Everybody loves a good office romance, right? Maybe some of us have actually experienced them firsthand. You may have a juicy story to tell about stolen moments at the copier machine, cute e-mails or notes to each other on company stationary. Whatever your story maybe, it may bring a smile to your face knowing that Walt and Lillian Disney have their own too.
When Lillian Bounds moved to Los Angeles in 1923 to be closer to her sister, she got a job at Walt Disney Studio in the ink and paint department. Back then, animation was a man’s world, but the ink and paint department was predominately filled with women. It didn’t take long for Lillian to catch the eye of the boss. She was a secretary and an inker of animated cells that worked on the film, Plane Crazy. The hours were long and since the studio was still so small back then, it was normal for Walt to offer to drive some of the ladies home after work. I thought it was sweet that even though Lillian lived walking distance from the studio, he would always drop her off last.
Nowadays, office romance is the thing of dramatic television. (I jumped for joy when Pam and Jim from The Office finally got together and who doesn’t love Meredith and Derek from Grey’s Anatomy?) I’d like to believe that Walt and Lillian’s love was made of quieter, simpler stuff. They had a small wedding in 1925 in Idaho at Lewiston’s Episcopal Church of the Nativity. It was the beginning of a long lasting partnership. He was animated and dominating and she was a compliant, good listener. Their personalities balanced each other out.
Through their 41-year marriage, Lillian loyally accompanied Walt on business trips and she stood by his side though the highs and lows of becoming one of the most important cultural icons. After his death in 1966, she continued to support the many projects in her late husband’s memory. One of which was the multi-disciplinary California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). I’m sure you’ve heard of the school that has many famous alumni, one being Pixar’s John Lasseter. Lillian also donated $50 million towards the construction of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Lillian suffered a stroke on December 15, 1997, oddly 31 years to the day after the death of Walt, and died the following day. July 13th just passed and it would have been their 86th wedding anniversary. Had they both lived to see 1997, they would have been married for 72 years. I cannot imagine being with someone for that long, especially after everything they went through. Walt and Lillian’s love was more than what you see on prime-time television — it was better than that. It was real.