More Accurately, He Was The Hamburglar

If you’re going to be a clown, Ronald McDonald is probably a good one to be. The mascot of fast-food chain McDonald’s, Ronald has been around since 1963. And while the man in the big red shoes has changed a few times over the last fifty years, the character hasn’t changed much. He’s there to make people laugh, smile, and yes, eat burgers. But there’s magic in that makeup and it’s a role that, all kidding aside, must truly be an honor to play.

That’s probably why the Guardian created a mini-documentary about Joe Maggard, one of the performers, as seen here on Facebook. Here’s a screenshot in case you can’t see it. I included the Guardian’s caption to underscore how rare it is for someone to portray Ronald McDonald; as the publication notes, “more men have walked on the moon than been Ronald McDonald.”

And as you’d expect, the six-minute, 34-second film is rather poignant. Arts and culture mag Juxtapoz called it “brilliant,” summarizing it like this:

This is just way too good. The Guardian recently went to Las Vegas to visit with the “eighth man” to ever officially be Ronald McDonald. Joe Maggard was McDonald’s mascot from 1995 to 2007, and in this short, you see him transform himself from a retired, pool swimming man to a spokesperson for a major corporation. There are so many subtle shifts here, from the Guardian hinting at a lonely existence, to Maggard’s own change of personality when speaking about putting on the costume. Brilliantly shot with a most-interesting subject. This is the Chief Happiness Officer.

You really should give it a watch. It’s probably the only in-depth interview of anyone who has ever officially played Ronald McDonald. Joe Maggard’s take on what it means to be Ronald McDonald is poignant, touching, and a glimpse under the makeup like you’ll never see elsewhere.

Except it’s probably a lie.

If you go to the McDonald’s Wiki — that is, a whole Wikipedia-like encyclopedia — you’ll find this list of people who have portrayed the clown for McDonald’s. And Joe Maggard’s name is not on that list. That’s because as far as McDonald’s is concerned, Joe Maggard never portrayed their iconic clown.

At some point during the 1990s, Maggard was involved in a commercial shoot for McDonald’s, most likely as a stand-in — someone who takes the place of the performer before filming begins, as the crew tests the lighting, sound, etc. But this seemed to be enough for Maggard to make his claim. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble with the law in 1998, just three years into his alleged tenure as the official clown performer, as reported by the Baltimore Sun in 2003:

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 telephone calls posing as a Ronald. The judge ordered him to take anger-management classes.

“I’m one of the bad-boy Ronalds,” said 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.”

The hamburger giant, continues the Sun, disavowed any relationship with Maggard; “McDonald’s said that Maggard was a stand-in for Ronald for one commercial shoot, adding that ‘he is definitely not Ronald McDonald.'” And there are no other public records of Maggard ever being under contract with Mickey D’s.

Maggard didn’t take kindly to McDonald’s statement, either; a few weeks later, he issued a press release saying he was suing them, claiming that “McDonald’s refused to provide a copy of his contract for 8 years” which makes sense because the burger chain claimed there was no such contract. Maggard also objected to McDonald’s alleged demand that he hand over his Ronald costume, retorting that he would do no such thing: “Tell the McQueen Amy Murray at the Golden Palace in Oak Brook that she can kiss this Ronald’s McGriddle!” There are no reports of the two sides settling their beef (sorry!) and the fact that the Guardian did an interview with the not-so-official mascot a decade later suggests they likely never will.

In any event, The Guardian ultimately deleted the video from their website and took it off Vimeo, too. But thankfully for us, they kept the video of the likely-fake Ronald on their Facebook page. 

Bonus fact: From Pennywise to… okay, almost all of them, clowns can be creepy. In 2016, appearances of people dressed as evil clowns became a common prank of sorts, and the problem got so bad that it warranted its own Wikipedia page. This was bad news for McDonald’s; as NBC reported: “With the nation thoroughly spooked by both real and fake sightings of ‘creepy’ clowns, McDonald’s has decided to limit the public appearances of their signature red-haired, floppy-shoed figurehead.” It was temporary, though; after the evil clown trend abated, Ronald returned.

From the Archives: Japan’s First English Teacher: Ranald MacDonald.