Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Remembering Diane Disney Miller (1933 - 2013)

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Remembering Diane Disney Miller (1933 - 2013)

Rate This
  • Comments 5

If you're looking for someone to thank for two of Walt Disney's greatest triumphs -- Disneyland Park and "Mary Poppins " -- take a moment right now to think about the late Diane Disney Miller.

Miller -- who passed away earlier today following complications from a fall -- played a key role in both of these projects. When quizzed about how the Happiest Place on Earth came into being, Walt was quick to share the story of how ...

... Disneyland really began when my two daughters were very young. Saturday was always "Daddy's Day" and I would take them to the merry-go-round and sit on a bench eating peanuts, while they rode. And sitting there alone, I felt that something should be built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.

Walt shares a bedtime story with daughters Sharon (L) and Diane (R).
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As for "Mary Poppins" ... Well, as part of the press junket for "Saving Mr. Banks," Tom Hanks recently shared this story:

"I know his surviving daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and she told me she loved the book as a child. She said, 'Daddy, you have to make it'!," Hanks says.

Mind you, it took 14 years of wrangling with P. L. Travers before Walt could finally honor that bedtime promise that he'd made to Diane. But the upside was -- because this daddy just wanted to make his daughter happy -- Walt Disney Productions wound up with a cinematic masterpiece. An Academy Award-winning motion picture that -- even today -- is the yardstick against most family-friendly fantasy films are still measured.

Diane Disney Miller cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of the
Walt Disney Family Museum.

Of course, it's often been said that -- as the years fly by -- the child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. In this particular case, it meant that Diane -- in addition to watching over she & Ron Miller's own large family (seven children, thirteen grandchildren and one great-grandchild) -- would have to step in to complete something that her mother Lillian had started. Which was making sure that the Walt Disney Concert Hall actually got built.

And speaking of her father ... What was kind of ironic about Diane & Walt's relationship was -- after her Dad passed away in December of 1966 -- Mrs. Miller eventually found herself occupying the role that fathers typically have. That of protector. Though -- in this case -- what Diane was out to protect was Walt's reputation. She'd seen one too many books like Marc Eliot's 1993 unauthorized biography, "Walt Disney: The Dark Prince of Hollywood ," (which attempted to portray her Pop as an anti-Semite & as someone who had affairs with actresses like Dolores del Rio) and knew that she had to do something about that.

Diane was determined to do whatever she had to in order to protect her father's legacy. Which is why she used a good chunk of the Disney / Miller family fortune to design & then build the Walt Disney Family Museum. And ever since this 40,000 square-foot facility opened at the Presidio of San Francisco back in October 2009, Disney fans from around the globe have been able to tour the 10 galleries there. Each of them filled with precious family items that Diane personally pulled out of storage as an effort to prove what a kind, decent and generous man her Dad really was.

Tom Hanks chats with Diane Disney Miller during his Fall 2011 visit to the Walt
Disney Family Museum. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And given that Ms. Miller was so obviously protective of Walt's legacy ... Well, when The Walt Disney Company began toying with the idea of actually making a movie about the making of "Mary Poppins," they knew that -- before they could proceed with production of this project -- they first needed Diane's blessing. Which is why Tom Hanks and Disney studio chairman Alan Horn flew up to San Francisco to meet with Diane. Not only to hand deliver a copy of Kelly Marcel's screenplay for "Saving Mr. Banks" for Mrs. Miller to review but also to reassure Diane that their depiction of Walt would be true to what Diane had been trying to do with the Walt Disney Family Museum. Remind the world that Walt Disney wasn't some sort of corporate icon like Ronald McDonald or Betty Crocker. But -- rather -- a flesh-and-blood man. A father who always wanted to do right by his daughters. Even if it meant spending the family fortune on turning an Anaheim orange grove into the Happiest Place on Earth. Or battling for more than a decade with the most cantankerous author this side of J.K. Rowling (Check out "Saving Mr. Banks" when it opens in theaters next month and you'll see what I mean) just to honor one bedtime promise.

That's why we should be grateful that -- for a brief time, anyway -- we had Diane Disney Miller here with us on this planet. Not just because she was the daughter who often inspired her father to greatness. But also because -- once Walt was gone -- she was the woman who stepped up and protected & honored her father's legacy by building that fantastic museum down by San Francisco Bay.

The staff of JimHillMedia expresses its heartfelt condolences to the friends & family of Diane Disney Miller during their time of sorrow.

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • Thank you, Jim. Nice post. Diane was very protective of her father's legacy but she also didn't care for those who elevated Walt to saintly status. Another sign is the ruckus Diane raised after learning how Mickey Mouse was being used in madrasahs to  promote hate.


  • Very sad news. RIP Diane.

  • While Walt said that "it was all started with a Mouse", we're grateful that it was continued by Diane's oversight and generosity.  Disney family members like Diane and her uncle Roy are owed our gratitude.  I hope that Diane had been included (or will be) as a "Disney Legend".

  • I arrived home last night after attending a very moving screening of Saving Mr. Banks, taking special note of the re-creation of Walt's office with the family pictures on the wall, only to open my email and see the news of Mrs. Miller's passing. It was quite a night.

  • thanks for that write up jim for Diana by building that museum she proved how protective she was of her father. plus she and her sister was the main reason disneyland came to be not to metion Walt putting up with  p.l travers. and no doubt she and walt now are having a good time in heaven.

Page 1 of 1 (5 items)