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The Iconic Disney Love Story Most People Don’t Know

Walt and Lillian Disney
Credit: D23

Disney won our hearts with the wonderful stories it told of Disney princesses who had to overcome incredible diversity and eventually find their happy endings, often complete with winning the love of a worthy suitor: the famous Disney prince. However, few know the story of the original Disney love story—that of Walt Disney Company founder Walter Elias Disney and his wife, Lillian Disney.

Walt Disney Emmys

Walt Disney Company founder Walt Disney with two Emmy Awards / Credit: D23

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Who Was the First Disney Couple?

It’s safe to say that Walt and Lillian Disney were the original Disney couple. Lillian Disney was instrumental for a variety of reasons, but most relevant to us Disney Fanatics, she was the mind behind the naming of Mickey Mouse (before Lillian’s suggestion, he was going to be called Mortimer Mouse).

Lillian Marie Bounds was born in Spalding, Idaho, on February 15, 1899. She grew up on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, where her father worked as a blacksmith and Federal Marshall. In 1923, she moved to Los Angeles, after being invited by her sister, Hazel, and got a job at a fledgling studio: Walt Disney Studio, as a secretary and inker of animated cels.

"Partners" statue, Cinderella Castle, Disney's Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort

“Partners” statue in front of Cinderella Castle, Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort / Credit: Disney

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Reportedly, at the end of the workday, Walt would offer to drive the ink-and-paint girls home in his new car. He would always drop Kathleen off first, even though Lillian’s home was closer.

“I think my dad fell in love with her almost immediately… she was an independent little lady,” the Disneys’ daughter Diane Disney Miller recalled. Clearly, Lillian reciprocated Walt Disney’s feelings, and soon Mr. Disney met her family, and the two married on July 13, 1925, in Lewiston, Idaho.

Lillian Marie Disney was typically publicity-shy and balanced Walt Disney’s daring well. She served as a sounding board for her husband as he created films and the theme park that made him and his company known internationally while raising their two daughters—Diane Marie Disney and Sharon Mae Disney.

Walt Disney and Lillian Bounds

Walt Disney and Lillian Bounds marry / Credit: D23

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Walt Disney’s love for his wife was memorialized in more ways than one. He named his 1:8-scale steam locomotive the “Lilly Belle” in his wife’s honor at Carolwood Pacific Railroad, as well as one of the Disneyland Railroad, and Walt Disney World Railroad cars. In the latter two, each car is named for someone who greatly contributed to the Walt Disney Company.

In addition to this, Walt Disney Imagineering created “The Empress Lilly”, a paddle steamer replica, at Walt Disney World in Disney Springs, and Disney christened it on May 1, 1977.

The Empress Lilly - Disney

The Empress Lilly / Credit: Disney

Did Lillian Disney Remarry After Walt Died?

After Walt Disney died of lung cancer in 1966, Lillian Disney did remarry. She wed John L. Truyens (a Southern California real estate developer) from 1969 until his death in 1981.

The former vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, Roy E. Disney, shared once about Lillian: “[She was] always prepared to speak the truth, tough and warm and loving at the same time. She was a very special person. You couldn’t help loving her, and you’d never forget her… or her hearty laugh.”

About Priyanka Kumar

Priyanka is a writer, artist, avid reader, and travel enthusiast based in Chicago. In her free time, she is probably walking by the lake, catching up on the latest releases on TV, or spending inordinate amounts of time rewatching Moana, Encanto, and her Disney Channel life-long favorites Zack and Cody wreak havoc on the Tipton.

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