thank Rolly for the emaciated arms holding the torches that date from the earliest design work on the Mansion.
We can thank Rolly for the emaciated arms holding the torches that date from the earliest design work on the Mansion.

Vincent van Gogh’s painting “The Starry Night” is one of the most recognized paintings in the world, and is seen by over three million visitors a year in New York’s Museum Of Modern Art. When Van Gogh created it, he was probably just hoping to get enough money to pay for a trip to the tavern. Most of the great literary works of Franz Kafka were never meant to be seen by anyone. It’s only because his executor Max Brod disobeyed Kafka’s dying wish to have all his works destroyed, that we are able to enjoy them today.

Without Rolly, we wouldn't have the beautiful and kinetic facade of It's A Small World. He's almost completely responsible for it's final form.
Without Rolly, we wouldn’t have the beautiful and kinetic facade of It’s A Small World. He’s almost completely responsible for its final form.

Great artistic achievement is often not recognized before the artist passes away. When it is recognized during their lifetime, the artist is frequently unwilling to accept the assessment of their work as accurate. This is the impostor syndrome. It manifests itself in those that achieve greatness as a feeling of being somehow unworthy of the accolades they receive. They feel instead that their success was just luck, or perhaps good timing, and that they’ll one day be exposed as frauds. Even decades worth of external evidence won’t convince them otherwise.

Mary Blair may have designed the dolls, but the incredible toys populating It's A Small World were Rolly's project.
Mary Blair may have designed the dolls, but the incredible toys populating It’s A Small World were Rolly’s project.

It was through a stroke of great good fortune that we learned that Rolly Crump was to be a guest speaker aboard a cruise ship that my Mom was travelling on back in 2012. When I heard that she was going to have the opportunity to meet a man I considered to have God-like stature in the Disney fan world, I begged her to make a point of seeing his lecture. Even more, I dared to hope that she might be able to obtain an autograph. An excerpt of my actual email to her follows:

OH MY GOD!!!! Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, get me Rolly Crump’s autograph, and be sure to get a picture of him or with him. He’s a Disneyland Imagineering GOD. I will frame his autograph and hang it on the wall of my office beside my print of Walt.

Well, you get the idea…

The exotic look of the Adventureland Bazaar was designed and built by Rolly. He used some materials rescued from the "bone yard" storage area of disused items. These turned posts were originally part of teh Chicken Plantation Restaurant. Rolly put them here himself, and never miss an opportunity to "commune" with them. They were touched by greatness.
The exotic look of the original Adventureland Bazaar was designed and built by Rolly in 1961. He used some materials rescued from the “bone yard” storage area of disused park items. Some of the turned posts back then were originally part of the Chicken Plantation Restaurant. Although the area has seen a re-design, I still hope that at least the “exotic spirit” of Rolly’s inspired art direction lives on in the current shop pictured here.

My Mom not only accomplished her mission, she actually had a drink with Rolly and his companion (now wife) Marie later in the cruise. I was envious to say the least, and asked for every detail of their meeting.

I was fortunate enough to have the time to mail a picture of one of Rolly's "Bazaar" posts to my Mom before her cruise...and he signed it!...(Deep sigh of fan gratitude).
I was fortunate enough to have the time to mail a picture of one of “Rolly’s” posts (sadly, not one of the originals any longer) to my Mom before her cruise…and he signed it!…(Deep sigh of fan gratitude).

Later, I wrote Rolly and Marie to thank them for the autographs and to let them know that Vicky and I were visiting Disneyland soon. We hoped for a chance to meet them, and to our happy amazement, it turned out that our upcoming visit to the park coincided with one of their own in late 2012. We agreed to get together with them, and we were beside ourselves with excitement at the opportunity.

A picture of Rolly Crump that my Mom took during their visit aboard the ship. Thanks Mom...mission accomplished!
A picture of Rolly that my Mom took during their visit aboard the ship. Thanks Mom…mission accomplished!

The day of our trip finally arrived, and while riding in from LAX to Disneyland, we shared a van with a family that was visiting the park for the first time. They had two boys that were perhaps 8 and 10 years old. We told them that they were in for a real treat, because you only get one “first time” at Disneyland, and while every visit is special, that first one holds a unique place in the memory of every fan. I thought of my own first visit, and the indelible stamp it placed upon my psyche.

Rolly's planters and spires atop the Tommorwland Terrace Stage in '67 were mid-century modern design perfection. Sadly they were replaced in later years by a horrific series of travesties...until...
Rolly’s original design of planters and spires atop the Tomorowland Terrace Stage in ’67 were mid-century modern design perfection. Sadly they were replaced in later years by a horrific series of travesties…until…

The next morning, we set out with great anticipation. We arrived at the Grand Californian Hotel and enjoyed the immense honor of meeting Rolly in person…

Finally! In 2006 the world was set right again when Rolly's design was put back where it was meant to be. While admittedly not identical, there can be no question that its heritage is pure Crump magic.
Finally! In 2006 the world was set right again when Rolly’s design was put back where it was meant to be. While admittedly not identical, there can be no question that its heritage is pure Crump magic.

 

Please join us again for Part 2 of the Rolly Crump story HERE.

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Fox Hill is a writer and photographer with a lifelong love of The Happiest Place On Earth. Fox has been visiting Disneyland since the 1960's and despite living far away, he often spends a month out of any given year at the resort. While Fox and his wife Vicky are keen travelers, they share a special love for Disneyland that has only grown through the decades that they have been visiting "The Park" together. A strong desire to know more about the history of Walt Disney's original theme park has only deepened their interest and enjoyment. Fox hopes to share his journey of discovery with you through this column. Fox and Vicky Hill currently live in Western Canada but their hearts never stray far from Snow White's Wishing Well. Fox is the writer of EatingTourists.net - a blog about travel and food.