Birthday: February 15, 1899
Died At Age: 98
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Lillian Marie Bounds
Born Country: United States
Born in: Spalding, Idaho, United States
Famous as: Wife of Walt Disnry
Spouse/Ex-: John L. Truyens (m. 1969–1981), Walt Disney (m. 1925–1966)
father: Willard Pehall Bounds
mother: Jeanette Short Bounds
siblings: Hazel Sewell
children: Diane Disney Miller, Sharon Mae Disney
Died on: December 16, 1997
place of death: West Los Angeles
U.S. State: Idaho
education: Lapwai Middle High School
awards: Disney Legends
Who was Lillian Disney?
Lillian Disney was the wife of American animator, producer, and entrepreneur, Walt Disney, and is considered to have been the sounding board for all of his ideas: big or small. She holds the credit of giving name to the most famous ‘mouse’ and a lot of other advices that have shaped the 130-billion-dollar company the world knows today. Even though she preferred being behind the curtains, she did not shy away from voicing her opinions in private! She was also an ardent traveler who used to accompany Walt on most of his trips. Fondly remembered by her daughter and her extended family, she was a warm woman who had modern perspectives, yet did not let go off her traditional roots. She played basketball in school and loved to laugh, not taking life too seriously. She was an amazing ‘Granny’ and enjoyed spending time with the children. Although, she had a happy childhood, coming from a humble family with nine siblings, she understood what it meant to have less, and used her millions to help fund causes she believed in.
Childhood & Early Life
Lillian Marie Bounds was born on 15 February 1899, to Jeanette Short Bounds and her Federal Marshall & blacksmith husband Willard Pehall Bounds in Idaho’s, Spalding community within the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. She was their tenth and youngest child and the family faced financial struggles, even more so after her father passed away in 1916.
She completed her graduation from Lapwai High School, Idaho and studied in the Business College at the University of Idaho for one year, before moving to Los Angeles in December 1923 to live with her sister Hazel.
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Lillian Disney started her career doing some secretarial work, however, after she moved to Los Angeles, her roommate Kathleen Dollard arranged for her to attend an interview at her workplace – the Disney Brothers Studio, which was being run by Walt and Roy Disney.
Walt and Roy Disney had started working on the Alice series at that time and were looking for a person who could help them paint the drawings. Lillian was hired for the job of an ink and paint artist on 19 January 1924 with a salary of $15 per week.
Walt Disney was attracted to her and she had taken up the job of Walt’s personal secretary prior to the couple getting married a year and a half later.
Post-marriage, Lillian continued to be involved in the business with the studio and would accompany Walt on his trips as his unofficial advisor. The birth of ‘Mickey Mouse’ as a Disney character took place during one such train journey.
In 1928, she worked as an ink artist on ‘Plane Crazy’ which was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon produced, although it was released later in March 1929.
In 1941, she toured South America with Walt, which brought about the productions ‘The Three Caballeros’ and ‘Saludos Amigos’.
In 1950, she appeared on ‘The Colgate Comedy Hour’ with her husband.
A patron of arts, she funded the establishment of The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which has produced several talented artists and animators.
Although she was publicity-shy, Lillian took up a more active role in the media after Walt Disney’s death and represented him by attending functions such as the October 1971 opening of the Walt Disney World in Orlando and the 1982 opening of the EPCOT Center.
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Lillian Disney was with Walt Disney on a train journey from New York to Los Angeles, when he discussed his new cartoon character called ‘Mortimer Mouse’ with her. The studio had had a serious setback and Walt needed to work on something new and interesting. Lillian liked the idea, but she disliked the name and felt that ‘Mortimer’ sounded too formal, to be adorable. This is when she suggested the name ‘Mickey’ and one of the most famous animated characters in history was born.
Awards & Achievements
Walt Disney created the CPRR (Carolwood Pacific Railroad) on his estate, where he named a miniature live steam train as ‘Lilly Belle’ in honor of his wife. He also bestowed the same name to one of his Railroad cars in Disneyland California and one locomotive in the Walt Disney World Railroad in Bay Lake, Florida.
The R&D arm of The Walt Disney Company, Disney Imagineering, also honored Lillian by creating a replica paddle steamer at the Disney World in Florida, and naming it ‘The Empress Lilly’ on 1st of May 1977.
For her immeasurable contributions to The Walt Disney Company, Lillian was formally included into the Disney Legends Hall of Fame in 2003.
Family & Personal Life
Lillian Bounds got married to Walt Disney at her brother Sid’s home in Idaho’s Lewiston city on the 13th of July in 1925, wherein her uncle gave her away.
The couple had a daughter Diane Marie Disney who was born on the 18th December 1933, and adopted a girl Sharon Mae Disney who was born on 31 December 1936. Sharon died of breast cancer in 1993.
Lillian Disney had a four-decade long marriage with Walt, that lasted until his death in 1966. Three years after his passing, she married John Truyens, and was with him till his death in 1981.
In 1987, Lillian gifted 50 million dollars to Music Center of Los Angeles County for creating the ‘Walt Disney Concert Hall’, which saw completion in 2003.
In 1996, she made a donation of $100,000 to the Nez Perce community to help them secure ancient artifacts.
On the morning of 16 December 1997, Lillian Disney passed away in her sleep, at her home in Holmby Hills, LA, succumbing to a stroke. Incidentally, this was exactly 31-years post Walt Disney’s death.)
Lillian Disney was a loyal wife with strong sentiments, and released a public statement criticizing the 1993 Marc Eliot book ‘Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince’ while vouching for her late husband, and declaring that the book “invents incidents that never happened”.