It’s Kind of a Cute Story – Rolly Crump (et al)

It's Kind of a Cute StoryIt’s Kind of a Cute Story by Rolly Crump

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, that was a disappointment. I was looking forward to some great background history for the studio and for Disney World and Disney Land, and some day-in-the-life stories about the animators. And there was some of that. But there was at least as much in this about other parts of Crump’s career … and if I’d had to read the word “propeller” one more time I might just have screamed.

Fortunately, I didn’t hold Walt Disney himself up on any kind of pedestal (I kind of just expect anyone I would like to admire to have a lot of qualities that dampen that admiration). Rolly Crump didn’t really do him any damage, but he didn’t boost him up on one of those plinths, either. Though one moment in the book made both my eyebrows go up: He quotes WED as saying, “No underprivileged children are ever going to have to pay to come into Disneyland”. Well, apparently Disney didn’t put that in his will or something, because as best I can find it certainly isn’t true nowadays. And that’s sad.

My opinion of animators in general and Crump in particular took a hard hit in this book. I should be perversely glad about that. See, I went to art school. The day I found out that Disney sent recruiters to the school was the day I suddenly, finally had a very clear vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I blew out at some point in there, which in its way was just as well, I suppose, considering good old-fashioned hand-drawn animation didn’t last much longer. That doesn’t make me feel any better about the fact that I now work in an office pushing paper from one place to another. Not any better at all. And this line at the beginning of the book made me whimper: “I started at WED in 1980 during a hiring frenzy that sucked up any half-talent available”. What a disgusting thing to say.

Despite the evidence of every single cel in every single Disney film I can think of, Crump seems to mean that “half-talent” crap – er, crack. “Sure, they were all animators, but on their own time, they were real artists.” With that kind of attitude toward the ART of animation, what, pray, exactly was he doing there? Surely there were other places to make a buck with a little artistic ability and a vast capacity to make propellers. (Pity Sikorsky wasn’t hiring at the time. Wrong coast, I guess.)

rcHis own art, displayed in photos throughout the book, is, shall we say, not entirely to my taste. There is certainly skill and ability … but I’m not sure what audience he thought he was playing to with this book when he sprinkles in his paintings featuring exposed breasts, a hand flipping the bird, drug promotion … and, equally bad in my eyes, at least one misplaced apostrophe. (I’m just going to insert this quote and let it sit there: “’We’re going to have a bunch of girls on stage, and we’re going to project tattoos onto them. But I need to paint one of the girls up. Could you help me with that?’ I didn’t really have any idea what he meant by ‘paint her up’ but it was some extra cash, so who was I to say no?”)

Actually, a fair amount of the work of his that I’ve seen features boobs. Oh, then there’s “…I had that book by Alexander Calder. One of the things he had in there was a photo of a wire sculpture of Josephine Baker. I was fascinated by it. Maybe it was the fact that he gave her such enormous breasts made out of corkscrews.” I’ll just let that one sit there, too.

His discussion of the design work he did on the Haunted Mansion and other areas of the park – and post-Disney, for that matter – irked me:

– “Those wall sconces of arms holding torches are right out of my designs.” No, actually, they’re right out of Cocteau. Still, steal from the best.
– “The flowers near the entrance to Tomorrowland that I helped design the pattern of.” – badly worded caption to a photo. The pattern in the photo is a bullseye.
– “’This stuff is really weird, Rolly,’ [Walt] said to me”. Yes. Yes, it is. I find it fascinating that given the content and style of so much of the work there is no mention of drug use in the book.
– “Originally, a sea captain was going to be part of the story for the Haunted Mansion. He was drowned at sea … We made a full scale mock-up of what we thought his study would look like … you could see the ocean off in the distance, with the waves breaking on the shoreline. We had the lonely cry of a coyote in there, too.” A coyote??? For a mansion owned by a sea captain, from which you could see the ocean, and supposedly based on a house in New Orleans?
– “Since it was an animal park, I gave them all an African theme” – But …. There are animals elsewhere in the world…

Other things irked me as well, such as: “There was one electrician that I worked really well with during my time at Disneyland. Unfortunately, his name escapes me, but he had been there almost since the Park opened.” ‘S okay, it’s not like you’re writing a book or anything. And there was surprisingly little mention of family. A good ways in he mentioned something built by his son Chris – and to the best of my recollection this was the first mention of offspring, and never a mention of a wife. Or other partner. Though given the attitude toward women exemplified in his artwork, perhaps I’m glad about that part.

This one reminded me of another sort-of-memoir I read last year, by/about a WWII airman … that was an awkwardly-written, error-laden book apparently written by a second person who retained the subject’s exact phrasing, for the most part, even when utterly eye-shattering, a book which I took to be all about the war when in fact that comprised perhaps half the tale. This is also an awkwardly-written, error-laden book apparently ghost-written by a second person (Jeff Heimbuch) who etc., a book which I took to be all about Disney when in fact that comprised perhaps half the tale. I was a bit nonplussed when suddenly at 57% Rolly was no longer with Disney… My fault, I know, for not reading the description with more attention, but the Disney aspect is rather put to the fore there. As little as I enjoyed the stories at Disney, I enjoyed the stories not at Disney a bit less. (Oh, and now Jacques and Philippe Cousteau are also now tarnished in my eyes, thanks.)

It’s kind of a cute story … Well, no. Sexist, mildly racist, self-aggrandizing, disjointed, propeller-laden … but not cute. Note to self: stop trying to find out how the sausage is made.

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