Ever since I was about 10 years old, I have been collecting books about Disney and theme parks. Over the years, I have accumulated a small library consisting of hundreds of books which all cover the same topics: roller coasters, building theme parks and trivia. These reads typically come in one of two types: coffee table books that have dozens of glorious glossy color photos and maybe 200 words of text throughout OR crammed with great stories and virtually no eye candy.
“It’s Kind of a Cute Story” by Rolly Crump, as told to Jeff Heimbuch, is the only book that blends together beautiful photos and artwork with a well-told story. This satisfies both the left and right side of my theme park-loving brain simultaneously. Like many Disney fans, I only knew of Rolly’s contributions at Walt Disney Imagineering.
As a lifelong fan of Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, Rolly’s contribution to the attraction may be the most fascinating. As many of you know, he proposed an add-on attraction at the exit of the ride called The Museum of The Weird, filled with strange oddities that were collected from around the world.
After the 1964 World’s Fair, work shifted toward finally finishing The Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. Rolly was determined for it not to be filled with “corny clichés,” like rattling shutters and footsteps on the ceiling. Oddly enough, long before Disney made an Oscar-winning feature-length animated cartoon of “Beauty and The Beast,” Jean Cocteau, in 1946, made a live-action version that inspired Rolly to create these creepy figures of household objects using human features as the architecture.
Hardcore Disney fans will remember Walt in an old “World of Color” special where Rolly shows off his creations for Museum of the Weird, which unfortunately never made it into the park. However, Crump’s influence is still seen throughout the ride in the form of the wall sconces in the shape of an arm holding a flaming torch or the infamous wallpaper with the eyes on it was also from Rolly’s head.
Rolly also designed the Tower of the Four Winds for the 1964 World’s Fair It’s a Small World attraction, which is the iconic structure filled with all these pinwheels and moving parts that came to life when the wind blows. Oddly enough, Rolly hated the thing. He thought it was ugly and when he found out they were moving Small World to Disneyland from New York, Rolly wanted to scrap the tower and create a new facade for the California version. He was pegged to tell Walt that he thought trucking it across the country was a bad idea. Walt eventually agreed, but the story Rolly tells about how Walt made the group of VP’s sweat it out just for shits and giggles is a side of Mr. Disney that you rarely get to see.
“Cute Story” chronicles Rolly’s entire career that stretched far beyond the realm of Disney. He was contacted by Knott’s Berry Farm in the mid-70’s about working on a dark ride that would go into a new Roaring 20’s area in “America’s Original Theme Park.” He got to pitch the idea to Walter and Marion Knott and their entire family who were still in charge of the park at the time.
Knott’s Bear-y Tales went on to become one of the most beloved dark rides of all time. It had a story line completely unique to Knott’s; one-of-a-kind story and a song that was just catchy enough that you couldn’t get it out of your head for the rest of the day if you tried. “Cute Story” has some fantastic concept artwork as well as some stunning photos of the finished attraction that you just have to see.
In 1983, Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of famous sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, hunted Rolly down. Turns out, Jean-Michel was a huge fan of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion and wanted to build these aquariums/attractions called the Ocean Center Pavilion around the country. They were to have educational exhibits, as well as a dark ride designed by Crump. The four-minute Omnimover-style ride would take guests on a voyage to the bottom of the ocean. Once they exited, they were allowed to explore all these small theaters and exhibits starring the Cousteaus and chronicled their amazing career in the ocean, sharing what they had learned with the public.
Crump doesn’t hold back and tells it like it is. With this project, it seems no one knew what they were doing and the entire thing was mismanaged from the beginning. I had never even heard of this attraction before and now I know why. According to Rolly, it was only open six months and hardly anyone ever went to it because they charged too much and wasn’t done well at all.
It’s nuggets like these that make “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” a must have for any theme park or Disney fan. However, if I haven’t sold you on the book yet, here’s my final plea: boobs. Keep in mind, Rolly is an artist at heart, so the book is also crammed full of his artwork from over the years that has nothing to do with Disney, theme parks or attractions. Rolly actually helped an old friend who used to be in the Disneyland entertainment department do body paint on naked girls for a show in Las Vegas!
Seriously, his story must be read to be believed – he even considered selling condoms at one point! In addition, you can also listen to Rolly tell dozens of little two to three minute stories that just didn’t quite seem to make it into the book on 2 different CD’s that act as a great companion to “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” in paperback, both of which are available from Amazon.
If you click the Amazon link just below this story and order the book, or anything on your holiday shopping list, Theme Park University gets an itsy bitsy piece of your purchase to help pay for server space here on campus. So keep us in mind when you do your holiday shopping. This won’t cost you an extra penny!