It’s kind of a wonderful book.
In fact, it’s probably the best Disney book I’ve ever read.
What makes “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” so great isn’t just because it’s about a legendary Imagineer whose work includes some of the most beloved Disneyland attractions ever built – The Haunted Mansion, ‘it’s a small world,’ The Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s because it’s told by Rolly Crump himself – he’s hilarious, oddball, and filled to the brim with cute little stories. It’s as if Rolly is sitting across from you in a comfy chair with a glass of wine, recounting everything from the posters he made advertising marijuana (yep) to his peculiar fascination with mobiles to the mischievous pranks Disney animators played on each other. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading this book.
Did you know that Rolly designed the fanciful Tower of the Four Winds? Did you know he hated it and didn’t want it to come back to Disneyland after the New York World’s Fair? Instead it was cut up and thrown into the ocean (!). Rolly is forthright with his opinions and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. And I love that.
For me, the book is most interesting when it reveals some of the creative differences between artists and the push-and-shove of egos within WED, Walt’s small team of designers for Disneyland. For example, Roger Broggie apparently didn’t like Rolly and Yale Gracey very much and he refused to help them build effects for the Haunted Mansion. When Rolly designed some portraits for the “stretch room” of the Haunted Mansion, Marc Davis came to look at them and said they were no good and that he would redo them. And there was quite a rift between Rolly and Dick Irvine – they didn’t see eye to eye on anything! It’s fascinating to see the passion these artists had and the lengths they went to defend their designs and ideas.
The book explores Rolly’s incredibly colorful life – growing up, becoming a Disney animator, and working on many memorable theme park projects, including: the delightfully kooky Museum of the Weird, the Tomorrowland redesign of 1967 (including the Tomorrowland Terrace stage and the wonderful flower beds at the entrance to the land), his time as Supervising Art Director of Disneyland (where he saw to everything from the chain links in the queues, to trees which are still in the park today, to the lighting in many park areas including ‘small world’ and Tomorrowland, to theming the popcorn carts and trash cans to their respective lands), some dark rides for Walt Disney World (including the greatly missed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), ideas for EPCOT (including a master plan with a very different World Showcase and design for the Wonders of Life and The Land pavilion – which John Hench pretty much all hated), Knott’s Bear-y Tales, and more.
There are lesser-known projects here too. I had no idea that Rolly designed what basically amounts to an alternate version of the Enchanted Tiki Room for the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, complete with animatronic birds. Nor did I know he helped design an Omnimover-type ride that took riders to the bottom of the ocean for a project called Ocean Center.
The book is filled with great photos and examples of Rolly’s work in color and black & white. Unfortunately in my copy there is a small glitch with the image of ‘small world’ on page 81. But other than that, the book is a joy to look at as well as to read.
What I most enjoyed from this book is Rolly’s working relationship with Walt and how things got done. There was no guest research or test marketing. If Walt thought something was a good idea, he just went ahead and did it. “Well, build the goddamn thing then!” he says to Rolly, regarding the ‘small world’ facade.
There’s also some really great little nuggets of wisdom from Rolly about working and life in general. One of them is: believe in the people that work for you and turn them loose, because you’ll end up with a much better product. Another: accept life as it’s handed to you and just enjoy it, and have a sense of humor.
One more thing – I was amused to learn that one of Walt’s favorite sayings was “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” for anything that irritated him. (Just wait ’till you read the cute little story about the Christmas present Rolly made for Walt involving the the word “Shit” – his favorite cuss word.) There are a million other little stories and they’re all so fun.
Do yourself a favor, fellow readers – GET THIS BOOK. I highly recommend it to Disney fans or anyone who appreciates the art and design that goes into theme parks. Many thanks to Jeff Heimbuch for all his hard work putting the book together – it was well worth it!
You can purchase a paperback copy of “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” on Amazon for $20.70 (17% off! Eligible for free shipping!) or the Kindle Edition for $4.99. If you’re in the SoCal area, there are a few chances coming in a few weeks to meet Rolly Crump and get your copy signed. Visit the official book site for details.
(Note: My review is unbiased; I purchased this book myself and I have no personal or working connection with the authors or publishers.)