Disney’s daughter a fearless champion of his memory
Diane Disney Miller: December 18th, 1933-November 19th, 2013
Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney
When Diane Disney Miller, who has died aged 79, was born, the Los Angeles Times announced: “Mickey Mouse has a daughter.”
It was a testament to the fame of her father, Walt Disney, and the cartoon star on whose popularity one of the great entertainment empires of the world would be built.
Diane Disney avoided the limelight for almost 60 years until increasingly negative publicity about her father prompted her to publicly defend his reputation.
In the early 1940s, with her adopted sister, Sharon, and their mother, Lillian, she was instrumental in drawing her father’s attention to a much-loved book, Mary Poppins. It was an introduction that initiated Disney’s 20-year quest to secure the film rights to PL Travers’s character and is key to the plot of the film Saving Mr Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.
Diane Disney’s other significant contribution to her father’s career was providing the impetus and inspiration for the creation of Disneyland. “In taking my sister and I to playgrounds,” she once said, “he realised there was nothing for grown-ups to do.”
For many years, her only brush with public life was upon the publication, in 1956, of the first biography of her father, which was cast in the form of a daughter’s memoir to provide the recently married Diane with a source of personal income.
Two years earlier, as a result of a blind date, she had met and married Ron Miller, a professional athlete who on retiring from the game after an injury, joined his father-in-law’s studio. During those years, the Millers had seven children and Diane led a very private life as a wife and mother.
Following Walt Disney’s death, Ron Miller was appointed company president and then chief executive, a role he held until being ousted in a very public corporate coup in 1984, whereupon the couple left Hollywood for San Francisco and the Napa Valley. They ran a winery and later started the successful Silverado Vineyards.
It was the publication, in 1993, of Marc Eliot’s iconoclastic biography Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince that caused Diane and her mother to make a public stand, denouncing the book for its negative interpretation of Disney’s personality and relationships.
As well as fearlessly championing her father’s memory, she was instrumental in ensuring the realisation of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles as a legacy and the Disney Family Foundation.
She is survived by her husband, their seven children, and 13 grandchildren.