Diane Disney Miller, 79, remembered as a supporter of the arts

Diane Disney Miller, who died on Tuesday at 79, was famous for being the elder daughter of Walt Disney. In Los Angeles, she was also known as a formidable cultural presence who played a crucial role in the creation of Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Miller died in Napa Calif., following a fall in September. Earlier that month, she spoke to the Los Angeles Times on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Disney Hall. The concert venue, designed by architect Frank Gehry, was funded with an initial $50-million gift from her mother, Lillian Disney. (The family’s contributions eventually reached more than $100 million.)

The building of Disney Hall was a contentious and drawn-out process. After Lillian Disney died in 1997, her elder daughter stepped in and fought to keep Gehry on the job. The architect had threatened to quit that year after some backers wanted to take the project out of his hands.

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In a phone interview Tuesday, Gehry recalled asking Miller why she had intervened on his behalf.


“She said she remembered her father coming home from work, beaten down by various studio bosses. She said she saw something like that happening here,” said the architect.

Gehry said that he didn’t know Miller before they worked together on Disney Hall, but that they became friends after the venue opened. “She was smart, brave and courageous,” he said.

Miller developed a strong relationship with the L.A. Philharmonic, becoming an honorary life director of the orchestra.

“We would not have Disney Hall without Diane Disney Miller,” said Deborah Borda, president of the L.A. Philharmonic, in an interview on Tuesday. “She was the most lovely person and she was really profoundly caring.”

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Miller’s other major philanthropic passion was the Walt Disney Family Museum, which she co-founded in 2009. The museum, located in the Presidio in San Francisco, preserves the creative legacy of Walt Disney and is run by the nonprofit Walt Disney Family Foundation.

Borda recalled that during a trip to San Francisco a few years ago, orchestra members received a personal tour of the museum by Miller.

Miller served on the San Francisco Symphony’s board of governors from 1998 to 2003. “Diane was most passionate about giving the children of the San Francisco Bay area opportunities to encounter and fall in love with classical music,” said Brent Assink, the orchestra’s executive director, in a statement.

A lifelong classical music fan and an amateur pianist, Miller was also a benefactor of Napa’s Music in the Vineyards, a chamber-music festival.

Speaking about Disney Hall in September, Miller told The Times that she “wanted something that would bear my father’s name, that would come from his wealth but not be commercial.”

She added: “That would be just a wonderful thing for the city, for the spirit, for the soul. I think we achieved that. When I say we — Frank has achieved that.”

Here’s the full obituary for Diane Disney Miller.


Diane Disney Miller, champion of Disney Hall design, dies at 79

Diane Disney Miller reflects on a Walt Disney Concert Hall turning point

Critic’s notebook: Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is inextricably of L.A.