Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Michael Rielly

Ronald McDonald Is So Busy, But Just How Does He Do It?

Recommended Posts

Michael Rielly

Ronald McDonald Is So Busy, But Just How Does He Do It?
As Chain Beefs Up His Role, The Mascot Is Keeping Mum

The Wall Street Journal
By Shirley Leung and Suzanne Vranica
May 29, 2003 11:26 a.m. ET


When it comes to Ronald McDonald, McDonald's doesn't clown around. It won't even admit that there is more than one Ronald.

For four months now, McDonald's Corp. executives have been meeting at headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., trying to decide just how to script a Ronald revival. The Golden Arches is mostly mum on the matter, saying only that the 40-year-old character will start showing up more -- and in unexpected places. Maybe he'll even perform his new dance "Do the Ronald."

The careful choreography of this clown's every step shows the McDonald's machine in high gear. No detail is too small. In 1999, McDonald's ad agency Leo Burnett hired a Los Angeles stylist to refashion Ronald's wavy red hair, and it spent months studying whether to increase the width of the red stripes on his socks.

So protective is McDonald's of the character's mystique that men who play Ronald are never to admit that they do. Ronalds in costume aren't to say who they are in civilian life. That rather annoyed Craig A. Oatten, a police chief in Michigan, when a Ronald, in full red-and-yellow regalia, got into a fender bender near Saginaw a few years ago. Asked several times, the Ronald steadfastly refused to give his name for the police report.

"If we get someone who refuses to identify themselves, we'll take them to the local jail," says Chief Oatten. But, because there were no injuries involved, he says, he spared the clown a trip downtown.

McDonald's keeps a roster of about 250 Ronalds world-wide, according to marketing experts familiar with the program, and franchisees, with some support from the company, pay for Ronalds as an advertising expense. Each major market in the U.S. has at least one Ronald, with large cities employing several.

Ronalds often have schedulers, chauffeurs and bodyguards. Thanks to McDonald's franchisees, a Ronald in Nevada got a motor home so he could travel more easily. Bodyguards? "Kids would throw rocks from the parking lot. Sometimes you would get protesters," explains Jeff McMullen, a former Ronald, of Appleton, Wis. "Ronald can't handle that."

Typically actors, or ex-Ringling Bros. clowns or teachers, Ronalds make about $40,000 a year on average. A Ronald busy handling 400 shows a year can make close to $100,000, while the highest-paying Ronald, who appears in national commercials, earns more than $300,000, according to former Ronalds. Asked about Ronald's salary, McDonald's ducks the question. "Ronald doesn't go out to work," says Amy Murray, a director in U.S. marketing. "He goes out to have fun."

McDonald's trains and recruits many Ronalds through a Clayton, Calif., company, CW & Co. Productions. One of its methods is to place ads in clown magazines. One reads: "Clowns Wanted! We are looking for clowns to fit high profile, permanent positions. Must be willing to relocate."

Many amateur clowns covet the gig. "To be a Ronald is a lifelong career," says Janet Tucker, past president of the World Clown Association.

To preserve the illusion that there is only one Ronald, the chain forbids two Ronalds from ever appearing together except at a secret biennial convention McDonald's holds -- but won't talk about -- in which Ronalds brush up on their skills.


Asked about that, Larry Light, McDonald's global chief marketing officer, stands pat. "There is only one," he says.

After repeated grilling on the multi-Ronald question, McDonald's officials released a statement, attributable, they said, to Ronald: "If I told you all my secrets, they wouldn't be secrets anymore. Let's just say that between you, me and Santa, it's magic."

In the beginning, Ronald was so tightly controlled that McDonald's wouldn't even let him take the costume home with him. He had to change clothes at an advertising agency. When McDonald's first introduced Ronald in 1963, he visited many restaurants. Now he may appear at a restaurant twice a year and spend the rest of the time on the road visiting schools, hospitals and nursing homes. He's often booked a year in advance.

Franchisee Luther Mack, who owns 10 restaurants in Nevada, says he routinely uses Ronald more than his allotment and pays out-of-pocket ($400 to $600 for each appearance) to get more face time. But not too much. "We make sure he's not overused," says Mr. Mack, a 30-year franchisee.

Ronald McDonald was the brain-clown of two people: Washington advertising executive Barry Klein and renowned Ringling Bros. clown Michael "Coco" Polakovs. At the time, Mr. Klein's clients included a McDonald's franchisee and a local "Bozo the Clown" television show. Mr. Klein persuaded the franchisee to run commercials on the Bozo show to reach out to children. After the kiddie show was canceled in 1963, Mr. Klein regrouped with Bozo, then played by Willard Scott, who gave the McDonald's clown his name: Ronald McDonald.

Mr. Scott, the longtime weatherman for NBC's "Today" show, donned the first Ronald get-up that year, using a paper cup as a nose and a cardboard tray as a hat. When McDonald's executives wanted to launch Ronald nationally in commercials, they hired Mr. Polakovs to give Ronald a makeover. He designed the white-face clown features and, to represent the Golden Arches, chose a canary-yellow jumpsuit. The red shoes and striped socks reflected the colors of the restaurant. And that fire-engine-red hair? "It was a ladies wig, actually," recalls the 80-year-old Mr. Polakovs, who pulled it off a mannequin in a women's clothing store.

When McDonald's decided to make Ronald a national figure in 1966, the company dumped Mr. Scott, fearing it would be hard to find people in each market with Mr. Scott's big build, recalls Mr. Klein. "That was a heartbreaker," says NBC's Mr. Scott. "I was too fat."

To mass-produce Ronald like its burgers and fries, McDonald's created a guide in 1972 called "Ronald and How." The book, by longtime McDonald's hands Roy Bergold and Aye Jaye, details everything from how to apply makeup to how to behave around children. According to someone close to the company, the book advises Ronalds "never to initiate a hug" with a child. Instead, Ronalds are to turn slightly to the left and pat the child on the back.

Ronald trainers enforce the rules. At the Ronald conventions, sometimes held in Oak Brook, they inspect Ronalds, say people who have been in attendance. "You had to pass, and, if you didn't, you would go home without a job," says Earl Chaney of Las Vegas, who played the clown for 20 years. Some simply got Ronald probation.

McDonald's conducts extensive background checks on Ronald candidates, but that hasn't always prevented mishaps. One former Ronald is a vegetarian who has since joined forces with animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to chide the chain. "I feel badly about what I've done with young people," says Geoffrey Giuliano, who played Ronald in Canada in the early 1980s. "I was the happy face on something that was horrendous."

Joe Maggard, another former Ronald, pleaded guilty in 1998 to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon in New Hanover County, N.C., and the next year was convicted in county court of making harassing phone calls posing as a Ronald. The judge ordered him to take anger-management classes. "I'm one of the bad-boy Ronalds," says Mr. Maggard, an actor who portrayed Ronald in the mid-'90s. "Am I a bad guy? No, I'm not a bad guy. Did Ronald get in a little trouble down there? Yes."

SOURCE: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB105417428331974100

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Michael Rielly

This story is from 2003, but I thought it may be of interest.

  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Elf Without Jingles

And why is The Wall Street Journal investigating Ronald McDonald now? When I was growing up, it was just Ronald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese and the other residents of McDonaldland --- and that was all I ever needed!

  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
This topic is now closed to further replies.
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • Michael Rielly
      By Michael Rielly
      World largest Christmas maze now hiring
      Andrew Krietz
      October 5, 2019

      Think you could play the part of an elf? What about a toy soldier? Enchant Christmas is hiring! Billed as the world’s largest Christmas light maze, Enchant Christmas is hiring hundreds of people for character actors and customer service roles. Interviews are expected to take place during the next few weeks at Tropicana Field, where the event will take place.
      People are asked to send a headshot and resume to flcasting@enchantchristmas.com for consideration to play a Christmas "enchantress," elf, toy soldier or townsfolk.
      Availability must be open for at least either Christmas Eve or Day, among other requirements. From Nov. 22 to Dec. 29, the ballpark’s outfield is slated to be outfitted with a massive light display and a Christmas market with more than 60 local food and merchant vendors.
      Tickets are $19.99 and are on sale now at stpete.enchantchristmas.com. People interested in customer service jobs are asked to visit the Tampa Bay Rays' website and click on "enchant opportunities."
      SOURCE: https://www.wtsp.com/article/entertainment/events/enchant-christmas-jobs-florida-tropicana-field/67-2cd0e276-95e3-473b-8bac-aa1b93b2551e
    • Michael Rielly
      By Michael Rielly
      Early Christmas display causes Monroe resident to call the city
      Ken Brown
      October 5, 2019

       Christmas in September ... It’s not a holiday you hear celebrated often in the fall, but the Schmitt family Christmas celebration took place in Monroe in mid-September this year.
      “Every year we get together for Christmas and we’ve done this for as long as I’ve known,” Monroe resident David Schmitt said.
      Schmitt is a native of Wisconsin and most of his family still lives there. At 54 years old, Schmitt is the youngest of nine siblings who still try to get together to celebrate the Christmas holiday each year.
      “The drive to Wisconsin, where my family is from, it’s kind of hard to do in December,” Schmitt said. “So this year we said, ‘How about Christmas in Ohio?’ September, good driving weather ... nice weather ... I thought, ‘Perfect, everybody could come here for Christmas.’”
      “As everybody gets older we don’t get to see each other as often and living so far away from each other. It was really wonderful to just be able to have everyone together,” Donna Schmitt said.
      To celebrate the early holiday family gathering, Schmitt decorated his house with lights and ornaments three months ahead of the actual Christmas holiday. The early appearance of Christmas décor had at least one resident concerned enough to call the city of Monroe.
      “All you had to do was pull in the driveway and ask us and we would have told you... probably offered you a beverage,” Donna said.
      The city asked the Schmitt’s to remove some decorations that were too close to the road. No citations were issued and the family was given 60 days to remove any other decorations that were not in compliance with the city code.
      SOURCE: https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2019/10/05/early-christmas-display-causes-monroe-resident-call-police-city/3879715002/
    • Michael Rielly
      By Michael Rielly
      Mariah Carey will celebrate 25 years of her Christmas album in Atlantic City
      The Philadelphia Inquirer
      by Nick Vadala
      September 30, 2019

      It’s been 25 years since Mariah Carey dropped her popular holiday album, Merry Christmas, and now, the singer is celebrating the release with a yuletide tour that comes to Atlantic City this December.
      Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” tour hits AC’s Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena on Dec. 7. The stop is one of five planned shows from Carey on the East Coast this coming holiday season, with additional concerts scheduled to take place in cities including New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
      SOURCE: https://www.inquirer.com/entertainment/mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas-tour-atlantic-city-hard-rock-20190930.html
  • Donations

    All donations go directly towards the cost of hosting and running ClausNet!

    Your support, through donations or simply by clicking on sponsor links, is greatly appreciated!

    Donate Sidebar by DevFuse
  • Our picks

    • Every Once in A While
      Every once in a while I see some flagrant abuses of Santa’s appearance and etiquette. It strikes me some men don’t care about how they act or portray the beloved character of Santa.

      Gentlemen, you undertake an awesome responsibility when you button up your Santa Suit. Don’t take it lighty!

      The “World” has an image of Santa as represented by illustrations, traditions and personal contact. Believe it or not, you’re being measured by those who see you for your authenticity.

      You’re fooling yourself if you believe that no one notices or cares if your bead is yellow or unkempt. Maybe you’re also missing a few of those pearly whites, or they are stained from tobacco products. Again, don’t fool yourself….kids notice everything! I have a gold crown capping one of my lower teeth. Every once in a while, I have an inquisitive youngster question what that gold thing is in my mouth. Years ago I thought it was well hidden however; kids have uncanny radar to pick out any of our flaws….

      You may be asking yourself, “What difference does it make? “It’s not the Christmas Season.” Maybe it isn’t however, If you’re representing Santa, you’re representing one of the most recognizable characters in the world. What you do reflects upon me and every Santa reader of this article. If you’re going to be recognized then do justice to the character we are reenacting.

      Over the years I have been a Santa, I have frequently been by told by people about the Santa they hired or saw which left a very poor expression. Most of their comments were predictable. Their Santa did not interact with the children as expected or he was unprepared. He was unanimated, had a dirty suit or lack luster beard. Obviously these are sure fire ways never to be called to this group again.

      Think about what impression you make as a Santa and pay attention to developing your character. You can become one of the best Santas in your area by learning everything about your character and performing from the heart.

      Always remember: It's not about you. It's about the children.

      Santa Lou Knezevich is the creator of the Legendary Santas Mentoring Program
      Contact Santa Lou at: LegendarySantasMentoringProg@gmail.com
        • Love
        • Like
      • 0 replies
    • If You Have the Post Christmas Blues You’re Doing Christmas Wrong
      The post-Christmas blues are a very real thing. Once the date of December 25th has passed the specter of December 26th is an ominous marker to many. It sits there on the calendar like the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. Silent and foreboding, the very image of the hooded Angel of Death it seems to be. And why not?

      Just about anywhere you look Americans are tossing trees to the curb, ripping down lights from rooftops and radio stations are flipping back to everyday music. What took months to build gets deconstructed in a matter of a couple of days.
        • Like
      • 26 replies
    • Auld Lang Syne
      Every New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, millions around the world traditionally gather together to sing the same song, “Auld Lang Syne”. As revilers mumble though the song’s versus, it often brings many of them to tears – regardless of the fact that most don’t know or even understand the lyrics. Confusion over the song’s lyrics is almost as much of a tradition as the song itself. Of course that rarely stops anyone from joining in.
        • Wow
        • Like
      • 3 replies
    • Merry Christmas, My Friend
      Every year around this time, some variation of this poem is circulated online. The poem is generally credited to “a soldier stationed in Okinawa” or more recently since September 11, 2001, “a Marine stationed in Afghanistan”.

      However, the poem’s true author is Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt.

      Originally entitled, “Merry Christmas, My Friend”, Corporal Schmidt wrote the poem in 1986 while serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th & I, in Washington, D.C.

      That day the poem was placed in the Marine Corps Gazette and distributed worldwide. Schmidt’s poem was later published in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines) in December 1991.
        • Sad
        • Love
        • Like
      • 1 reply
    • Is it time to start calling out Bad Santas?
      Is it time to start calling out Bad Santas?

      Do you think we should start calling out those in our community whose actions or behavior is unbecoming of Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus?
        • Wow
        • Like
      • 94 replies
About | Forums | Blogs | Newsletter | Contact

© 2019 MJR Group. LLC. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Copyright IP Policy

Proud affiliate of My Merry Christmas!

Subscribe to the ClausNet Gazette

Enter your email address to subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

About ClausNet

The ClausNet community is the largest social network and online resource for Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Elves, Reindeer Handlers, and Santa helpers for the purposes of sharing stories, advice, news, and information.
  • Create New...