Rolly Crump on the "Sea Captain" Tableau
(from "The Haunted Mansion Story volume one" Extinct Attractions DVD)
Rolly also talks frequently about how it happened that Yale invented such things as the Leota effect and the follow-you busts, how they read ghost stories and experimented with Pepper's Ghost and other ways of creating ghostly illusions, and so on. The surprising thing is that there seems to be no concept artwork to show. That's very strange. Rolly's artwork from the '59-'63 period, if it exists, has either gone unpublished or has been unrecognized as stemming from those early years. Yale was an artist, but what we have from him are things like notebook sketches for gags.
"Gathering the 'world's greatest collection of ghosts' is no easy task...most people are kind of reluctant to admit they know any! But Walt Disney has had his 'talent scouts' searching for several years...and in 1963, the HAUNTED MANSION will be filled with famous and infamous residents."
Our second batch of data for the middle team is the abundance of Rolly's "Museum of the Weird" artwork, which—according to Rolly—comes from after the World's Fair, when many Imagineers found that they now had time on their hands. Rolly returned to the HM project and turned out 20 or 30 imaginative but extremely strange sketches. Fellow Imagineer Jack Ferges also had some extra time, so he helped Rolly make maquettes of some of these.
Wowzers. Suddenly we've got concept artwork out the wazoo. (That's where the other Imagineers thought it came from, too.) By this point, Walt had added Davis, Coats, and Atencio to the team. All of them had their individual ideas to pitch to Walt. Then came that infamous episode in late fall, 1964 (summarized two posts ago), in which Walt made it crystal clear to everyone working on the attraction that he really liked Rolly's nightmarish creations and wanted them incorporated into the finished project in the form of a "Museum of the Weird." The Museum never happened, of course, and it's difficult to know exactly how all of this surreal material was going to be used in the house itself. Heck, Rolly freely admits that he himself didn't know, which is why Walt had to find a solution to the problem. So you wonder, would a 1963 Mansion have included things like this? Or did these 1964 creations represent a fresh departure after the Fair? Or . . . well, it's not clear.
Recall that the Museum was Walt's idea, but it really wasn't what Rolly had wanted. Rolly wanted a weirder Haunted Mansion, not just a spill area before or after the main attraction. He has repeatedly said that he wanted to avoid the usual haunted house clichés ("corny") and to go for something more fantastical. As discussed in an earlier post, he was particularly intrigued by the castle in the Jean Cocteau 1946 film, La belle et la bête, and he wanted something similar for the HM, with the entire building enchanted and alive, and with things like human body parts merged into the very architecture, as in the Cocteau film.
It's interesting that some of Rolly's artwork does not seem to reflect a museum setting but was probably intended to be used in the Mansion proper (or its grounds), such as these very rarely seen tombstone sketches, one of which I've posted before:
Things to Think About
Okay, with all of that as a rambling preamble (or an ambling preramble—take your pick), here are five points to ponder as we try to imagine a Crump-Gracey version of the Haunted Mansion.
Point One. The Victorian "spirit theater" atmosphere would probably have been even stronger and more obvious than it is today. In an earlier post, I argued that it was the Gracey-Crump team who gave the Haunted Mansion the unique feel of a 19th-century magic show or house of illusions, using tricks and gimmicks taken from that era. Judging by the feedback I've received, this "magic show" analysis seems to have set well with some veteran Imagineers. Also, in looking through the materials, I keep finding things that confirm that Rolly and Yale did indeed conceive of the HM in this way. Jason Surrell says that "many of the gags Rolly and Yale developed were inspired by some of the grand illusions and stage magic created by 19th-century magicians," citing Rolly in this regard: "The illusions Yale and I were perfecting were based on the 'black art boxes' and 'spirit cabinets' that had been used for many years by magicians" (Surrell, The Haunted Mansion, p. 20). Don't know how I missed that quote the first time around.
Point Two. There would have been a lot more influence from La belle et la bête than the one unmistakable item that made it into the final attraction (viz, the arm-sconce).
a similar gag in the Crump sketches. Here's a montage, with the color element taken out for easier comparison all around.
Point Three. If we're trying to imagine a Crump-Gracey Haunted Mansion, then obviously we shouldn't overlook the few items that actually did make it into the final product. Besides the Cocteau arm-sconces in the exit crypt, there are at least three other places where you can see Rolly's influence clearly enough.
Then there's the "Donald Duck" chair, widely thought to be inspired by a MotW chair that was going to stand up and talk to you. The Donald chair has picked up that dumb nickname because a lot of people evidently detect an abstract image of Donald Duck in it. Uh huh. Right. Whatever.
It's pitifully piddly, this list, but at least some of Rolly's interior design met with the approval of the other guys and is there today. Yale Gracey fared better. The Davis-Coats-Atencio team loved Yale's stuff almost as much as Rolly did, and they continued to make good use of his talents, so Yale's special effects would be another point of continuity between the middle and final imagineering teams. Whatever else a Crump-Gracey house would have looked like, it would have had follow-you busts, the Leota effect, ghostly projections, changing portraits, and Pepper's Ghost.
within a suspiciously Crumpish interior. It's not just the bizarre details: look at the use of color.
Compare one of these sketches with Rolly's full-color concept sketch of the Museum.
There is a jarring, almost disturbing quality in the way impossibly vivid colors are violently juxtaposed in both paintings. And there are other Crumpian elements in Marc's Great Hall sketches. Things like, well... body parts merged into the very architecture. The walls have teeth. Or something. There are things in there that look like veins. Or something. And hair. Or something. The rough sketch for the first painting showed life-sized (yes they are) skeletal figures emerging from (or visible in) the woodwork. Weird.
The doorway into Marc's Great Hall had an odd gate in it. More human body parts in the architecture. Marc did a separate drawing of it as well:
made, and to this day they may be found doing service in the Davis home. That may be as good an indication as any that
Davis truly liked this approach. Whether or not he would have been willing to credit Rolly for any of it is a different question.
It shouldn't really be a surprise that Marc and Rolly could sometimes be found on the same wavelength. They had successfully worked together on the Enchanted Tiki Room, which has a lot in common with Rolly's notions about the Haunted Mansion if you think about it. Flowers that act like people. Faces that come to life sculpted right into the architecture. The whole room comes to life, really. Davis knew that Rolly's essential idea of a strange, living, enchanted house could work because it did work, not just in the Cocteau film but right over there in Adventureland. Just substitute "ghosts" for "tiki god magic" and you're there. You can even find details in Marc's artwork for the Tiki Room once in awhile that look awfully Crumpish. Check out this Davis sketch of a surprisingly angry birdmobile. That's Rolly's poison plant for the MotW on the left. Of course, Davis's Tiki Room sketch is older, and the point is not to suggest direct, conscious influence in either direction. The point is that these guys sometimes explored the same alleyways of the imagination, and surprisingly similar results can be glimpsed from time to time. We'll probably never nail it down any more precisely than that.
Once we recognize that Davis at some early stage was evidently sympathetic to Rolly's offbeat interior design, we may be able to go back and visualize, at least a little bit, what the Stretching Gallery masterpiece might have looked like. Yale built a half-inch scale model of the elongating room and suggested to Rolly that he design the stretching portraits. Rolly did produce some sketches, but later on Marc wasn't satisfied with them and replaced them with his own. Despite that loss, I think that Davis's beautiful concept artwork may give us a hint of what might have been. It's certainly weirder than what we ended up with. In fact, if you ask me, the one item in the sketch that looks slightly out of place is the Davis portrait! Is that because the essentials of this design came from elsewhere?
("In the freaky freaky freaky freaky freaky room, oh the bats fling turds in the foulest gloom..."). Shut up. My blog.
Those faces across the bottom would have looked right at home in the Museum. They remind me of the demon-eye wallpaper:
A Less Weird Haunted Mansion
One thing we learn from all this is that the "normalization" of the HM interior was probably not Davis's idea but should be attributed more to the influence of Claude Coats. It is he, after all, who always gets credit for the spooky atmosphere of the first part of the attraction. And much as I'd like to have seen some of these weirder interiors, in the end, what Coats had in mind worked very well indeed. With the Coats approach, the place looks normal enough, if a bit dark and ominous:
So I'm glad it went the way it did. We can today enjoy the Stretching Gallery as a fine amalgam of creative minds. It's a piece of hallucinatory strangeness courtesy of Rolly Crump, made possible by the mechanical genius of Yale Gracey, dressed up in the elegant but slow and sombre woodwork of Claude Coats. Then there's a display of wicked Marc Davis humor just as X. Atencio's script sets before you THE classic dilemma of this haunted house—real or imagined? Plus, you get the finest scare of the ride in the form of a gag that would NEVER be approved today. How nice. Forbidden fruit for dessert.