As visitors to The Walt Disney Family Museum make their way through the second floor galleries, they occasionally overlook the displays in 7b, intent on taking in the breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge that awaits them just beyond. But when that occurs, these guests miss the opportunity to see the special treasures arrayed in the cases in this gallery. Several of these personal items, donated by the Disney family, provide a glimpse of the depth of affection that Walt had for his wife, Lillian, his daughters, Diane and Sharon, and of his love of gift-giving.
Walt’s Unusual Gift
One of the most prized artifacts on display, and the focus of our Look Closer presentation for February, is the Oscar® charm bracelet that Walt had made for Lilly in the early 1960s. Made of 18K gold, the Oscar® bracelet is fashioned with 20 miniature statuettes, each of which is engraved with the name of the work for which it was awarded. Originally, Walt envisioned having a necklace made with these charms given to him by the Academy; but when Lilly said she’d prefer a bracelet, the tiny statuettes were put into a different design. After the bracelet was constructed, Lilly wore it often and with great pride.
Passing On The Oscar® Bracelet
In her later years, Lilly gave the bracelet to one of her granddaughters, who also treasured the stunning piece. Unfortunately, the bracelet was found missing after a time, apparently stolen by someone who had access to the family home. It wasn’t until a number of years later that the bracelet resurfaced, in the Los Angeles area.
Gifts of Love
As the Oscar bracelet shows, Walt was fond of giving the three special women in his life unique pieces of antique jewelry which tended to be unusual yet elegant. One year, he took Diane and Sharon with him to help choose an item for their mother. This is the necklace in the case in Gallery 7b, that features an antique watch fob with flowers made in three kinds of gold. On the same shelf as the necklace are three antique bracelets, gifts to Diane and Sharon, along with several distinctive perfume bottles, all gifts from Walt. Lillian loved fine perfume, and as a result, it became a popular gift from Walt to both his wife and daughters at Christmas. The bottles were often beautifully wrapped by Eunice, one of Walt’s three secretaries.
Together with his wife, Walt shared a fondness for the Victorian period, and he indulged this fondness—as well as a love of miniatures—when shopping for family gifts. For her fourteenth birthday, Diane received first editions of Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories, and later, Walt presented her with a miniature set of the complete works of Shakespeare, also displayed in Gallery 7b. Over time, when Walt became too busy to shop for his daughters, he gave them birthday cards containing promises for something special to follow.
Two more examples of Walt’s tendency to give his family unique presents for special occasions are the times he surprised Lilly with a puppy in a hatbox for their first Christmas, and the gift of the bronzed hat for her birthday in 1941. That hat, with the crown formed into the shape of a heart to signify Walt’s love for his wife, and the story behind this memorable present, can be found in the Museum towards the end of Gallery 9.
Visit Us and Learn More About Disney’s Amazing History
Originally constructed in 1897 as an Army barracks, our iconic building transformed into The Walt Disney Family Museum more than a century later, and today houses some of the most interesting and fun museum exhibitions in the US. Explore the life story of the man behind the brand—Walt Disney. You’ll love the iconic Golden Gate Bridge views and our interactive exhibitions here in San Francisco. You can learn more about visiting us here.
–Mary Beth Culler
Museum Interpreter at The Walt Disney Family Museum