|Born||Franklin G. Wells
March 4, 1932
Coronado, California, U.S.
|Died||April 3, 1994
Lamoille, Nevada, U.S.
|Cause of death||Helicopter crash|
|Alma mater||Oxford University|
|Occupation||President, The Walt Disney Company|
Life and career
Wells was born in Coronado, California. He graduated from Stanford Law School and became a lawyer. He was also a 1953 recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship, through which he obtained his BA at Oxford University. He traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower.
Before his tenure with Disney, Wells had worked for Warner Bros. as its Vice President of West Coast in 1969, then in 1973 as President, and in 1977 as Vice Chairman until he left the company in 1982.
Disney directors Roy E. Disney, Stanley Gold, and Sid Bass had ousted President and CEO Ron W. Miller in 1984. The Disney board then recruited Wells to become Disney's President and Chief Operating Officer (1984–1994), along with Michael Eisner as Chairman and CEO, and Jeffrey Katzenberg as head of Walt Disney Studios. Wells was unique among the management troika in that he had the highest academic achievement. Wells, although the number two executive at Disney, reported to the board of directors and not Eisner.
Wells was an avid alpinist and came close, but did not achieve his goal of the Seven Summits, climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents: Kilimanjaro in Africa, Denali (Mount McKinley) in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Elbrus in Europe, Mount Everest in Asia, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, and Vinson in Antarctica. Only Everest eluded him, as bad weather forced his party to give up one day, 3000 feet before reaching the summit. His partner in the Seven Summits attempt, Dick Bass, an entrepreneur who developed Snowbird ski resort in Utah, later made it up all seven peaks, the first man to do so. At the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Wells' love of mountain-climbing is honored with exploration equipment emblazoned with the words "Wells Expedition," which can be noticed during the ride's downhill descent, as well as on a window on Main Street USA honoring him.
Wells died in a helicopter crash on Easter 1994 while returning from a ski trip in Nevada's Ruby Mountains. He was a good friend of Clint Eastwood, who had been skiing with Wells that weekend. Eastwood left in his own helicopter just an hour before Wells' departure.
Due to poor weather in the area, the chartered Bell 206 helicopter carrying Wells landed at a remote location about two and a half hours prior to the crash. While waiting for improved weather conditions, snow fell on the helicopter. During the subsequent take-off and ascent, the engine lost power and the aircraft crashed on a 30 degree slope followed by a roll over during an attempted emergency landing. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was, "the ingestion of foreign material (snow) in the engine, which resulted in a flameout (loss of engine power)". Of the five persons onboard, four did not survive the accident.
Wells was buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery. Eastwood sang a tribute of the Beatles "Hey Jude" to him, which Wells liked to sing on the slopes. The Lion King, which came out the summer after Wells' death, includes a dedication right before the Walt Disney Pictures logo appears (though later versions of the film – such as the 2003 Platinum Edition, the 2011 Diamond Edition and the 2017 Signature Edition – have the dedication at the end of the credits); as well as the named building housing the Disney Archives at Walt Disney Studios.
- "Frank Wells". D23. (Subscription required (. ))
- Masters, Kim. "The Epic Disney Blow-Up of 1994: Eisner, Katzenberg and Ovitz 20 Years Later". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- Hayes, Thomas C. (September 8, 1984). "DISNEY'S CHIEF IS FORCED OUT". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- "Movie Mogul Frank Wells and Financier Dick Bass Become the Old Men of Seven Mountains". People Magazine.
- McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.
- NTSB Aviation Accident Final Report SEA94FA096; June 5, 1995
Ron W. Miller