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Remembering Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s Eldest Daughter, 1933-2013

In memory of Diane Disney Miller, the eldest daughter of Walt who passed away yesterday at the age of 79, we are republishing this Disney Dads Q and A, which was originally posted on July 30, 2013.

A mother of seven, and co-founder of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco which opened in 2009, Diane dedicated a large part of her life to preserving the legacy and personal story of her father.

Having the opportunity to ask Ms. Disney Miller a few questions this past summer, and to hear first hand what it was like growing up as the daughter of the original Disney Dad, Walt, was immensely meaningful to us and spoke directly to our mission. It was Walt’s capability of maintaining his role as loving father, while simultaneously juggling one of the most robust creative careers of all time that was the inspiration to start Disney Dads in the first place.

We wish to express our deepest sympathies to her family.

Disney Dads: Are there specific dad characters, dad scenes, or dad moments in the Disney films that were produced by Walt Disney that particularly remind you of the way he was as a father?

Diane Disney Miller: There are definitely some moments in dad’s films that sprang from his own experiences as a father. One he talked about was the character of the king in Cinderella who wanted his son to marry so that he could have some grandchildren. “He’s just like me.. He wants grandchildren.”

I found it annoying that some others thought that they had a right to his attention. He was MY father. My sister felt the same way.

The father in Bon Voyage as played by Fred MacMurray exhibited some dad moments that I’m sure fit this category… the harried father shepherding his family through the European adventure. In his final film, The Happiest Millionaire, with Fred again, there are several scenes that seem very dad-like to me… the father of  a daughter.. some sweet scenes with Greer Garson (the mom).

Disney Dads: Are there insights you might have for other fathers today about how Walt was able to be such a dynamic force both at work and at home?

Diane Disney Miller: When dad came home from work at the end of the day he really came home. Home and family were important to him, the kind of family structure he’d been raised in. But there was a lot of laughter in our home. When Sharon and I were very young we were rather sequestered from the adults for meals. We had a nanny until I was about 6. My mother’s sister lived with us after that, which gave them the freedom to travel, which was important.

But we always had dinner as a family and dad would talk about what he was doing, tell a story that he’d been working on. I think this helped him develop these stories.

On many Sundays we’d pile into his small Packard roadster and go for a drive. We’d listen to the great radio comedy shows .. Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Fred Allen….on the way home.

Disney Dads: You have written about the moment when you were 6 and realized that your father was “the” Walt Disney. How did that affect you throughout your childhood?

Diane Disney Miller: Actually I found it annoying that some others thought that they had a right to his attention. He was MY father. My sister felt the same way. At this point in my life I am really in awe of him. I am realizing just how important the things he did are to so many people all over the world. I am humbled by this.

To learn more about the Walt Disney Family Museum, visit their official website.

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