Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Love of Walt and Lillian Disney

By Keith Mahne

The story of Walt’s early romance with Lillian Bounds is as good a fairy tale as any in the Disney stratosphere. The couple, who met in the 1920's while Lillian was working in the Ink and Paint department at the studio, was married for 41 years. Walt's nephew, Roy E. Disney, once said of Lillian Disney, ''She was a great lady, full of laughter and fun and always prepared to speak the truth, tough and loving at the same time.'' Walt and Lillian shared a wonderful, exciting life together, and they loved every minute of it. Walt was a wonderful husband to Lillian and a wonderful and joyful father and grandfather. Let's take a look back at the love of Walt and Lillian Disney, including some rare home footage of the couple, in today's new article...

There's a wonderful little story of Walt driving Lillian and another of the Ink and Paint girls home when they would have to work late. Walt would always drop off the other girl first, even though Lillian’s house was closer to the studio. As we discover, there is more to tell to this story...

In December 1923, Lillian Bounds arrived in Los Angeles from Lewiston, Idaho, where she had attended business college. She decided to move to Los Angeles to live with her older sister, Hazel. The Alice series was just beginning and the Disney brothers brought Kathleen Dollard on board to help out. They asked Kathleen if she knew anyone else that could help and she mentioned “a stenographer who’s not doing anything at the moment.” Walt asked Kathleen to see if she would work for them. Kathleen told Lillian, “I have a job for you, but I am telling you about it on one condition: don’t marry the boss.”

Lillian decided to apply for the job since it was within walking distance from her home. She went to the Kingswell Studio for the interview. She met Walt for the first time and remembered that he wasn’t wearing a suit but had “a brown coat, sweater, raincoat and pants.” She was offered the job for fifteen dollars a week. Lillian’s seven year-old niece, Marjorie Sewell, walked her to the studio so she wouldn’t get lost on her first day. Walt would frequently offer to drive Lillian and Kathleen, the other ink-and-paint girl, to their homes in the studio’s Ford car during the early days. As the story goes, Walt always dropped off Lillian last, even if her home was closer. The old Ford had one seat and an open back. Lillian took a small amount of pride that Walt wanted to spend more time with her. This was the start of something truly magical.

"I think my dad fell in love with her almost immediately ... she was an independent little lady," says daughter Diane Disney Miller.

During their marriage, Lillian Disney served as Walt's sounding board and unofficial adviser. By all accounts he would discuss his ideas, from Snow White to the creation of Disneyland, with her and sought her approval.

Most of us have heard the story about the train ride from New York City to Los Angeles, after a serious business setback, Walt came up with a new character: Mortimer Mouse. ''Not Mortimer,'' said Lillian. ''It's too formal. How about Mickey?''

The publicity-shy Lillian ventured into the public arena after Walt's death in 1966 to lend support to the fulfillment of his dreams. In October 1971, she attended the dedication of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, along with Company co-founder and Walt's loyal brother Roy O. Disney.

"I think Walt would have approved," she said to Roy and those who helped realize her husband's dream. Eleven years later, she returned to Florida to attend the 1982 dedication of EPCOT Center.

On May 12, 1987, Lillian announced a gift of $50 million to build a new symphony hall designed by architect Frank Gehry in Los Angeles. A long-time patron of the arts, this was her ultimate gift to the community and to the love of her life. The Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, debuted in October 2003.

Lillian Disney suffered a stroke on December 15, 1997, 31 years to the day after the death of her husband, and passed away the following day to return to her old love.

Walt's and Lillian's love for each other was eternal and could surly stand up against any love story ever to come out of the Disney studios. As we wrap up this little "love story", have a look at this short video below featuring some rare home footage of Walt and Lillian...

(For your viewing pleasure, be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player located above prior to starting the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this look back at one of the greatest love stories of all times! Thank you!

  2. Love the article and video!!!