(Pictured above center, Edna Disney)
Edna Francis Disney lent her support to The Walt Disney Company even before its 1923 inception.
While dating Walt’s older brother and her future husband, Company co-founder Roy O. Disney, Edna first met the “cute” 10-year-old boy Walter Elias Disney in Kansas City, Missouri, around 1911. As she recalled, “Roy and I were just going together… We stopped at a drugstore to get a soda, and Walt came to see Roy because he wanted a quarter or a half-dollar for paper to draw on. Even then, Roy provided the money for Walt’s artistic ambitions.”
A spirited woman, with an understanding heart and a ready opinion to share, Edna provided enthusiastic support and sound counsel to her business-genius husband as he helped grow his brother’s creative venture from a humble storefront in Hollywood to an entertainment empire that spans the globe.
Edna was born to pioneer parents in Reece, Kansas, on January 16, 1890. The third of six children, she moved with her family to Kansas City at an early age. To help support the family, at 13 she found a job selling ribbons in a mercantile store… while standing on a box behind the counter.
Later, she worked at the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Times. It was Edna’s younger brother, who worked as a bank teller, who introduced her to another young bank employee.
She recalled, “My brother brought Roy home and they took my sister and me to a dance. Roy had only had two dance lessons; he wasn’t very good.” Thus began Roy and Edna’s long, and sometimes long-distance romance.
After Roy served in the Navy in World War I, the couple planned to marry until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He spent the next several years recuperating at military hospitals in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. During this time, Edna and her family served as a surrogate family for Walt, whose parents had moved to Portland, Oregon, while he struggled with his first animation studio, Laugh O-gram Films in Kansas City.
She recalled, “Walt used to come out to our house. He was having kind of a struggle financially and when he’d get hungry, he’d come over. We’d feed him a good meal and he’d talk until almost midnight, about cartoon pictures mostly, and things he wanted to do.”
After Walt moved to Hollywood in 1923, Roy left the hospital to help his brother start his film studio. Roy wrote to “his girl” Edna and they were married at the home of Uncle Robert Disney on Kingswell Avenue. Edna frequently assisted with office work at the fledgling studio, and along with Walt’s wife, Lillian Bounds Disney, helped ink and paint animation cels.
As Roy E. Disney, former vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company and the only child of Roy and Edna, recalled, “Mother was a true partner with my father. She traveled with him around the world to visit colleagues. When they came to Burbank, she’d cook them chicken dinner at our home. After serving in her kitchen, she usually encouraged them to help wash the dishes after eating. She was good friends with many Disney employees; she had a unique gift for understanding people.”
Edna Disney passed away on December 18, 1984, at age 94.