Walt and Lilly: A Love Story

It was January 1924, and Walt was working on the Alice Comedies.  He needed to hire a new “blackener”, also known as an Ink and Paint girl. He asked his employee Kathleen Dollard who recommended her friends younger sister, Lillian Bounds. Lillian remembers Dollard telling her, “I have a job for you, but I’m telling you about it on one condition: don’t vamp the boss.” The deal was, Lilly could apply if she didn’t marry the boss. We all know how well that worked out.

The Interview

Lilly decided to interview “since the studio was within walking distance from where [she] was living.” Her niece Marjorie Sewell walked her there so she didn’t get lost. When Lillian first met Walt, she remembers him wearing a brown coat, sweater, raincoat and pants. She recalls, “I had no idea of vamping him, I never had such a thought in my mind. He didn’t even have a suit.” She was offered $15 a week, which, according to inflation is about $213.75 a week today.  She took it and began working for the Disney Brothers on January 14, 1924.

The Job

When asked about her work Lilly remembers, “When I first went to work for Walt I was painting cells—black-and-white in those days of course. I had no particular artistic ability, but the job didn’t really require any. It was just a matter of copying.” There was definitely a lot of copying though, which led to some long hours. Often, Walt would offer to drive Lilly and Dollard home at night. Even though Lilly lived closer to the studio, Walt always dropped Dollard off first, giving him just a little longer with Lilly. Roy Disney remembers Lillian’s early days at the studio. “She was a very pleasant little thing. She was short, blonde. We knew her sister who was living here … and through that connection she came to work at the studio. It was only a little temporary work. It wouldn’t last long.” But boy was he wrong.

Walt and Lillian Disney
The Courtship

Lillian remembers really seeing Walt as “somebody” when he started driving her home from work. With time, Lillian became Walt’s secretary. “I was not very artistic at all, and I was not very good at inking and painting. Later, Walt made me his secretary, but I made too many mistakes when he was dictating.” It was on one of those nights when Walt and Lilly were working late with some dictation that Walt surprised Lilly by suddenly leaning over to kiss her. That was their first kiss.

Walt was nervous about meeting her extended family because he didn’t have proper clothes. One night he asked Lillian, “If I get a suit, can I come and see you?” Lillian agreed, so Walt spent $40.00 on a suit. He showed up on her doorstep wearing a gray-green and double-breasted suit. Lilly remembers him “look[ing] very handsome.” Her family took to Walt immediately and so an official courtship began.

Their first big date was to see No, No, Nanette, a Broadway musical. On other dates, they often went to “picture show[s]” or took a drive. Walt also spent a lot of time in the home of Lillian’s older sister, Hazel Sewell, where Lillian was living. Marjorie, Lillian’s niece, recalled “All of a sudden, Walt was at our house an awful lot. My mother was an excellent cook. They never could really decide whether he was there because of Aunt Lilly or because of my mother’s cooking. But I guess it was Aunt Lilly.”

Walt and Lillian Wedding Day
Marriage

Walt proposed to Lillian Bounds and they were married in her family home in Lewiston, Idaho on July 13, 1925. They honeymooned at Mount Rainier and stopped in Portland, Oregon so Lillian could meet Walt’s parents, Flora and Elias. They returned to California and lived in a little apartment. Lillian quit working at the studio, but would visit on occasion. Walt often worked late and Lilly remembers sleeping on the “davenport” (a sofa) so she could be with him during his late nights.

Happily Ever After

Lillian once said Walt was a “wonderful man in every way: kind, gentle, brilliant, lots of energy and humility. He was enthusiastic about everything. He never thought anything would turn out badly.” Walt said Lillian was “a good listener. I’d talk to her about what I hoped to do, and she’d listen.” They were married for a wonderful 41 years before Walt passed away in 1966.

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