Friends mourn Wells, others after chopper crash

GOOD MORNING: Frank Wells was convinced he’d be an Olympic downhill racer — even as he marked his 62nd birthday March 4 at his 14th annual Wells Cup skiing competition for friends at Sun Valley. Among those at the birthday ski bash — and also invited to this last weekend’s tragic helicopter skiing weekend — were Clint Eastwood, Richard Zanuck, Bud Yorkin, attorney Lou Blau, Billy Gerber. Only Clint returned for the Easter event. Clint also chopper-ski’d Saturday and Sunday morning high up in virgin snow country before returning home an hour before Wells’ chopper was caught in the snowstorm. Eastwood, always a man of few words, now could only say he was “devastated.” Not only was Wells Eastwood’s friend (lawyer, boss) of 30 years, but chopper passenger Mike Hoover (in serious condition with several broken bones) was Clint’s cameraman on “The Eiger Sanction” and both he and his wife, who died in the crash, were longtime friends of Eastwood … Richard Zanuck would have been on the same chopper with Wells, but he decided to stay at his own Sun Valley house rather than shlep his equipment to Elko. “I talked to him (Wells) on Thursday,” said a saddened Zanuck. “He was urging me to join them. It’s been a nightmare to think of those last few seconds”… And Barry Reardon was also invited to join ’em but did not go because he was busy here moving into another house over the long weekend … At the birthday-ski party dinner, Wells kidded the gang about the skiing events — especially the “quotient award” for speed divided by the age of the skier. But in the long run, skiing remained serious business for ’em all — serious enough so that they all took special signal equipment with ’em should they get buried in snow. Wells was gung-ho about the weekend, they reported — he was determined to beat his own vertical drop record … Wells was familiar with mountains. I had spoken to him many times during his summit climbs on each continent. And he sent me a copy of the dramatic letter he’d written when suffering from frostbite and unable to continue the finale of the Mt. Everest climb — the scene he described was as dramatic as anything ever put in any of his studios’ movies. He almost lost his nose in that adventure. But he continued to climb — on ski-defying mountain after mountain — until this last one … None of his longtime friends doubted that Wells could achieve anything, anywhere. He had a great zest for life. It was fully anticipated that he would have shifted to the national (international) political scene as soon as he wound his problems with EuroDisney. Friends were certain he could have had any post in the Clinton administration. “He was unsullied by this business,” said Zanuck. “He was honest and forthright.” Everyone at the studio Monday received a copy of Michael Eisner’s message of his and the company’s sad loss and the expression of condolences to Wells’ family.

BURT REYNOLDS TODAY tells a press conference his appreciation for their support as well as that of the fans — and asks ’em to urge CBS to renew “Evening Shade”… Gary Morton and golf pro Susie McAllister are engaged to wed –“after Thanksgiving.” Both reside in Palm Springs. Morton sez he’s had an offer to do a vidseries. “But,” he laughed, ‘I didn’t want to get stuck in a hit!” He’s told Lucie and Desi Jr. of his upcoming marriage. Lucie’s now on the bill with Don Rickles at the MGM Grand. Of course Don did a shtick on Desi Sr. and Lucille Ball in this show. He rejoins Frank Sinatra at Radio City Music Hall for five nights starting April 19. It’s Don’s first stand in N.Y. since the Copa — almost 30 years ago … Sad to report Ginny Simms died Monday ayem at her home in Palm Springs. Services will be 2 p.m. Friday at Our Savior Community Church in Palm Springs. The former big band (Kay Kyser) singer had her own radio and TV shows and starred in fun musical features at all the majors. She was recently named to Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars …”Burke’s Law’s” Gene Barry also received his Springs Star … Jim Coburn, who received his Hollywood Boulevard star last Friday, was partied by wife Paula at Spago. After receiving toasts from all his pals, Coburn got another ovation when he said, “We’ll do this every year!”

STEVEN SPIELBERG’S No. 1 on Premiere mag’s “most powerful” list of 100. He was 13th last year … The Premiere Movie Script Library, with O.S.P. publishing , adds “Star Trek” III, IV and V to its catalog of original script reproductions … Garth Brooks’ NBC special, “This Is Garth Brooks, Too!,” taped with flame and other special effects at Dallas’ stadium, airs May 6. He’s now on his Euro tour, having launched with a bang in Dublin … Jan Murray was a surprise addition to Hal Kanter’s “Laughing Matters” cast last Saturday p.m. when he jumped onstage joining the trio of funsters. This could be contagious with other comics. … Magic Johnson will be singing the blues at the opening of Isaac Tigrett and Dan Aykroyd’s third House of Blues April 30 — to benefit the Magic Johnson Foundation benefiting HIV and AIDS orgs. specializing in youth-oriented programs. James Brown headlines the night of bluestars — including, of course, Elwood Blues (Aykroyd) and the Blues Brothers Band.

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