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

Crump and Gracey Rig the Room

Humor was a big part of Rolly Crump's early years at Disney. He and the other Imagineers were always up for some good-natured fun. One night, however, a gag pulled by Rolly, with help from Yale Gracey, cost them their cleaning services.

When Yale Gracey and I were asked to come up with ideas for the Haunted Mansion, we had the use of a big office in the Animation building. We hung thick drapes over the windows so we could work with our black and incandescent lights, and get busy with the real focus of our task: building ghosts.

We filled the room with skulls, skeletons, monster masks, and all sorts of weird things. My wife made a silk ghost with a scroll cage fan underneath. When we turned on the fan, the ghost would shimmer and shake, and we had sprayed it with black light paint so it would glow in the dark, too.

We also had a huge monster in the room that Yale and I had built from scratch. Its head was attached by a string. When Walt came by to visit, we'd give him an infrared gun and let him shoot the monster. If he hit it just right, the head would pop off and fly around the room on its string.

One day we got a call from Personnel letting us know that the janitors would prefer we leave the lights on when we went home at night. As soon as we heard that, we decided to rig the room. We had low-key lighting in there and an infrared beam: break the beam and the lights would turn off but everything else would turn on, including the shimmering ghost and the monster.

Next morning, as we stepped into the room, Yale and I saw the monster's head hanging on its string and the ghost shimmering. It had been shimmering all night long. We knew because right in the middle of the floor was a broom.

Later on, we got another call from Personnel letting us know that the janitors weren't coming back. The 'punchline' of our joke was that we were now responsible for cleaning our own room!

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.