This week could quite easily be called the week of love. We’ve had Valentine’s Day on the 14th and Disney celebrated Cinderella’s anniversary on the 15th! A romantic holiday and a romantic fairytale both celebrated on the same week! But I thought I would look at the real life romance between Walt and Lillian Disney. It seems only fitting due to the time of year, and not many people know much about their relationship.
I am always interested in facts and trivia about movies and their makers. I don’t know how many times I’ve read about Walt Disney though, and I always learn something new about him. Although, he is sort of an enigma, and there’s a lot of “speculation” on certain facts, that we may never find out the truth about.
I always love reading about his personal relationships with his wife and his family. Simply because I feel that says more about the type of man he really was, than how he managed his staff and business.
So let’s go back to the very beginning, and find out where, and how, it all started…
Lillian worked in the ink and paint department, thanks to a friend. Apparently she wasn’t the best at her job, and was given the job as secretary to Walt Disney himself. Although, she wasn’t good at that either, and Lillian herself has said that because she made “too many mistakes when [Walt] was dictating, he said I was so bad he would have to marry me”. How cute!
A lot of people already know the story of Walt Disney dropping Lillian home after work last, even though she lived the closest to the studio, just so he could spend more time with her. How romantic is that story? His daughter Diane would often retell that famous story, and has even added that the friend who got Lillian the job told her “don’t marry the boss” or she wouldn’t get her the job. Well, luckily for us, on July 13th, 1925, Lillian said “I do” to Walt Disney, a year and a half after they first met.
Probably the most heard, and famous story of all about Walt and Lillian, is their train journey from New York to California in 1927 (some people say it was 1928). During this very long journey from East to West, Walt expressed his excitement to his wife about a new character he had in mind. Having recently lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt needed another iconic character to represent his name. That character, would be a mouse this time. And Walt named him Mortimer Mouse. Lillian, thankfully, did not hold back her opinion on the name, and told her husband the name sounded “too depressing” and that he should name him “Mickey Mouse” – LOVE this story, and it never gets old.
You may not know though, that they also had a fight that would inspire a scene in a future Disney animated feature film. The fight occurred when Walt Disney, made the mistake of returning home drunk, which did not go down well with Lillian. So much so, she locked him out of their house that night. The next day, Walt Disney presented his wife with a puppy in a hat box, to show how sorry he was for his behaviour. That inspired the opening scene to Lady and the Tramp, which Walt was working on at the time.
Unlike most marriages in those days, Walt always sought after Lillian’s approval. Any idea he had, he would confide in his wife first. They wouldn’t always agree, and sometimes Lillian thought her husband was making a mistake. For example, she agreed with his brother, and tried to stop Walt from making a feature length animated film. She also didn’t understand why Walt wanted to build an amusement park, and thought that was a crazy idea too.
Later though, she was glad Walt had somewhere else to ride his trains, all be it an amusement park for families, it was better than him riding a train around her garden.
Lillian Disney suffered a stroke, exactly 31 years after Walt Disney Passed away. She died the following day at aged 98, 2 months before her 99th birthday. She is an official Disney Legend, since 2003, and has a train cart named after her at Disneyland. She and Walt live on through their 10 grandchildren, and their legacy.
There is no doubt, Mr and Mrs Disney’s love story is just as great as the ones that have been created by the man himself. The big difference between them, is that Lillian was no damsel in distress needing to be rescued by a Prince. They were equals, and they loved each other greatly.
What’s your favourite story of Lillian and Walt?
“I think my dad fell in love with her almost immediately … she was an independent little lady,” – Diane Disney Miller