Fox Hill brings us Part 2 of his Rolly Crump story. If you missed Part 1, please click HERE to catch up before reading Part 2.
Vicky and I met Rolly and Marie near the big fireplace in the Grand Californian Hotel, and we all went to take seats in the morning quiet of the Hearthstone Lounge. There we had the indescribable pleasure of being regaled for nearly two hours with Rolly’s experiences during the early years of Disneyland. We were in Disneyland fan heaven! We even heard Rolly tell stories of his own experiences with Walt, finally giving us a claim to that “two degrees of separation” from Walt that is the best we can hope for now.
I’m sure that everybody that meets an Imagineer or Disney Legend loves to repeat the stories they heard, and I’m tempted to myself…what? You insist? OK, but just one. Rolly told us that he was once in a meeting with Walt and other staff from the park. The director of merchandise was pushing the idea of putting T-shirt shops all over the park. Walt didn’t like the idea and told him so, but he pushed again. Again he was rebuffed, before pressing Walt yet again, and in so doing making the mistake of going for a “third strike.” Walt fixed his gaze on the man, and using his last name for emphasis (first names were the rule) said, “Mr. Becker…the tail does not wag the dog.” The discussion was over. Instead of repeating more of Rolly’s wonderful tales here, I’m going to suggest that you all purchase a copy of his excellent book, “It’s Kind Of A Cute Story.” It covers not only Rolly’s achievements inside the berm, but also a lifetime of great art outside of Disneyland. You won’t regret it.
As a case study of Rolly’s artistic genius, I’m going to call upon the Tiki “drummers” that appear along the upper walls in the latter part of every Enchanted Tiki Room performance. The red eyes of the drummers flash in a way that grabs the viewers attention. These flashing eyes bestow a kind of life that allows the drummers to rise above being just another Audio-Animatronic figure in the room. There are plenty of clever tricks in the Tiki Room that give a special life to the characters, but the red glint and sparkle in the eyes of the drummers are a work of true artistic genius. It was Rolly that thought to place a tiny bit of reflective material in the eye of each drummer. He did it in such a way that the movement and vibration of the figure would make the material jiggle, so that it sparkled and glinted, making it impossible to miss. I clearly remember the flashing red eyes of the drummers from my own first visit to the Tiki Room in 1968. In fact this, along with my child-like surprise when I left the attraction and saw that there had NOT actually been a sudden thunderstorm during the show, were the two things that made the strongest impression on me at the time.
At the time, I suspect that Rolly probably thought he was just doing his job, even if the flashing red eyes were a mark of going the extra mile for Walt’s show. But it’s more than that; it’s artistic genius. It’s likely that more people have seen Rolly’s clever flashing drummer’s eyes, than have seen the original of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” or read the works of Kafka. And it’s not just those brilliant eyes, but also the Tiki Gods in the pre-show lanai, and the fanciful “birdmobile” (that is so indelibly stamped with the “Crump style”) that make the arguably bizarre Enchanted Tiki Room show such a timeless and popular hit. While part of a collective effort, Rolly’s contributions mark him as a truly great artist.
When Rolly was to be inducted as a Disney Legend in 2004, he really didn’t feel inclined to attend the ceremony. He felt, like many great artists, that his work was not deserving of the recognition it was receiving. After all, it was “just a job.” During our meeting with Rolly, this issue was the subject of some discussion. I had seen this reaction before while diving on the coral reefs of Cozumel, Mexico.
Our dive-master also had the seemingly lopsided relationship with his clients that Rolly had with his audience of Disneyland guests. Every day, our dive-master went down to the port and met that day’s boatload of vacationing divers. To him, it was just another day on the job, but to his customers, he was shaping the best day they had seen in a year, and were likely to see for another year. What to him was a workaday grind, was to his customers the most amazing, beautiful, and life changing of experiences. This disparity is the result of differing perspectives, and I dare say that the skewed perspective was that of my dive-master. Familiarity had to some degree robbed him of the ability to recognize the importance of his role in the lives of his own “guests.” This situation is humorously referenced by some skippers on the “Jungle Cruise” when they make the following joke after pointing out something of interest; “I bet you folks don’t see that every day…well I do…day in and day out…sigh.”
But it’s no joke. Despite the huge number of repeat visitors in Disneyland on any given day, there are sure to be some first timers. The two little boys that were in the van with us from LAX, had never seen “the back side of water,” or more importantly, had never been enchanted by Rolly’s drummers and their mesmerizing, flashing red eyes. The curator or security guard in New York’s Museum Of Modern Art might be jaded about Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” but that takes nothing from the genius of the artist that painted it. Van Gogh deserves the accolades. It wasn’t luck, or good timing, or poor judgment on the part of his audience that earned him the title of “Master.” It’s a shame that he never got to bask in those accolades. That’s what makes the impostor syndrome so sad. Those that feel they are somehow undeserving of their reputations are missing an opportunity to enjoy the recognition for their work that Vincent would have been very happy to have in life. An artist that lives to see such recognition is fortunate indeed.
My visit with Rolly was probably the pinnacle of my search for knowledge of — and connection to — the history of Disneyland, Walt’s greatest achievement. Artists like Rolly have enriched my life beyond measure, and there I was with an opportunity to pay something back. Rolly told Vicky and me that he had almost blown off the invitation to the event at which he would be named a Disney Legend. It was then I knew that I was hearing from a man that might still not accept the widely held belief that he is a genius artist of the highest caliber. So I told him the story about my dive-master, and explained the notion of the impostor syndrome. Then I told him about the two little boys that were going to see his Tiki Gods come to life in the lanai of the Tiki Room, and then see those enchanting, flashing eyes of the drummers…for the very first time. Then they would leave Disneyland, having been forever changed by the experience and their exposure to Rolly’s work. You only get one first time…
It was never “just a job” at all Rolly. It was an enduring contribution of your genius to the art world. It was indeed the creation of art that has risen, in your lifetime, to the status of cultural icon. From Vicky, and me, and from the half a billion or so people that have seen their lives enriched by your work…thank you.
When we got home from our trip, I wrote Marie to thank her and Rolly again for the opportunity to meet them, and for what was likely the greatest “Disney Day” of our lives. She wrote back, and said that, “…as much as Rolly may have made your day, I know you made his as well.”
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