April 20, 2018

A Theme Park Legend Emerges From Behind the Tiki Mask (R.I.P. Rolly Crump)

[Last updated 3/13/21 3:16 PM PT—Rolly Crump passed away on March 12, 2023 at the age of 93.]

As my explorations of Southern California become less superficial, and as I start digging a little deeper into its history and how everything fits together to tell a more complex narrative than what you might find in schoolbook history lessons, I find that talking about intriguing people is as important as those fascinating places I tend to cover.

Certain names keep coming up—Mulholland, Grauman, Doheny, and Disney to name a few.

Those, of course, are the famous guys. But there are some not-so-famous historical figures that have also really shaped the SoCal experience.

And one of them is Rolly Crump.

The story behind this under-appreciated Disney imagineer, for me, goes back to New York City and the 1964/65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where "It's A Small World" made its debut.

In the mid-60s, Walt Disney had already opened and been operating Disneyland in Anaheim, California for a decade. Much of his original innovation was already set in place.

So, the exposition in NYC proved an exciting new playground for Disney and his team—which included Rolly Crump from the beginning.

And perhaps their most famous creation together was, quite simply, a boat ride for children around the world (which is, of course, a world of laughter and a world of tears).

Under the artistic direction of Mary Blair, Rolly built "toys" made out of papier-mâché styrofoam...

...some of which can still be seen on the (somewhat modified) ride that's been installed at Disneyland ever since.

I had no idea that Rolly was the guy behind "It's A Small World"—one of the few relics from the '64/'65 World's Fair that got relocated to California—until an exhibit of his work was recently on display at the Oceanside Museum of Art.

It turns out that that exhibit in North San Diego County was just a precursor to the main event: an auction of Rolly's personal effects, including his own scale models of "It's A Small World," that will take place in one week's time.

Of course, Rolly was also involved in a number of other attractions throughout the 1960s, too...

...not the least of which is the Enchanted Tiki Room.

It's a throwback to 1963—predating the World's Fair in New York—that's incredibly still open and popular in the Adventureland section of Disneyland. The singing birds that star in the show weren't Rolly Crump's creation, though.

He was the man behind the carved totems, masks, and tiki gods that adorn both the interior and exterior of the attraction (some of which actually join in on the action with drumming and chanting).

And although he reportedly researched Tahitian culture extensively in order to execute an authentic "South Seas" feel, perhaps he didn't need to be quite so thorough, since not all of his creations actually made it into the park attraction (including a hand-sculpted, hand-painted fountain shield, now up for auction).

Rolly's designs for the Enchanted Tiki Room came to life in other ways, though...

...including in the designs of host and hostess uniforms (a.k.a. "cast member clothing").

Some of the textile items up for bid are contemporary reproductions of vintage pieces, while others are authentic vintage pieces actually worn by tiki room staff in the 1960s...

...and include their original Walt Disney Productions fabric design labels, sewn right into the tiki-shield-patterned fabric.

Lots of the items included in the auction arose out of various anniversary celebrations of the tiki room, like a ceramic tiki mug modeled after Rolly Crump's original design for Pele...

...and a limited edition ceramic "drink bowl" featuring Rolly's original design for Rongo, god of agriculture.

I'm glad to see Rolly Crump getting some of the attention he deserves, though it always makes me kind of sad when personal stuff like this gets auctioned off to private collectors rather than being made available for the public to see through some cultural institution. But then again, Disney has always been about moving onto the next thing, rather than wallowing in the past.

But I'm grateful to get to know the man behind the tiki mask a little better and to appreciate the process behind the creation of two of the attractions I've enjoyed very much while at Disneyland.

And if it weren't for the animatronic advancements that were created for the Enchanted Tiki Room (replacing the original concept of having live birds in cages), other beloved rides and attractions (like The Haunted Mansion) might never have come to be.

The auction takes place on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 11 a.m. PT at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles and online. For the next week, the items will be exhibited at the gallery for the public to see, with no obligation to bid or buy.

Related Posts:
This 40 Year-Old Princess Has Found Her Kingdom
Photo Essay: Making Magic Monsters That Move at a Robot Factory
Photo Essay: California's Last Location of Don the Beachcomber, On Perhaps Its Last Day (Updated)
Photo Essay: Lighting the World, One Window at a Time

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