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Lillian Disney, widow of Walt Disney and arts patron, dead at 98

December 18, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Lillian Disney, the conservative check to Walt Disney’s daring genius, has died. The widowed arts patron was 98.

Mrs. Disney died peacefully in her sleep at home late Tuesday, family spokesman Joshua Gertler said Wednesday. She had suffered a stroke early in the morning of Dec. 15 _ 31 years to the day that her husband died.

Mrs. Disney did not live to see the completion of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, an addition to the downtown Music Center which she seeded with a $50 million donation 10 years ago.

``This really is the end of an era for the Disneys,″ said Walt Disney Co. Vice Chairman Roy E. Disney, the son of Walt’s late brother, Roy O. Disney.

Said Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner: ``Mrs. Disney was a full-time partner to Walt and we are all grateful for her contributions to the creation of Mickey Mouse and the Disney company, and for the example she set for family life and community service.″

The former Lillian Bounds was married to the studio chief for 41 years.

She was her husband’s primary sounding board, and he would run his revolutionary ideas _ from ``Snow White″ to Disneyland _ by her for approval. She tended to be the careful balance to her husband’s brashness: She wouldn’t let him take too much of a gamble unless and until his thinking was sound.

She was credited with rejecting the name Mortimer for a new mouse character her husband had invented and instead suggesting Mickey.

Later in her life, Mrs. Disney was active in fund-raising for the much-delayed Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry-designed new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The hall was supposed to be opened by now. But construction funds are still incomplete, and all that sits on the downtown site today is a concrete foundation and a parking structure. The 2,350-seat hall is now scheduled to open in 2001.

Born in Spalding, Idaho, in 1899 as the 10th child of Jeanette Short Bounds and Willard Pehall Bounds, Mrs. Disney grew up in Lapwai on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

In 1996, Mrs. Disney donated $100,000 to the Nez Perce Indians, who were trying to buy some ancient tribal artifacts.

After leaving for Los Angeles in 1917, she found a job as a $15-a-week ``inker″ of film frames at the Disney studio and soon thereafter met Disney. They were married on July 13, 1925, in Lewiston, Idaho.

During the studio’s ascendancy, the publicity-shy Mrs. Disney avoided the Hollywood social scene. Her husband was too busy with work and she was not inclined to host parties.

After her husband’s death on Dec. 15, 1966, she was active in the founding and building of the California Institute of the Arts, a multidisciplinary school that has produced many of the film industry’s best animators. She also operated a foundation that gave charitable gifts.

One of her rare public comments in recent years concerned the Marc Eliot book ``Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince,″ a somewhat tawdry biography.

``I was married to Walt Disney for more than 41 years,″ she said in a statement condemning the book. ``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. I am distressed to learn of a new book about Walt that actually invents incidents that never happened.″

Disney is survived by her daughter, Diane Disney Miller, of Napa, as well as 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

There will be no funeral service, the family spokesman said.

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