Remembering Frank Wells

Frank Wells, 1932-1994

On this day in 1994, Disney lost a true legend. Frank Wells, former President and COO of the Walt Disney Company, was tragically killed in a helicopter accident in Nevada at the young age of 62.

When “The Lion King” opened in theaters many saw a dedication in the credits that read: “In Remembrance Of Frank Wells – President of the Walt Disney Company 1984-1994.” I remember seeing those words, and knowing of the man, but not knowing the impact Mr. Wells truly had on the company.

Wells was one of the driving forces in the turn around of the Disney Company in the 1980s. According to his Disney Legends profile:

“During his 10-year-tenure, Disney enjoyed unprecedented growth and revitalization with annual revenues up from $1.5 billion to $8.5 billion. Disney stocks increased a whopping 1,500 percent, while its theme parks and resorts revenues tripled. Disney Consumer Products revenues rose 13-fold, while its filmed entertainment revenues jumped 15-fold. Frank helped make Disney one of the most successful film studios in the world.”

I would personally argue that the Eisner era enjoyed its greatest successes while Wells was in tenure for the company. He seemed to be the “Roy” to Michael’s “Walt.” For more on what Frank meant to the company, I highly recommend the fantastic documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty.”

Frank Wells was also quite an adventurer. In 1983, he set out to climb the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents within a single year – a feat never before accomplished at that time. He scaled six, but was forced to turn back near the top of Mount Everest. His mountaineering exploits were chronicled in his book,”Seven Summits,” co-authored by Dick Bass and Rick Ridgeway and published in 1986. His love of mountain climbing was paid tribute in the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

The “Lost” Expedition

I still salute – rather quickly – every time my bobsled passes by. Thank you, Frank. Your contributions to Disney helped to rejuvenate the company and bring magic to a new generation of fans.

The Sherman Brothers: A Personal Tribute

(Note: Volumes have been spoken and written about the Sherman Brothers, both before and after the passing of Robert Sherman. This is my personal tribute to both brothers and the profound impact they had on my life. For a more comprehensive history, I highly recommend the movie “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story,” directed by (their sons) Jeff and Greg Sherman.)

When I was 16, I went on a choir trip to Disneyland. Before leaving, with a few extra dollars in hand, I made a decision to buy something that would affect me profoundly.

Now, obviously, I knew the music well, so it wasn’t the score that had such a profound effect on me. The last tracks of the CD contained an interview with Richard and Robert Sherman. As they reminisced about the making of the movie and the songs they wrote, Richard would occasionally play at the piano and they would both sing bits from the movie. The first time they started singing their songs, the world of the songwriter really opened up to me.

And I fell in love with the music of The Sherman Brothers.

The interview can be heard here:

Continued here:

Although I had grown up with Disney music since childhood and was aware of their songs, there was something that really clicked.  I found myself paying more and more attention to lyrics of songs, how well they worked within the films. It helped spur my appreciation for the newer works of Menken and Ashman, as well as classic tunes by the likes of Frank Churchill and George Bruns.

In a sense, I suppose you could say my love of Disney music can be attributed to (blamed on?) the Sherman Brothers.

Fast forward to the present. On the morning of March 6th, in the midst of a trip to Disneyland, I woke up to read the news: Robert Sherman had passed away at the age of 86.

Eighty-Six years is an extraordinary life – so many are given so much less – and longetivity and a full life are things to be celebrated. Yet, there was a profound sadness in Robert’s passing. And there was a definite air of bittersweet-ness in the fact that I was at Disneyland when I heard the news of his passing. It allowed my family to pay their respects while riding It’s A Small World. I rode through The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh saluting nothing in general as the music played. I did the silent nod toward the Tiki Room out of respects.

But perhaps the biggest moment came for me from the following story: My four year old daughter had been insistent that we go to Build-a-Bear in Downtown Disney that day; not so she could stuff an animal, but so I could. I told her I didn’t need one. I tried to convince her. Honestly, I didn’t want to spend the money on another plush animal. However, she was adamant, on the verge of tears, telling me that she knew I NEEDED a stuffed friend. Begging that I do it for me, not for her. Then inspiration struck. I agreed to stuff an animal for me, on the terms that I got to pick it out as well as name it. So with her help, I picked it out, stuffed it and named it.

That evening, Sherman the Dog got to pay his own respects in front of the Sherman Brothers’ window on Main Street, USA.

Thank you, Dick and Bob Sherman. Thank you for the music. Thank you for the interview that inspired at least one young Disney fan (and I’m sure there are countless more). Your relationship may not have been the greatest, but in your works…. it was magical.