The Hollywood movie The Founder told the awesome rags-to-riches-by-way-of-backstabbing story of McDonald’s restaurants. However, the film does get some of the facts wrong. Here’s what the good folks at Babbletop found out.
10. Joan Didn’t Leave Her Husband So Quickly
The Founder ends on a note that most would find bittersweet yet still romantic. But as far as we know, Ray Kroc and Joan Smith did not shack up so easily. The movie depicts the couple’s first encounter at a meeting between Ray and a potential investor. He sees Joan playing the organ and singing a song. This really is how the couple met. Though the movie also made it seem like the couple left their spouses and within a few months, maybe a year — boom just like that — were married. The truth is, Ray did fall in love with Joan at first sight and they both eventually wanted to be together… 12 years later when they met again at a McDonald’s conference! By that time, Ray had obtained a divorce from his second wife. Within six months of meeting for the second time, Joan would serve her spouse divorce papers. Joan’s husband, by the way, was not a restaurant owner but a Navy veteran who owned three McDonald’s franchises.
9. Ray Was Actually Married Three Times
Joan may have been Ray’s last and favorite wife but she was not his second wife like the movie suggests. Moviegoers were meant to believe that Ray met Joan and that was that. In fact, Joan was Ray’s third wife. When the couple was meant to leave their significant others and move on to a life together, Joan chickened out. While they apparently wouldn’t meet again for another twelve years, Ray divorced and married another woman in between. Kroc’s second wife was named Jane Dobbins Green. This was not featured in the movie perhaps for dramatic purposes. Ray had already taken over McDonald’s and was just focusing on franchising more restaurants. It would have been a bore to see this wife in his life for only a blip and then vanish. Dobbins Green and Ray were married from 1963 to 1968. She was John Wayne’s secretary yes, that John Wayne. People often described her as the complete opposite of Joan. This could be why the relationship didn’t last. Ray was just never happy with her. She was supposedly a pushover and not strong-willed at all.
8. Ray Didn’t ACTUALLY Renege On The Handshake Deal
One of the most cutthroat moves in this film was when they mentioned that Ray reneged on a handshake deal to pay the McDonald brothers a sizeable profit in the form of 1% of the future earnings of the business. It looks like he did renege on the deal but it wasn’t as cutthroat as it came off. The brothers were eventually forced to sell their business to Ray. In the movie, it is mentioned that Ray reneged on a handshake deal worth millions and the brothers never saw a dime. Sounds harsh, right? Well, Ray made this deal believing that he would own all the McDonald’s including the original one the brothers were still running. However, the brothers refused to sell the original restaurant. Ray was livid. As he now owned the McDonald’s name, he forced the brothers to change theirs to the Big M, effectively robbing their name. Ray Kroc defended his decision in his biography —Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s— saying if the brothers had “played their cards right” they would have been very rich. He then sent one last screw you to the brothers. He opened a McDonald’s a block away from the Big M. putting them out of business within a short period of time.
7. Ray Didn’t Meet Fred Turner While He Worked His Way Up
If you recall, there is a scene in the film where Ray walks past a busy McDonald’s worker and admires his work ethic. He asks him what’s his name and the youngster introduces himself as Fred Turner. This is notable in the film because there is a lingering stare between the two. By the end of the film, Fred eventually becomes executive chair and CEO of McDonald’s. While in the movie they portray him as someone who worked from the ground up, he was not. Fred served in the army and was looking for income opportunities. He and a few friends decided they wanted to buy a McDonald’s and did just that. Fred was working in the restaurant just to get a feel for the ins and outs of the kitchen. He was really only doing this because Ray was still looking for a location for his McDonald’s. He was apparently working in the kitchen, learning and practicing, getting prepared for his own franchise. Though he may not have served as a grill operator for long, he did put in some valuable time.
6. Joan Didn’t Introduce Ray To The Instant Milkshake
The movie depicts a fun, flirty Joan wining and dining Ray at their restaurant. She and her husband already owned their McDonald’s franchise and now have a few suggestions. Joan states that the refrigerator costs a lot of money to maintain because of all the ice cream they have to store for milkshakes. She feels they not only save money but make profits with an effective new product. The younger couple hands over a copy of Restaurant Business Monthly featuring an ad for a powdered milkshake mix. Joan opens a pack and pours it into the water, and after a few stirs, it turns into this magic foamy vanilla shake. Ray takes a sip and instantly likes it. Even more so he is fixated on Joan and how clever she is for finding this. Well, in real life, there was no magazine ad. In fact, that magazine didn’t even exist. A dairy developed a mix for McDonald’s in about the early 70s. Ray was also a milkshake mixer salesman so one can assume he came equipped with a few recipes to spruce up his sales. It seems he knew one called Malt-A-Plenty that had a corn syrup base.
5. Dick And Mac Couldn’t Have Been Furious About Powdered Milkshakes
The film depicted the brothers Dick and Mac being furious in regards to the powdered milkshake situation. They just wanted to serve authentic milkshakes with real ice cream. Why would they want to fix what isn’t broken? The brothers put up a huge fight including this game where they would try to hang up on Ray before he could hang up on them. That really ticked them off for some reason. While the back and forth on the phone was amusing, it didn’t really happen. The brothers probably got the chance to hang up on Ray several times for other annoying reasons but the milkshakes are not the point of contention the film wants to portray. Instead, it probably represents a lot of other fights and how they would end. The truth is, the brothers were out of the McDonald’s business long before milkshakes were even thought of being changed. The brothers did have a handle on the fries though. The brothers brought in the frozen fry method. We owe them the creation of these golden delicious fries. French fries were meant to fit a specific dimension and were cut fresh every day.
4. Ray Wasn’t Desperate Enough To Drive To California
In the movie, Ray gets an order from the McDonald’s brothers who want to obtain an insane amount of shake mixer from him. Ray is more shocked and curious than he is excited. He jumps in his car and takes what looks like a pretty long drive to California to sell some mixers. We see a lot of other diners that are just lackluster. One burger joint takes an awful long time to bring Ray’s food to his car, who finds out it’s the wrong order. Another diner was so rundown it looked like they didn’t even serve food there anymore. Then Ray gets to McDonald’s and it is bustling and moving and there are people from all backgrounds mingling there just to enjoy fast food. In real life, Ray was not fixated enough to drive all the way to California to sell some mixers. He instead hopped on the next flight. So, yes, there was still a bit of urgency but not cross country trip urgency. But honestly, it’s more shocking that he didn’t drive up to California. From the way the film portrays Ray, one would assume his manic behavior and enthusiasm for money would have him driving as far as he needs to go to get that dollar.
3. Joan Was More Than A Wife
While Joan ultimately became Ray’s wife for the rest of his life, she also proved to be the best thing for him. Ray was so in love with Joan. While there weren’t many scenes depicting their relationship, the film made sure audiences understood she was everything to him. He left his horrible wife for her even though that wasn’t the best situation to begin with. Joan may not have given Ray the idea for the powdered milkshakes but she did so much more. Ray began to drink heavily after he and Joan got married so she began to look into ways that could help him. She started by pioneering the modern alcohol addiction movement. She was also at the forefront of the hospice movement. The Joan B. Kroc Foundation donated $18.5 million to the San Diego Hospice Corporation. She was also the first individual to give money to a democratic party. Not just a little bit of money: she spent well over a million dollars on democrats and that was way back in the early 70s. Upon her death in 2003, she donated $225 million to the National Public Radio. She also made sure that $1.6 billion dollars went to the Salvation Army to fund recreation facilities in poor neighborhoods. She would also sometimes drive up to her local McDonald’s and leave a $100 tip although every once in a while, she would also forget her purse. Joan basically gave away all the McDonald’s money she and Ray made.
2. McDonald’s Was Always On The Verge Of Closing
When the film starts to get into detail about the way that Ray took over McDonald’s they made it seem like he was doing whatever he could do to screw over the brothers. He owned the property, he stole the arches, he stole their concept it was a lot. Many were wondering how this lone man could just come and take what was not his. The truth is, McDonald’s was supposedly always on the verge of closing all their franchise doors. Journalist and author Lisa Napoli wrote a book titled Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away. She touches on this sore subject in her book and makes it known that there was no way Ray could have known how big McDonald’s would get especially because Ray was always on the cusp of losing it all. Napoli even acknowledges that the mogul was struggling way more than even he thought he would. It wasn’t until he met Harry Sonneborn a businessman, and the first president of McDonald’s that the business end of things started to look up. If you recall, Harry was played by B.J. Novak of The Office fame. We first see him in the movie when he overhears Ray getting declined for a loan.
1. The Brothers Weren’t Mad About Money, But about Credibility
One of the biggest misconceptions about the film is that the brothers were upset they never got the money they deserved when the business blew up. The end of the film informed the viewers about the deal Ray supposedly reneged on. They also let it be known that Mac died of a heart problem directly related to losing out on his business. With the last straw being the handshake deal that fell through. It seems as though this was not what the brothers were upset about. Napoli touched on this as well in her book Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away. She states that the brothers got their 2.7 million they had requested for their business. The brothers went to the head office Ray set up in Chicago, Illinois. They got their cheque and left. What set them off was the fact that for many years they did not get credit for their concept. They rightfully felt like they needed to be acknowledged for creating McDonald’s in the first place. Let’s be honest, though Ray’s was a success story, he himself was not a creative mind — he stumbled onto a gold mine and ran with it. She says Ray was “ruthless”, not a tough guy. Every year on founder day at the company they would only acknowledge Ray and his accomplishments. And then finally one year the brothers got the kudos they always deserved. Their faces were right up there with Ray’s at the company party. Of course, this didn’t happen until after Ray had retired.