Roland Crump was always interested in cartoons. “I was always a cartoonist”, said Rolly. “I always, from the very beginning, everything little thing I drew basically was a cartoon, or in the style of a cartoon, because I was influenced by the comic strips. I was also always using a pencil or a pen, so pretty much it was all cartooning. And it always has been, in fact that’s how my final style ended up anyways was poster art”.
Roland, or Rolly as he goes by, started doing animation at the age of 22 for Walt Disney. After seeing a display of colorful propellers designed by Rolly in Disney’s Studio Library, Walt moved him out of animation and into WED, the original Disney Imagineers. It was quite an experience for Rolly and led to him designing both ‘It’s A Small World’ and the ‘Enchanted Tiki Room’. Rolly Crump will be appearing at the Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Saturday, August 16 to tell stories and answer questions about one of the most iconic tributes to Tiki Culture.
Rolly has some great stories to tell. It was quite an experience working on the Tiki Room, the first Audio-Animatronics technology. He took in stride the fact that they were developing an attraction featuring technology that had never been used before. He said, “Well, that was the mode of operation in those days. We were doing things that had never been done before. We didn’t think anything about it if Walt got with us and he wanted us to design something, we just did whatever he asked and did it by the seat of our pants. You know, none of us had done anything like this before, so we kind of just made it up as we went. And it seemed to work out fine! “.
Rolly felt that Walt Disney was a good influence on the creativity of the Tiki room development. Rolly said, “What influenced me was Walt. I mean, the whole thing started with a beautiful rendering of what the inside of a Tahitian little restaurant might look like, and John Hench had drawn some birds up above in some cages. We had a meeting with Walt to take a look. This was only going to be a restaurant, it was never originally designed to be anything more than that. Walt looked at John’s drawings and said, ‘John, we can’t have birds in this restaurant. John said, ‘why not?’ Walt said, because birds will poop in the food!’. That pretty much killed that, except that someone who knew that John had drawn that said ‘No, no, Walt, those aren’t real birds, those are stuffed birds’. Walt said, ‘Disney doesn’t stuff birds, John’. John said, no, no they’re not stuffed birds! They’re little mechanical birds’. And Walt said, ‘Oh, little mechanical birds’, and one of the other fellows looks at me and says, ‘maybe we’ll have one bird chirp to another bird’, and that’s how the whole thing got started!”
As part of his symposium at the Tiki Oasis, Rolly will be answering questions about the Tiki Room and his role in it. He said, “I’m going to be telling behind the scenes stories of how we put the Tiki Room together and how it was all done and the background of it. I think I’m the only one still alive that was there. So they’re kind of interesting stories. I’ve got a thing though, that I’ll answer any questions that people ask, because people think it’s a very fascinating story“.
Rolly also spent time on his own projects during the 50’s and 60’s. Part of this year’s Tiki Oasis will be looking at the Beat Culture and Rolly had a story about that too. “The story I’m going to tell there about the Beatniks is that I was of the right age during the Beatnik period and I actually fell into that little category, because I wore sandals to work, had a little beard and all that good stuff, listened to the jazz and used to smoke a little stuff and so I fit right in. I used to go to all the coffeehouses in LA and the best one of all was ‘The Unicorn’. I used to go down there constantly and I used to sell my marijuana posters there and I got to know the owner pretty well. He asked me to design him a poster for ‘The Unicorn’, which I did. I still have one of those posters!”.
One of the most interesting things that Rolly told me was about when the creative process speaks to you. He said, “One thing I want to tell you that it’s true that when you design something, whether it’s a painting or something, something that you’re involved with, one of the rides or one of the attractions, you reach a point where what you design tells you what to do. In other words, it takes over. For example, when I did the drummers in the Tiki Room, up at the top there, the attraction had opened and I went in there and watched it. I saw the drummers up there beating the drums. They really looked dead. What the drummers were saying was Rolly, do a little something more to make them come to life. So I got those little Sparkletts truck shiny things, and I put it in the eyes of the drummers. So all of a sudden, when the drummers were beating their eyes were flashing. All of a sudden, it really brought them to life. It was kind of interesting, because they told me to do that. I didn’t plan on doing that to begin with. This is the exciting thing, whether it’s a painting or designing something, is when it comes to life and tells you what to do”.
Rolly did his research for the Enchanted Tiki Room by looking at books on art and sculpture. When I asked him if he did his research at some of LA’s tiki bars, he explained, “No, I didn’t do research at Don the Beachcomber, but I heard some great stories that I found out later. But no, I wasn’t involved with going to any of those. My only involvement in research was with books that I’d gotten and had stories about tikis in them. Now, a great story about Don the Beachcomber, there was a fellow that I’d worked in Hawaii with on another project much, much later. He had worked with Don the Beachcomber and had actually sculpted some of the tikis that were in those restaurants”.
The story Rolly told about Don the Beachcomber was this. “The story that he told, which is really beautiful, Don used to fly First Class and in those days you could sleep, they had a little rest area, I think it was on Pan Am, a few places where you could curl up and go to bed. So as soon as Don would get on the airplane, he’d go in, change and put his pajamas on. Well he went in changed and put his pajamas on one time, but there were no beds. The stewardess said, ‘Why are you in your pajamas?’. Don said, ‘Well I’m going to bed’. The stewardess said, ‘we don’t have any beds’. So he kind of got shocked about that. He was quite an interesting man, from what I gather”.
Rolly liked working on creating the different tiki statues that are used in the Enchanted Tiki Room. There was one in particular, that stood out to him. “That’s Maui. The story behind Maui. In Japan, and I was designing all the different tikis after reading about who they were, what they might look like and everything, and I designed Maui, but I didn’t know he was Maui at the time. In Japan, they have where the water will drip into a bamboo tube and when it fills, the back end of it tips and it hits a log to make a sound. In Japan, that keeps the deer and the rabbits out of the gardens. So I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to that idea into one of my tikis”.
Rolly continued, “And the other thing that was interesting is that when I was looking up in the books about Polynesian art, I found this one beautiful little drawing, actually it was a sculpture of a tiki and he had a little weenie laying on top of someone else’s head that was between his legs. And I found out later that was his wife. But anyways, I went ahead and built this little tiki like that and John Hench saw it and said, ‘We can’t put something like that in Disneyland, Rolly!’. And I said, ‘No, no John, I won’t have anything that looks like a weenie, I’ll just have a bamboo tube, so I built the thing and that’s the first piece of sculpture I did for the Tiki Room. But I never gave it a name. Well, Walt asked me, ‘What’s this the god of?’. I didn’t know how to answer him and John Hench says, ‘that’s the god, the tempo god’.That is, he beats the tempo. But Walt misunderstood and said ‘clock?’. So Walt turned to Johnny and said, ‘what clock?’. So Johnny said, it’s the god that tells the time. When the meeting was over, John said, ‘Rolly, you better go find out who the hell the god is that tells the time!’. I did, and it was Maui”.
Roland “Rolly” Crump will be telling stories and answering questions at the Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Saturday, August 16 at 1-2pm. This is an excellent chance to meet the man who designed one of the most notable attractions that brought the Tiki Culture to everyone. After all, who doesn’t know “In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki room”?. Rolly told an interesting tidbit about that song too. He said, “The song was written later. That was Walt, he got us to go ahead and start designing it but the music didn’t come in until later”. Rolly Crump, honored as a Disney Legend in 2004, will be telling these and many other interesting stories and anecdotes about his life, the story of the ‘Enchanted Tiki Room’ and answering questions about the multitude of projects he has worked on. In addition, he will be relating stories from his autobiography, “It’s Kind of a Cute Story.”Not only has Rolly’s life been a cute story, but a highly interesting one too. At the Tiki Oasis 2014, you’ll get a chance to find out why.
‘American Disney Animator’
with Roland Fargo “Rolly” Crump
Saturday, August 16th froom 1 to 2pm
Peacock Room II, Crowne Plaza Hotel, San Diego