Marriage and early career
While Miller was a football player for the University of Southern California, he was introduced to Walt's 20-year-old daughter, Diane, on a blind date. After dating for a while, and with the approval of Walt and Lillian, they married in a small church ceremony in Santa Barbara on May 9, 1954. Their first child, Christopher, was born seven months later on December 10, 1954.
Just five months after their wedding, Ron was drafted into the army. During their first six years of marriage, he and Diane had four children. After his army service, he played a season as tight end with the Los Angeles Rams professional football team.
"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," Miller told entertainment reporter Dale Pollock in August 1984.
However, the fact that Miller never finished school and played football became fodder for his critics to label him a "dumb jock" who lucked into marrying into an entertainment empire.
Early history at Disney
Miller initially worked at Walt Disney Productions for a few months in 1954 as a liaison between WED Enterprises and Disneyland before he was drafted into the army later that year. When he came home, he played professional football. However, he was later prompted by Walt to return to work for him.
Walt sponsored Miller and got him into the Screen Director's Guild and he worked as a second assistant on Old Yeller (1957). He soon rose up the ranks to a variety of producer positions and also directed some of Walt's lead-ins for the popular weekly Disney television show.
In 1958, Clint Walker walked out of the popular Warner Bros. television Western, "Cheyenne" for a variety of reasons. Bill Orr, Jack Warner's son-in-law, called in Miller to audition as Walker's replacement, and was impressed enough to schedule a screen test. Walt stepped in and told Miller to forget acting, that Disney was grooming him for the position of producer. Walker resolved his differences with Warner Bros. and returned to the show in 1959. As a result, Miller never attempted acting again.
Instead, Miller spent his time in the film division and his co-producer credits appear on such Disney classics as Son of Flubber, Summer Magic, and That Darn Cat!. His first film with full producer credit was Never a Dull Moment (1968).
"It was obviously a great atmosphere when Walt was alive. If Walt liked something, we knew damn well it had to be good; it had to be successful. Obviously, things are not the same without him. Walt was a great leader, and in his own way, a genius. For that one genius it has taken fifty geniuses to fill his void," said Miller.
President of Walt Disney Productions
Miller became president of Walt Disney Productions in 1980 and CEO in 1983. Under his leadership, Disney became the target of corporate raiders and takeover attempts, and many influential shareholders criticized his leadership. In 1984, fellow Disney family member Roy E. Disney, his financial majordomo Stanley Gold, and shareholder Sid Bass ousted Miller in favor of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.
Miller is perhaps best known for creating the Touchstone label, which allowed Disney to produce and release adult-oriented films without harming the family-friendly reputation of the Disney name. (Its first one was Splash, starring Tom Hanks.) He was also responsible for establishing the Disney Channel and funding the films of young Tim Burton (Vincent and Frankenweenie), acquiring the film rights and putting into development the Who Framed Roger Rabbit project, initiating Disney's first attempts at computer animation, and funding Disney's first Broadway show ("Total Abandon," with Richard Dreyfuss, 1983), all of which established foundations for future success for the Walt Disney Company.
In 1976, Lillian, with Diane and Miller, purchased two vineyards in the Napa Valley. Their intention was to upgrade the property, replant to premium varietals, install new trellising and frost protection, but not to build or run a winery. Their vineyards were clearly exceptional, producing top-quality fruit and award-winning wines year after year…for other wineries. So construction of the Silverado Vineyards Winery began in 1980. Architect Dick Keith designed the old California mission-style structure, which is often mistaken for an actual restoration.
During the last twenty years of his life, Miller spent most of his time building the reputation of his Silverado Winery, and spoke openly about his lack of continued respect for the current leaders of the Walt Disney Company.