November 20, 2013:
November 20, 2013:
|Walt Disney with his daughters Sharon (left) and Diane.|
She died yesterday at the age of 79, as everyone knows by now, after suffering a fall in late September that left her in a coma. This is a terrible loss. Two great institutions—the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles—speak very clearly about the remarkable person she was, about her strength of character and her dedication to honoring her parents' memory as splendidly as possible. She left too soon, with much accomplished but with important work still to do. There is on the museum's website a full and admirably sensitive account of her life.
The Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, came first. It is a wonderful building that would not exist in its present form, and maybe not at all, if Diane had not made that possible through her determination and, of course, her financial support. The Walt Disney Family Museum is entirely her creation, and it is in its own way just as wonderful, for all the reasons I laid out here after a visit in March 2012. How amazing that one tiny woman—I was surprised when I met her last year by how small she was—could impose her will through such huge and disparate projects, and could do it in a way that left her all but invisible when you are in the concert hall and especially when you are touring the museum. The museum is unmistakably the Walt Disney Family Museum—it's about him, with no trace of self-aggrandizement by the museum's founder.
I wish I could feel confident that the Family Museum will long survive her, but institutions that are the product of one person's unique vision are inevitably vulnerable until enough other people have fully embraced that vision as their own. That was of course the pattern of Walt Disney's life, as he persuaded skeptics to see an exciting future first for animation and then for Disneyland. If Diane had lived I think it likely that she would have led the museum to the same sort of broad popularity. But now there is no telling what will happen. Cost-cutting often becomes the highest priority under such circumstances, and if it does, the museum's days may be numbered. Rare is the business or institution than can cut its way to success.
For now, though, the museum survives, and there can be no better time to visit it—and to say, as you enter, a quiet "thank you" to Diane Disney Miller for her wonderful gifts to all of us.
From John K.Richardson: I hope you’re also wrong about the museum. I’ve been counting on it being there for a while… until I could get there with my family someday. Even before I read your piece and considered that angle, I was already feeling a real sense of loss at hearing the news, and it’s hard to analyze why. I never met her or had any contact with her. Maybe I was harboring unlikely hopes of meeting her someday. Maybe it just felt comforting to know that Walt’s daughter, with her unique knowledge and love of him, would be a sort of living link to him for a much longer time. As clichéd as it sounds, I just took that for granted. Also, I guess, she just came across as a very down to earth, intelligent, warm person with an engaging mission—someone you would want to meet.
[Posted November 21, 2013]
From Mark Sonntag: I never met Diane but got to know her via e-mail. She invited me many times as her guest to the museum even in her last e-mail to me about a year ago. I sincerely hope you are wrong about the museum but unfortunately these things can go sour. Maybe it's up to people like myself, people in the industry Walt put on the map and others like historians to keep the dream alive. After all, in some way it's our museum too. It is an important place, as I mentioned to her seven years ago, it's about inspiring people through Walt as we sadly live in a very cynical world where heroes have been torn down and their accomplishments forgotten amongst falsehoods.
[Posted November 25, 2013]