The Original Ronald McDonald Is Unrecognizable — And Terrifying

Published February 28, 2016
Updated June 6, 2020

The original Ronald McDonald looked nothing like he does today. Here's the strange tale of America's most famous obesity-themed clown.

Original Ronald Mcdonald

The original Ronald McDonald. You probably don’t want fries with that.

McDonald’s has had some memorable fiascos in their 60-plus-year reign as fast food king, but it seems the people behind the Golden Arches always find a way to regroup and return even stronger than before. And this is especially true of the face of the business himself: Ronald McDonald.

If you take a look at the original Ronald McDonald, it’s hard to imagine why anyone thought he’d succeed as a marketing tool. Yet the photo above indeed shows the original Ronald McDonald ad, shown in the Washington, D.C. market in 1963 (with the mascot played by TV personality Willard Scott).

His nose was a McDonald’s cup, his hat was a loaded tray, his makeup was like that of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, and his belt magically produced hamburgers. But, all in all, he would have fit in better with modern-day horror movie clowns than with anything that belongs at, say, a kid’s birthday party.

And the strange tale of the original Ronald McDonald doesn’t even end with his scariness.

Ironically, for a business that has been so frequently and publicly accused of contributing to the obesity epidemic, Scott was not used for the first nationwide Ronald McDonald ads because he was too heavy. The company thought that a more physically fit man would be better for the “extremely active” Ronald McDonald character.

This makes it all the more strange that a McDonald’s executive would tell the AP in 2011 that, “There’s only one Ronald,” after repeatedly dodging questions about how many actors have portrayed the ubiquitous clown (of course, it’s tough to expect integrity from a company who sells a kale salad with more fat than a double Big Mac.

This sort of thing has been getting McDonald’s into hot water for years, and only all-day breakfast has been able to pull the company out of its recent slump.

Through it all, Ronald McDonald, perhaps the world’s most famous fast-food mascot, has been right there — even if he used to look a whole lot different.

Nickolaus Hines
Nickolaus Hines graduated with a Bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University, and his writing has appeared in Men's Journal, Inverse, and VinePair.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Hines, Nickolaus. "The Original Ronald McDonald Is Unrecognizable — And Terrifying.", February 28, 2016, Accessed June 13, 2024.