“She was a very special person. You couldn’t help loving her and you’d never forget her … or her hearty laugh.” Roy E. Disney, nephew

While watching American Experience: Walt Disney on PBS a few months ago (rebroadcast coming up on Sept. 14 & 15), one story about Disney among the fascinating dozens, stood out to this Wife for Life:

Lillian Bounds Disney, Walt’s lifelong love, renamed “Mortimer Mouse”…Mickey

…a mouse-size clue to her lion-like influence.

She and He met at the Disney Studio in the early days when Walt’s dreams were still formulating. She was a humble stenographer turned ink-and-paint-girl, turned secretary, turned wife: yet he sought out and valued her listening ear and feedback from the start and all the way to his death. The Disney dream of course, did not end with his passing; it lived on — even grew — as did Walt and Lillian’s partnership. For 31 additional years she served as his torchbearer, ensuring that Walt’s work and dreams were memorialized.

Imagine (no pun intended) how challenging their 41 years together must have been for Lillian: how breathtakingly daring to support crazy ideas; how scary to agree to the sacrifices, how disheartening to live through the disasters, how aggravating to put up with the obsessions, and how exhausting to deal with the weaknesses—which, of course, must have been larger than life.

Lillian Disney obviously passed her own version of the Wife for Life “Dream Maker Q&A”:

• Am I willing to go through the process?
• Am I willing to stick out the tough times?
• Am I willing to actually contribute to the cause?
• Am I ready to share my man?
• Am I willing to let him shine?
• Am I able to defend the dream?

And she knew, or came to know, the secret of powerful wives throughout time: to cherish the man but not his quest is virtually impossible. Confidence in the one is faith in the other.

Here’s a little quiz for you. The following are a snippets from online biographies about the Disneys. See what you can learn from Lillian’s example by identifying the most relevant principle(s) from Wife for Life: The Power to Succeed in Marriage. (The number in parenthesis following each quote refers to the source.)

  1. “I think my dad fell in love with her almost immediately … she was an independent little lady,” says daughter Diane Disney Miller.” (1) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 1:”The Pioneer and the Creator”: _____________
  2. “In 1934 she agreed with his business partner and brother Roy that making the first feature length cartoon, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs would ruin them. When it turned out to be a smash hit, Walt took great pleasure in hearing Lillian admit she was wrong. But then he scared her again. “Why would you want to build an amusement park?” She asked him. “Amusement parks are dirty. They don’t make any money.” His reply didn’t make her feel better. “That’s the whole point. I want a clean one that will.” In spite of her doubts, she was at Disneyland the night before it opened with a broom, sweeping up the dust off the Mark Twain Steamer.” (3) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 17: “Protecting the Relationship”: _____________
  3. “While raising their two daughters, Lillian served as a sounding board for her husband as he created films and the theme park that made him and his company known internationally.” (1) Wife for Life principles from Chapters 20, 23-25: “The Laws of Attraction”, “Dream Seeker”, “What Dream Makers Are Made of”: _____________  
  4. “Lillian was a conservative balance to Walt’s daring, and yet was indulgent, too, allowing him to dig a tunnel under her prized flower garden for his backyard railroad at their Holmby Hills estate.” (1) “His next hobby annoyed her, a miniature railroad in the backyard that ran through her flowerbed. She tolerated it because it gave him a release from studio pressures. Sometimes she thought he was using the rides to hide out and avoid facing overwhelming problems. Later, Disneyland provided him with a bigger train giving Lillian more peace at home.” (3) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 21: “Masculine Zest”: _____________ 
  5. “As her nephew Roy E. Disney recalls, Lillian was “always prepared to speak the truth, tough and warm and loving at the same time.” (1) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 19: “Becoming His Intimate”: _____________ 
  6. “Early in their marriage Lillian enjoyed going to movies with him. She would listen attentively as he criticized his competitor’s cartoons and shared his own exciting ideas.” (3) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 23 “Dream Seeker, Finding and Refining the Quest”: _____________ 
  7. “While Lillian Disney, wife of Company founder Walt Disney, worked behind the scenes in many ways to support the Company’s growth, her most celebrated contribution is the naming of a certain animated character. In 1928, as he rode a train from New York bound for Los Angeles, Walt devised a new character to turn around a serious business setback, “Mortimer Mouse.” / “Not Mortimer,” Lillian replied when he told her his idea. “It’s too formal. How about Mickey.” The rest, as they say, is history.” (1) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 25: “What Dream Makers Are Made of”: _____________ 
  8. Lillian traveled with her husband on many of his business trips, including the government-sponsored Good Will tour of South America in 1941, which resulted in the production of such animated features as “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros”. (1) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 20: “The Laws of Attraction”: _____________
  9. “The publicity-shy Lillian ventured into the public arena after Walt’s death in 1966 to lend support to the fulfillment of his dreams. In October 1971, she attended the dedication of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, along with Company co-founder and Walt’s loyal brother Roy O. Disney. “I think Walt would have approved,” she said to Roy and those who helped realize her husband’s dream. Eleven years later, she returned to Florida to attend the 1982 dedication of EPCOT Center.” (1) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 27: Dream Weaver: _____________  
  10. “She did not share Walt’s love of classical music, preferring the easy listening sounds of Lawrence Welk. But she shared his disappointment when Fantasia (1940) failed at the box office. In 1987, 21 years after his death, she donated fifty million dollars to build the Walt Disney Concert Hall,which would be the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. What better legacy than to bring Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to the masses just like her late husband wanted?” (3) Wife for Life principles from Chapter 27: Dream Weaver _____________ 
Sources:
(1) Lillian Disney, Disney Dreamer.com: http://www.disneydreamer.com/Lillian.htm
(2) Walt and Lily, The Walt Disney Family Museum (sweet story of how they met and early courtship): http://waltdisney.org/blog/walt-and-lilly
(3) Mrs. Disney, Stephen Schochet, Fascinating Walt Disney:
http://www.hollywoodstories.com/pages/disney/d6.html
(4) Walt Disney, American Experience, PBS:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/walt-disney/

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Articles on other Grand Marriages:
What Makes This Woman a Wife for Life?
Our Love Will Last Forever: Jerry and Elaine Orbach
What’s In a Kiss? Nancy and Ronald Reagan
Vision, Grit, and Love: Russell and Dantzel Nelson

Ramona Zabriskie
Ramona Zabriskie, a wife of 38 years, is the multi-award winning author of Wife for Life: The Power to Succeed in Marriage and founder of the highly acclaimed Wife for Life University, a one-of-a-kind virtual school for wives that transforms marriages through a step-by-step, principle based approach via live mentoring, classes, and community. Watch Ramona’s free information-packed webinar, “Your Power to Succeed in Marriage” on demand at ramonazabriskie.com.

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