Ronald William Miller (April 17, 1933 - February 9, 2019) was an American Football player and film executive for Disney. He rose to the top as CEO before getting fired by Roy E. Disney, and getting replaced by Michael Eisner. After his departure, he and his wife Diane Disney Miller formed the Walt Disney family museum and ran it until their deaths in 2013 and 2019.
He met Diane Disney on a blind date in 1954, and the two got married shortly after. After serving in the Army, he played one season in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams in 1956. He got knocked out by Hall of Fame Cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane in Week 5 with his father-in-law Walt Disney in attendance. Walt never watched a Football game again.
After the season ended, Walt convinced Miller to retire from the NFL, and join his company. Miller had this to say in a 1984 interview.
|“||My father-in-law saw me play in two football games when I was with the Los Angeles Rams. In one of them, I caught a pass and Dick 'Night Train' Lane let me have it from the rear. His forearm came across my nose and knocked me unconscious. I woke up in about the third quarter. At the end of the season, Walt came up to me and said, 'You know, I don't want to be the father to your children. You're going to die out there. How about coming to work with me?' I did and it was a wise decision on my part. I'm really very proud of having been a professional athlete. I think it teaches you to be competitive, to accept challenges and to see things through. I realize the image some people have of jocks, but I think that certainly has changed over the years.||”|
After working behind the scenes mostly on live-action projects, Miller was approached by Bill Orr (son-in-law of Disney rival Jack L. Warner) in 1958 replace Clint Walker on Cheyenne due to him quitting. Despite being good enough for Orr to want a screen test, Walt got involved, and told Miller to forget acting, as he should be a producer. It most likely wouldn’t have mattered, as Walker returned to Cheyenne later on.
Miller and Walt worked together on more projects such as The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, The Monkey’s Uncle, That Darn Cat!, Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., and Monkeys, Go Home! But unfortunately, Walt died in 1966, and Miller was looked at as a man who could be his successor.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Walt Disney Productions was mainly run by three men. Don Tatum, Card Walker, and Miller. Miller proved to be the most innovative of the three, as he expanded the company to form the Disney Channel in 1983, and pushed the movies that were being made to have a darker tone as he produced The Black Hole in 1979 which was the studio’s first ever PG feature (note that this was before PG-13 was invented in 1984.) He also gave the green light to Tron, which was one of the first movies to heavily use CGI, and was also a PG movie. Both of those movies made money, but were both considered disappointments due to not being enough. Miller blamed it on them having a more mature tone, and believed it would be better if the company were to make a new brand that doesn’t have the Disney name. So Miller invented Touchstone Pictures, and it’s first movie Splash was a major hit, and it helped kickstart to career of Tom Hanks.
It was now Miller started to be more involved with animation, as he served as an executive producer on The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, and The Black Cauldron. With the latter being important as that was Disney’s first 70mm animated feature since 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, and was their first animated movie to get the PG rating (although had Jeffrey Katzenberg not cut over 12 minutes of footage, it could have gotten the R rating.) However, during this time, Disney was the target of takeover attempts, and Roy E. Disney who was never a fan of Miller’s leadership, launched his first “Save Disney” campaign, where he successfully ousted Miller in favor of Disney and animation outsiders in Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.
The new leadership took advantage of Miller’s Touchstone Pictures, and released Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Which Miller got the rights to) in 1988 which was a major hit.
Miller and Diane were married from 1954 to her death in 2013. The couple had seven children, although they were separated for a bit due to Miller having an affair, but got back together happily, and lived their lives after Miller left Disney.