An event took place in 1969 that served as the end of an era, allowing for the beginning of a new one. And for Disney fans who were unaware, the discovery can be a bit of a shock.
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This year marks the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company. Fans around the world are celebrating 100 years of animated Disney classics, beloved family entertainment, and interactive and engaging theme park innovations and experiences. And the most beautiful part of it all is that it all started with a man named Walt with the visionary prowess to continually find new ways to add to the experiences of the American family.
Today, his legacy lives on as those who came after him have carried the proverbial torch, helping to share the wonder of Disney with families all over the world, igniting within them an excitement about the tradition of Disney in modern times. But perhaps the magic, wonder, and tradition of Disney began first in the lives of two young people who met and fell in love long before Mickey, long before the Imagineers, and years before the first shovelful of dirt was moved in preparation for the construction of Disneyland in California.
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In 1925, Lillian Bounds was a 26-year-old animator struggling to make her dreams a reality. But that year would prove to be a turning point for the Spalding, Idaho native, as she met the love of her life in 1925. She and her beau had several things in common–they were both animators, both grew up in small towns in middle America, and both had dreams of becoming and being so much more. When they met, Lillian was working as an ink artist for a studio founded by two brothers in 1923–two brothers named Walt and Roy Disney.
Walt Disney started out as Lillian’s boss but became her husband on July 13, 1925.
“I think my dad fell in love with her almost immediately,” Diane Disney Miller said of her parents. “He liked that she was an independent little lady. It took a little while for her to succumb to his charm, but when she did, she was completely smitten for the rest of her life.”
Lillian ultimately relinquished her role at Walt Disney Studios to start a family with Walt. Eight years after they married, Walt and Lillian Disney became parents to Diane Marie Disney, born December 18, 1933.
Three years after Diane was born, Walt and Lillian welcomed another daughter named Sharon, born on December 31, 1936, via adoption. Though she no longer worked at the studios, Lillian was a talented artist in her own right, and she used those talents to help with the look and designs of some of Walt’s most famous characters. She’s even credited with giving Mickey Mouse his name after Walt suggested his name be “Mortimer.”
According to their daughters–and to photos of the Disneys–Walt and Lillian enjoyed their marriage and were partners at home with their family as well as outside the home. And they enjoyed that wedded bliss for more than 41 years until Walt’s untimely, unexpected death in December 1966.
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Years later, upon reflecting back on her marriage to the great animator and visionary, Lillian said, “We shared a wonderful, exciting life, and we loved every minute of it. He was a wonderful husband to me and wonderful and joyful father and grandfather.”
As Walt’s widow, Lillian continued to be involved in The Walt Disney Company as both a shareholder and director. She also established the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco to honor her husband’s legacy. But her status didn’t remain for long. Only a few years after Walt’s death, Lillian attended a social gathering, and it was there that she met a retired real estate developer named John Truyens.
It wasn’t long before Lillian’s heart was stirred by Truyens, and the two began spending more and more time together. John, like Lillian, had been married for decades and experienced the heartbreak of losing a spouse. Despite the fact that Lillian was nearly 70 years old, she was happy to have found love again and decided to get remarried.
The two were married in 1969, just three years after Walt’s death, in a small, quiet affair attended by only very close friends and family members. At her second wedding, Lillian wore a beautiful pink dress, and John wore a suit and tie. But heartbreak again befell Lillian when John passed away in 1985. Lillian reportedly began using Walt’s last name as her own again following John’s death, and she carried that name until her death in 1997.
Lillian died peacefully in her sleep at the home she and Walt shared on Carolwood Drive on Tuesday, December 16, 1997, following a stroke that she suffered early in the morning of December 15. Ironically, Walt Disney died 31 years earlier, early in the morning of December 15, 1966.
In 1969, something wonderful happened for Lillian Bounds Disney–something that signified her resilience, her ability to keep on keeping on in the face of adversity and loss. But for many Disney fans–especially those who weren’t aware of Lillian’s remarriage, learning about it can be quite a shock, specifically for fans who can’t imagine any scenario in which Walt and Lillian weren’t truly together forever.