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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Enter Stage Right, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells

I started this piece about a month ago…  Then my live aside of my Disney passions intervened. Do not fear, I have not lost that passion, I am still reading, researching, and recreating the Disney life.  But, until I can find a way to earn a living with my passion, I must find other ways to support my family, and my Disney obsession.  Since I’ve been pursuing those efforts, it has significantly reduced the time available for my writing.

I’m going to go ahead and post this piece, but, you should know, there’s more to come on the Disney hostile takeover attempt ’84.  I was recently been pointed to some additional documentation I did not have when I originally wrote the takeover pieces… Thank You Joseph, I am really looking forward to reading this new material.   

So in 1984, after a fending off a hostile takeover attempt which caused uproar with other stockholders, Ray Watson and Ron Miller were shown the door in favor of the management team of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.  Michael Eisner was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chairman of the Board (COB), with Frank Wells coming on board as the President and  Chief Operating Officer (COO).  And finally, Roy E. Disney was appointed to the position of Vice Chairman of the Board.  While it is not a publicly confirmed or acknowledged fact, I believe the appointment of Roy to Vice COB was an effort designed to provide some stability and cohesion in the organization as a tie back to the founding family of the company, after having just transited a very tumultuous period in the company’s history.

For a few brief profiles of the principles in this new era of Disney management:
Michael Eisner worked briefly at NBC and CBS before being hired at ABC by then VP of Prime Time Programming, Barry Diller.  When Diller left ABC to become the Chairman of Paramount Pictures, he recruited Eisner away from ABC to become the movie studio’s president and CEO.  Under Eisner’s leadership, the studio produced such movie hits as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, the Star Trek film franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Beverly Hills Cop, and hit TV shows such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers and Family Ties.  After Diller left Paramount in 1984, Eisner was expecting to be promoted to the studio chief’s position.  When that did not happen, Michael left Paramount as well to pursue other opportunities.  That new opportunity turned out to be head of Walt Disney Productions.

Frank Wells, a 1953 Rhodes Scholar obtaining his BA at Oxford University, had worked for Warner Brothers as Vice President, President, and Vice Chairman until his departure in 1982.  Frank, ever the adventurer and avid mountain climber, missed his goal of climbing the Seven Summits by one.  Bad weather had forced in climbing party to give up one day before reaching the summit of Mount Everest.  One thing that I learned in researching Frank Wells, Frank’s love of mountain climbing has been honored at the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim.  Scattered around a scene at the beginning of the ride is exploration equipment marked with the words “Wells Expedition.” Frank’s life was cut short Easter of 1994 in a helicopter crash while returning from a Nevada ski trip.

And finally, as he will become even more instrumental the Disney story, now is a good time to give a brief profile of Roy E. Disney.  Roy E. is the only child of company co- founder Roy O. Disney and his wife Edna.  Roy E. joined Walt Disney Productions in 1954 as an assistant editor working on the “True Life Adventures” Film series.  Roy also worked and a writer, director, and producer on many other Disney productions.  But, he is probably most well known for the two significant changes in management at the company his father and uncle founded.  He was instrumental in Eisner’s ascension to the top of what has become The Walt Disney Company, and as essential in Michael Eisner being shown the exit.

I’ll be doing a more in depth profile of each of these gentlemen in later as I explore this period of the Disney history, along with a few other notable individuals from the Eisner era.  What I have seen to date, reads like a corporate soapbox, and is quite interesting, at least in my opinion.  I’ve also recently acquire two new tomes on Walt Disney himself, one about rarely heard stories, which I am looking forward to reading.  And, one that gives me hope as a writer that I too may someday be able to publish a book on my passion.  So you can expect some revisiting Walt’s story.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to catch up on some of the recent events at the Walt Disney Family Museum as time is available, and you can expect a couple of reports on Disney events coming this summer.  But, the time requirements of my other endeavors will still affect the time available of my writing, so I ask for your patience. If you like to keep up to date on the post to this blog, you can join the Facebook group I created for you, Discovering Disney History on FB

Thanks, and have a Disney-rific Day!  J

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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