Saturday 16 February 2019

DAVE R SMITH (1940-2019)

News today of the passing, at the age of 78, of another friend of Disney: Dave Smith, founder of the Walt Disney Archive and, for forty years, its champion, defender and gatekeeper. His knowledge of all matters Disney and his passion for sharing that knowledge were unrivalled.

David Rollin Smith was born and raised in Pasadena, California, and was a youthful admirer of Disney movies and a frequent to Disneyland. Later graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he spent eighteen months as an intern at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Moving back to California he worked as a librarian at UCLA for five years; then, in the late ‘60s, while working on a bibliography on Walt Disney, Dave heard that The Walt Disney Company was considering establishing an Archive and wrote a letter to the Disney Company offering his services. The rest is Disney history!

Apart from his huge contribution, through his work at the Archive, to preserving the history of Disney’s contribution to film and animation, Dave disseminated much of that story through his many books, including Disney A to Z (going through numerous editions), The Quotable Walt Disney, Disney: The First 100 Years, Disney Facts Revealed, his multi-volume The Ultimate Disney Trivia Book and many other books, articles and contributions to other publications.

Dave, was an essentially a shy and very private man; as a result he was – sometimes – a rather prickly customer, requiring careful handling, but those of us who got to share a personal friendship with him also knew him to be an entertaining and often wickedly funny man.

For example, I remember, during one of his visits to the U.K., my husband, David Weeks and I took him on a jaunt around the South of England visiting, among other places, Hever Castle (historic home of Anne Boleyn and her family); it was spring and the flowerbeds were a riot of blooms; admiring them, Dave said: "Well! There are more pansies here than in Disneyland!"

The existence of the Walt Disney Archive is a testament to Dave's determination and work, as well as to the vision of Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney, who appointed him to a job that had didn't at the time exist and let him set about preserving the company's phenomenal legacy.


Sunday 10 February 2019

RON W MILLER (1933-219)

It is with great personal sadness that I note the passing of Ron Miller at the age of 85. Ronald William Miller was an American businessman and former professional American football player. Married to Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's eldest daughter, he worked for his father-in-law on numerous film projects and later became President and CEO of The Walt Disney Company from 1978 until 1984, when he was ousted following an internal power struggle that saw the company pass into the control of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg supported by Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney.

Ron Miller's achievements, during the difficult years following Walt's death were hugely significant and have yet to received their due credit. As his father-in-law had done before him, he pushed the Company to expand and explore, creating, in 1983, the Touchstone label (with its first stand-out hit, Splash!) and launching the Disney Channel. He was an innovator (although, again, unacknowledged), experimenting in early computer animation in Tron (1982); funding an unlikely collaborator, the renegade Tim Burton, for stop-motion animation shorts Vincent (1982) and Frankenweenie (1984); and sowing the seeds for several future hit projects, among them Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).

Following the 1984 company coup, Ron and Diane left Hollywood and settled in Nappa Valley where they had already established the now internationally successful Silverado Vineyards.

Ron was a gentlemanly giant, a man of great personal charm and graciousness whose company I enjoyed on several occasions. The first in the late '80s – in company with my friends Richard Holliss and his wife, Chris – on a visit to the Miller's then home in Hollywood and later, on various visits to San Francisco. He will be remembered (apart from his valiant attempts to reinvigorate the Disney studio following Walt's death) for his service to the Disney legacy, tirelessly supporting Diane's various projects devoted to her father's memory, including the documentary film, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (2001) and the visionary project, The Walt Disney Family Museum created in 2009 in San Francisco where the Millers had a penthouse apartment overlooking the Bay. Following Diane's tragic death in 2013, Ron became president of the Museum's board of directors.

He had agreed to write an introduction to a book of Walt Disney's letters that I am currently editing and I am saddened that this will, now, never be the case.

I am pictured below with Diane and Ron in 2001 at the premiere of Walt: The Man Behind the Myth, in which I made a cameo appearance.