[Over the course of a 50-year career, Ron Miziker has staged everything from Super Bowls to Disney parades.]
Meet Mr. Entertainment:
UNM grad has spent a career creating memories
By Leslie Linthicum
To say Ron Miziker (’65 BAED) knows how to throw a party is like saying LeBron James knows how to bounce a ball and Jacques Pépin knows how to fry an egg.
Miziker is the guy who brought 10,000 dancers to the Indy 500 Speedway, put on a 17-minute spectacular with a $20 million budget for the Sultan of Oman and coordinated a block-long mass of tubas in a 1,000-person Disney World marching band.
The founder of Miziker Entertainment, whose motto is “All the world’s our stage,” has spent a career inspiring people to ooh and aah. He created the first Super Bowl halftime show in 1977 and went on to produce three more, organized the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opening ceremony and the Pan-Am Games. And he’s the man responsible for some enduring American memories: He created Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade and the traveling Disney show that was the precursor to Disney on Ice.
Now 75 and in his sixth decade of producing, Miziker continues to travel the world making spectacles. His current projects involve a casino show in Macau and a theme park in China.
“It all goes back to college. I owe it all to UNM,” Miziker says from his offices in Burbank, Calif.
Born in Ohio, Miziker grew up in Albuquerque, attended Highland High School and worked as a stocker and a checker at the Furr’s grocery store. His mother wanted him to be a doctor, so he enrolled in pre-med courses at UNM and encountered biology and chemistry.
Miziker remembers his reaction: “I said, ‘Uh, this isn’t going to be for me.’”
So young Ron was walking past a bulletin board and saw an announcement of a new course being offered: television.
“I thought, ‘That sounds like a hell of a lot more fun than being a doctor.’”
And so began Miziker’s career in show business. He signed up and met two men who would be his mentors. E. Wayne Bundy and F. Claude Hempen, who ran KNME, the public television station. Within six months, Miziker had a job as a camera operator at the station and a year later he was promoted to director/producer, becoming responsible for 20 hours of programming a week.
He took classes in speech, dramatic arts, and television production on campus while putting his skills to work at the station.
He also signed on to produce the Homecoming halftime show and to produce the Fall Fiesta program and managed to sign Johnny Cash for the concert.
After hustling his way through college, Miziker was ready for the bright lights.
“I wanted to go to Hollywood,” he says, “so that’s what I did.”
He traded in his Buick for a 1965 Mustang and had his first business meeting at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hilton.
“Can you imagine?” he says. “A little kid from New Mexico.”
That starstruck meeting led to a more pedestrian job, working in the advertising department of Armstrong Floors and Ceilings. He moved his young family to Pennsylvania. His next job a few years later took him to Cincinnati to produce a nationally televised variety show, “The 50-50 Club.”
And then Disney called. Miziker would go on to make a career at Disney, first as director of show development at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, then as a producer for Walt Disney Productions and finally as vice president of original programming for the Disney Channel.
Those titles don’t describe half the fun Miziker had at Disney and the mark he made on the iconic entertainment company.
“A spectacular isn’t a spectacular unless it’s something people haven’t seen before,” says Miziker. “You have to create a memory.”
That often involves more balloons, more lights, more fireworks, more performers.
In Miziker’s world, “More is always better. Instead of one finale, have three.”
But, he says, “It has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Dynamics, pacing, rhythm.”
In 1984 he struck out on his own, forming Miziker Entertainment and the company has employed both of his sons and taken him around the world.
In 2015, Miziker was recognized by the Themed Entertainment Association with the Buzz Price Thea Award for lifetime achievement.
His son Ryan introduced him. His father, he said, “loves entertainment. He loves the show. He lives for the moment when the lights go down, anticipation rises and the music starts.”
Miziker does. But he also gets butterflies. To curb those, he always plans backups. So if, say, the block-long light display goes on the fritz, there’s something sparkly in reserve that he can swap in.
A couple of years ago, Miziker realized that he had amassed a considerable body of knowledge about entertaining. He put it all in “Miziker’s Complete Event Planner’s Handbook,” which was published in 2015 by the University of New Mexico Press. The fat volume is chock-full of practical advice, everything from how to arrange banquet chairs and tables to how much alcohol to buy.
The book is meant to allow home entertainers the same level of satisfaction he gets from staging a spectacular that is truly spectacular.
His favorite feeling is when the show unfolds and the audience begins to ooh and aah.
“Just the wonderment,” he says, “that it’s all coming together.”