ronald mcdonald and the hamburglar -- 1/18/24

Today's encore selection -- from Short and Sweet by Jerry Maren. Jerry Maren, who gained initial fame as one of the Lollipop Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, had later success as a Big Mac in the legendary Ronald McDonald commercials of the 1970s:

"Maybe one of the luckiest things to happen to me in my career was landing the work in McDonald's commercials for more than ten years. Believe me, Big Mac built my house, which is why I have a little golden arch mounted right on my front door. Anyone who's knocked on my front door knows it's true.

"McDonald's hired several little people and a few guys of short stature to get into these huge costumes. Those commercials we made in the 70s were the greatest the company ever did. They created a series of characters with giant heads (very much in the style of Disney's giant-head Mickey Mouse character who wanders Disneyland, or Hanna Barberas TV show The Banana Splits, or Sid & Marty Krofft's H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville). These were very popular at the time, and when McDonald's introduced these colorful characters and integrated them with their Kids Meals, things really took off. I'm quite sure they inspired generations of kids, who loved seeing these commercials in between their Saturday morn­ing cartoon shows. We did ten to fifteen commercials a year with McDonald's. Some were more elaborate than others, even with special effects.

"Ronald McDonald was hugely popular, and the guy who performed him was named King Moody. King was a stage and television actor, and some might recognize him from the role of 'Schtarker,' the sidekick of KAOS leader 'Siegfried' on the TV show Get Smart.

"King could be strict about his work schedule. He would not work on the weekends. It would have been too expensive, anyway. [My wife] Elizabeth and I went to several of King's weddings. He always liked his beer on the set. As long as there was a case of ice cold Heineken on hand during the shoot, he was all right. He'd sit in his director's chair and take off that red wig and relax with a beer during the breaks. At the end of the day, he would sometimes be swaying a little bit. I wouldn't say he was drunk, but that's what quenched his thirst while working under that hot makeup each day. Ronald McDonald was a happy clown, believe me. Today, they'd never let the actor do that on the set, and if they did, it would be a closed set. Elizabeth and I knew King fairly well. Sadly, he died suddenly [a few years later].

"The storylines in these commercials, if you could call them that, were quite simple: Gri­mace can't find his french fries and it turns out the Ham burglar has made off with them, shouting 'Robble Robbie!' Smiling Ronald McDonald jumps to the rescue. ...

"Most often, I was your McCheese or Big Mac. When I was Big Mac, my friend Billy Curtis would be Mayor Cheese. We switched off sometimes. One of my favorites was a Western-themed McDonald's commercial, where I was the Hamburglar coming in and out of those swinging barroom doors. Another spot, where I was also the Hamburglar, had me the zoo standing next to a zebra.

"We had fantastic large costumes for Big Mac, Mayor Cheese, the Hamburglar, Gri­mace, and all the rest. None of us quite knew what Grimace was supposed to be. I don't think we ever found out. He was just some big blob with bulging eyes.

"The sets were elaborate at times, and I always bright with vibrant ones. And the commercials paid in spades over a period of time, because they were run and rerun over and over."


Jerry Maren


Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin


Cumberland House Publishing


Copyright 2008 by Jerry Maren and Stephen Cox


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