Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembering Diane Disney Miller

By Keith Mahne

In the years leading up to her death, Diane Disney Miller was best known as the co-founder (along with her son, Walter E. D. Miller) of The Walt Disney Family Museum. Aside from being well known for her extensive philanthropic work, Diane was the ultimate torchbearer of her father's legacy. In today's new article, let's examine the wonderful life of Walt's eldest daughter, learn some heartwarming stories of her memories of her father, and watch a video of Diane as she recalls spending time with Walt in the most magical place on earth, Disneyland...

Diane Disney Miller at The Walt Disney Family Museum's opening night gala.

Diane Disney Miller, elder of the two daughters of Walt Disney and his wife Lillian Bounds Disney, passed away in Napa, California at the age of 79 on November 19, 2013. Diane founded The Walt Disney Family Museum along with her son Walter Elias Disney Miller as a sort of biography about her father, Walt. She once said, "With so many biographies written about my father, I am constantly asked if one day I will write a book about him—well, this museum is my book."

Diane at the Storyteller Statue in Disney's California Adventure.


Diane was born in Los Angeles, California on December 18, 1933. She once reflected with good humor that, as she was being born, her father was attending a ceremony where he was being honored with an award from the Los Angeles bureau of Parents Magazine.

Walt Disney receives a medal for "Distinguished Service to Children" from Mrs. Sabin of Parents Magazine while his daughter Diane was being born.

During her youth, Diane provided frequent inspiration for her father's work. For instance, press notes for Mary Poppins issued at the time of its initial release said, "One evening in 1939, Walt Disney came home to find his daughter chuckling over a book. It was Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers, and this was his first introduction to one of literature's most beloved and delightful heroines." Diane recalled the incident exactly, but with one differing detail—the book she was "chuckling over" was a Winnie the Pooh volume by A. A. Milne.

Walt Disney reads a bedtime story to his daughters Sharon (left) and Diane (right).

Walt thought highly of his daughter's abilities and opinions, even as a child. He said to writer Pete Martin in 1957, "A little thing that happened in Bambi. My daughter, Diane, was quite a reader when she was very young. I think she was under 12...when I finished the picture, I brought it home and ran it—and she cried. Afterwards she said to me, 'Daddy, why did you have to kill Bambi's mother?' And I said, 'Well, it was in the book, dear.' She said, 'There were plenty of things in the book that you changed, why couldn't you have changed that?' She had me."

Walt and a young Diane Disney

Diane "wrote" a Saturday Evening Post article series called "My Dad, Walt Disney," published in 1957 and 1958, and a corresponding book titled The Story of Walt Disney published in 1957. ("First, I must announce that I did not write this book," Diane wrote in a preface to a 2005 reprinting. "Though it bears my name before the 'as told to Pete Martin,' the book was wholly written by Mr. Martin, based on hours of taped interviews with my dad, Walt Disney.")

A 1957 advertisement for The Story of Walt Disney.

"No one understands that he was really a dad," Diane told Jordan Zakarian of The Huffington Post. "He drove my sister and me to school every morning. Every weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, he'd say it was 'Daddy's Day,' and he'd take us all day to the local park where they had a beautiful carousel or take us to the studio—we'd run around the studio on weekends when no one was there, we'd go into every animation room and prowl around the lot. He was really a dad. He went to every school function, every Father's Night."


When she was 20, Diane was introduced to 21-year-old USC student Ron Miller on a blind date. After dating for a time, and with the approval of her parents, they married in a small church ceremony in Santa Barbara on May 9, 1954.

Diane with new husband Ron Miller and her father Walt on her wedding day.

Ron worked at Walt Disney Productions briefly in 1954 as a liaison between Walt's private company, WED Enterprises, and Disneyland before he was drafted into the Army. When he came home, he played professional football, but was prompted by Walt to return to work for him. In the ensuing decades, Ron ascended from film directing and production work to president and CEO of what is now The Walt Disney Company. After his departure from Disney in 1984, he retired from the entertainment industry and developed the renowned Silverado Vineyards Winery on a tact of their Napa property.

After her marriage to Ron, Diane's focus shifted to parenting. She was the mother of seven children: Christopher D. Miller (1954), Joanna Miller (1956), Tamara Diane Miller (1957), Jennifer Miller-Goff (1960), Walter Elias Disney Miller (1961), Ronald Miller (1963), and Patrick Miller (1967).

Diane with her family at the museum opening.


In later years, her concern about the public image and reputation of her father led Diane to guide a series of projects in celebration of Walt Disney's achievements. She had initially become alarmed by a few scurrilous biographies, and later by the increasing perception of her father as a brand name rather than a human being. She set about highlighting her father as a fully dimensional man, responsible for, but apart from, his very public accomplishments.

Diane and Walt enjoying the sunshine.

Through the Walt Disney Family Foundation, the feature documentary Walt: The Man Behind the Myth was released in 2001. The foundation also produced Walt and El Grupo, a 2008 documentary about Walt Disney's 1941 Goodwill Tour of South America.

"I wanted people to understand that my Dad wasn't a plaster saint, by any means," Diane once recalled. "But he wasn't the devil's right-hand man either—and too many people were trying to paint him that way, through ignorance or intent."

Diane at the grand opening gala at the then-new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003.

The success of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003 led to an inspiration for her most ambitious effort. "It turned out so well, it's a place that people are thrilled to be in," Diane said of Disney Hall. "And it gave me the courage to do the museum."


Creating a permanent exhibition dedicated to an enduring and living biography of Walt Disney, his life, work, inspirations, and philosophies was the idea at the core of The Walt Disney Family Museum when development of the concept began in 2005. In addition, Diane sought to showcase her father's ongoing legacy, to highlight and celebrate those individuals and projects he inspired, and to offer ongoing education, outreach, and public programming to commensurate with Walt's life, works, and perspectives.

Diane with Alice Davis.

Diane and John Lasseter.

Diane with George Lucas and Ron Miller.

Rare artifacts, family photographs, artwork, correspondence, interactive displays, and more than 200 multimedia installations are presented throughout the museum. Due to Walt's media savvy and fame during his lifetime, much of his story is told through his own words and person, as seen and heard in rare film and audio recordings.

Diane and Tony Baxter.

Diane sits with Richard Sherman and Floyd Norman.

In addition to the museum, Diane and the Walt Disney Family Foundation supported other efforts. These include the donation and relocation of Walt's personal Red Barn workshop to the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum in Griffith Park, and the purchase and restoration of one of the original Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad cars for the Los Angeles-based Carolwood Pacific Society.

A young Diane having some fun with daddy.

Diane was devoted to keeping the memory of her father alive—not as a corporate symbol but as a man who loved his family and embodied the American success story. She was unstoppable in pursuing her goals, a quality she clearly inherited from her parents. As the beloved daughter of Walt Disney and one of his inspirations for creating Disneyland, she will always hold a special place in the history of The Walt Disney Company and in the hearts of fans everywhere.

In the heartwarming video below filmed before her death, the late Diane Disney Miller shares her fond memories of her father's Disneyland apartment and her life with the world’s most famous surname...

Source: The Walt Disney Family Museum


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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