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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Amazing Rolly Crump

1963 construction of Ford Pavilion model for World's Fair--with Rolly Crump (left) and Wathel Rogers (right).

The Amazing Rolly Crump
by Todd James Pierce

The biggest event this week is, of course, Thanksgiving.  But the second biggest—I have to say—is the long awaited release of Rolly Crump’s autobiography, It’s Kind of a Cute Story, as told to Jeff Heimbuch.  Rolly is one of the most entertaining and insightful artists who worked alongside Walt Disney in the 1950s and 1960s.  I’ve had the good fortune to interview Rolly multiple times over the years.  And so, as I pulled together this entry, I found it difficult to select only three of Rolly’s stories for this article.  Maybe this would be the place to start—with Rolly’s description of the old Model Shop in the 1960s.  Was it the intricate models that Rolly best remembers, or the intense deadlines, or the inventive use of materials?  Not at all.  When describing the Model Shop, Rolly starts here:
     “We used to have Yo-Yo contests.  We’d stop during the middle of the day.   Myself and a couple of the other guys, we’d have a Yo-Yo contest to see who the best Yo-Yo guy was.  We also played Frisbee.  We threw Frisbees completely across the Model Shop.  Over models and everything….Then we also did handstand-walking contests.”  According to Rolly, a few members of the Model Shop would try out their gymnastic skills, palming their way from wall to wall over the concrete floor.  But then there was one day that one of the Disney legal team showed up, starched into a white shirt and jacket.  The guys in the Model Shop looked nervously at each other until the lawyer finally said: “Can I join in?” 
     “He takes of his coat,” Rolly remembers, “jumps into a handstand and just took off around the Model Shop and down the hallway.” 
     Only later did Rolly discover that the lawyer had been a gymnast in high school.
     And there was the time that Rolly, upon returning from lunch, rode his motorcycle through the offices of WED, with a secretary on the back of his bike.  “I actually went right through the building with her on the back, took her right to her desk.”  Her desk as it turned out was right next to Dick Irvine’s office—with Dick, of course, being the head honcho who oversaw WED.  With the pipes on Rolly’s ride gravelling inside the building, Irvine opened his door in alarm.  “Oh, it’s just Rolly,” he said, then went back inside.
     But perhaps my favorite Rolly story involves the Ford Magic Skyway for the 1964 World’s Fair.  The main Ford attraction featured animatronic cavemen and dinosaurs—the exact same dinosaurs that are now installed in Primeval World at Disneyland.  The dinosaurs appeared realistic, but the cavemen, with their rounded cheeks and bellies, appeared comic, like the early ancestors of Jack Black.  According to Rolly, WED sculptor Blaine Gibson had chiseled out a cavewoman for the exhibit.  The model was cast into a mold, with the mold producing a fiberglass figure whose form was painted with a neutral skin tone.  When studiohands brought her back to WED, the figure finishers did their job, wigging her up with some hair and cocooning little strips of fake fur around her chest and waist.  But as Rolly stood there, examining the finished cavewoman with Blaine, his friend leaned in and said, “You know, I like the color of her skin.  But I’m not so sure it’s the right value.”
     With this, Blaine pulled out his Poloroid camera, snapping off a few pics, until he realized the woman’s skin tone needed a point of contrast.  “I want to have you stand next to her,” he said to Rolly.  “And get the value of your skin next to her skin.”
    “I’ll do better than that,” Rolly said.  He took off his shirt and cuffed his pants.  He also twisted a little fake fur around his waist to create an impromptu loincloth.  “I held her.  I put my arm here.  My hand there…because she was very well endowed.”  For five or ten minutes, Rolly vogued it up with the mannequin, creating a set of steamy bloid pics that Rolly figured would end up in the back of Blaine’s file. 
    “Well a couple weeks later,” Rolly explains, “Walt was over and talking to Blaine [and myself]” about another subject entirely, when Walt wanted to see some other reference photos that Blaine had taken of figures at WED.  “So [Blaine] started going through the Poloroids when Walt saw the one where Rolly was attacking this cavewoman.  And Walt said, ‘What’s that?’” 
     Blaine paused, looked at Rolly, then slowly closed up the file.  “Well,” he said, “we were just checking skin values.”
     “Let me see those,” Walt insisted.
     Reluctantly, Blaine took out all of the cavewoman shots and laid them on the table.
     A quietness came down around the room, with a weight resting on Rolly. 
     But then Walt simply started to chuckle, eying the photos and then Rolly and Blaine. 
     Once the uncomfortable moment was over, Rolly excused himself and walked out to the soda machine.  Once there—visibly shaken—Rolly found his friend Malcolm Cobb coming over to him.  Rolly explained the story—the cavewoman Poloroids that Walt discovered—and then Malcolm asked, “What did he say?”
     “Well,” Rolly concluded, “he laughed.”
      But just as Rolly finished his story he turned, only to find that a few feet away was Walt, standing with his hands clasped behind his back, listening.  He remained there, his firm expression lifting slightly to a knowing smile.  “Yes, Rolly,” Walt said.  “That’s right.  He laughed.”  Then Walt walked away, leaving Rolly alone with his soda.
     And so if you’re interested in seeing Rolly dish dozens of amazing tales, I highly recommend you pick up his new autobiography, It’s Kind of a Cute Story, which bows out this week.  You can buy the standard paperback edition at Amazon.  Or you can get the deluxe hardback beauty directly from the publisher—and only from the publisher.  A word of warning, though: if you want the hardback edition, it’s limited to a pressing of 500.  Earlier this year, when Bob Gurr’s autobiography was released, the special “red” hardback edition sold out before publication—with a pressrun of 1k.  So if you want the hardback version of this baby, click now or forever hold your peace.  I’m looking forward to reading mine when it gets here.
    That’s it until next Monday.  Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is good and the long holiday weekend is even better.  --TJP
   

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