“Up until the time we sold, there was no mention of Kroc being the founder. If we had heard about it, he would be back selling milkshake machines.”
~ Richard McDonald, The Wall Street Journal, 1991
There is quite strongly held, although . An example is which person came up with using powder mix for milkshakes and when that happened. But the overall story about the business appears to be accurate. One of the few major points of contention is whether or not there ever was a royalty agreement based on a handshake, as the two sides told different versions. So, it partly depends on which side one considers more credible and trustworthy. Though some claims can be verified from documents, much of what the film is based on comes from various personal accounts., some of it
Other debates are more philosophical, such as the meaning of being a founder. The McDonald brothers founded the business model and franchised it before Kroc partnered with them. They had gone so far as to have already sold franchise rights in Kroc’s hometown, which Kroc had to buy out. What Kroc founded was a real estate empire in owning the land upon which franchises were located, this having been the source of wealth behind McDonald’s becoming an international megacorporation.
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So is the film true-to-life? Well, that’s debatable upon who you ask. Kroc and the McDonald brothers had, shall we say, disagreements about whose idea it was to franchise and use the now-infamous golden arches. Kroc also claims that after he officially took over the franchise, he ran the McDonalds brothers out of business at their original location (which they maintained per their agreement) by opening a brand new McDonald’s across the street — a fact which the McDonald brothers vehemently disagree with.
But the bare bones of the story seem to be accurate. As for the details, it looks like the movie is following Kroc’s account of the events, which makes sense since we’re guessing The Founder had to get certain permissions from the fast food restaurant in order to use his name, etc.
[P]retty much everything biographical about Kroc is true. […]
Other details in the film aren’t quite accurate, though. For example, though the film indicates that Kroc himself came up with the idea of franchising McDonald’s, in fact the McDonald’s brothers had already begun franchising the restaurant before they met Kroc. Money reports that they had about six locations by 1954. And while the film suggests Kroc also gave the brothers the idea of the iconic “golden arches,” Business Insider notes that the brothers had architect Stanley Clark Meston design them in 1952. […]
One thing that had to be accurate in The Founder, though, was any representation of McDonald’s, including branding, iconography, and restaurant designs. That’s because, as the New York Times explains, the makers of The Founder were allowed to use McDonald’s iconography as long as it was accurate and did not misrepresent the company. So, production designer Michael Corenblith was meticulous about the set design, using “old photographs, blueprints and other archival material” as well as “under the radar” visits to older McDonald’s restaurants to get exact measurements. The final representations, including two full-sized working McDonald’s restaurants maintained “absolute high fidelity.”
You can rest assured that The Founder is a film whose crazy story is in fact pretty darn accurate.
The movie starts with the message, “Based on a true story.” How close to the real thing was this?
Very close. The one thing you should know is that every single movie that comes out today that is a true story, historical, is going to say “based on a true story,” for legal reasons. Because, for instance, I’ve got Michael Keaton playing Ray Kroc; I don’t have Ray Kroc playing Ray Kroc. And there are certain scenes where there was no stenographer in the room, so you’re making up dialogue. So, from the legal standpoint, they always say “based on a true story.”
[The Founder, though, was very close to what happened]. The most harrowing lines that come out of Kroc’s mouth are his actual lines: ‘If a competitor was drowning, stick a hose down his throat.’ ‘Business is war.’ ‘Dog eat dog, rat eat rat.’ Those are actual quotes.
Did Ray Kroc renege on his handshake deal to pay the McDonald brothers a percentage of the revenue from the franchises?
Yes. After the brothers refused to give Kroc the original restaurant, he supposedly cheated the brothers out of the 0.5 percent royalty agreement they had been getting, which would have been valued at $15 million a year by 1977 and as high as $305 million a year by 2012 (according to one estimate). In his book, Kroc wrote, “If they [the brothers] had played their cards right, that 0.5 percent would have made them unbelievably wealthy.” Relatives of Richard and Maurice McDonald say that Maurice (Mac) was so distraught that it attributed to his eventual death from heart failure a decade later. -Daily Mail Online
Did Ray Kroc really credit himself with being the founder of McDonald’s?
Yes. After the McDonald brothers sold the company to Ray Kroc in 1961 for $2.7 million, he began to take credit for its birth. “Suddenly, after we sold, my golly, he elevated himself to the founder,” said Richard McDonald in a 1991 interview (Sun Journal). Kroc reinforced his claim of being the founder in his 1977 biography, Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s, in which he largely traces McDonald’s origins to his own first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois (it was actually the ninth restaurant overall). However, he does include Dick and Mac and their original restaurant in his book. Kroc didn’t open his Des Plaines restaurant until April 15, 1955, roughly seven years after the McDonald brothers opened the original San Bernardino location in 1948 (The New York Times).
The sale left Kroc bitterly angry with the McDonald brothers for keeping the original location. He opened a McDonald’s location across the street from the brothers’ original restaurant, forcing them to rename the original burger joint, which didn’t stay in business much longer.
“I ran ’em out of business,” he gleefully told TIME.
That was an angle with which Dick McDonald didn’t exactly agree: “Ray Kroc stated that he forced McDonald Bros, to remove the name McDonald’s from the unit we retained in San Bernardino, Calif. The facts are that we took the name off the building and removed the arches immediately upon the closing of the sale of our company to Kroc and associates in December 1961,” he stated in a letter to the editor that ran several weeks later. “Kroc must have been kidding when he told your reporter that we renamed our unit Mac’s Place. The name we used was The Big M. Ray was also being facetious when he told your reporter that he drove us out of business. My brother and I had retired two years previous to the sale, and were living in Santa Barbara, Calif. We had turned the operation of the San Bernardino unit over to a couple of longtime employees of ours who operated the drive-in for seven years. Ray Kroc was always a great prankster and probably couldn’t resist the temptation to needle me.”
Nevertheless, Kroc proclaimed himself McDonald’s founder. Indeed, the company honored him on its Founder’s Day (and wouldn’t include the McDonald brothers until 1991).
Kroc’s version of the story upset the McDonald brothers after the publication of his 1992 autobiography Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s. In the book, he named the first franchise he opened—in Des Plaines, Ill.—as the first McDonald’s restaurant ever opened.
“Up until the time we sold, there was no mention of Kroc being the founder,” Dick McDonald told the Wall Street Journal in 1991. ”If we had heard about it, he would be back selling milkshake machines.”
He said he was impressed with the film and the portrayals of Kroc (Michael Keaton) and Dick and “Mac” McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch).
“They took a little creative license, but they stuck very close to the story,” French said. “(Offerman and Lynch) were spot on. They conveyed the charismatic New Englanders that they were.”
Jason McDonald French takes pride in what his grandfather created. He reflected on the nostalgic quality of the San Bernardino McDonald’s, and what it means to him: “It’s something that my grandfather over tireless years came up with.”
But there’s something the family rarely talked about: the handshake deal in which Ray Kroc promised the McDonald brothers a half-percent royalty on all future McDonalds proceeds.
The family says he never paid them a cent.
“I think it’s worth, yeah, $100 million a year,” said French. “Yeah, pretty crazy.”
“Is there bitterness about that in your family?”
“No, No. My grandfather was never bitter over it. Why would we be bitter over something that my grandfather wasn’t bitter over?”
“Well, there’s 100 million reasons you could be!” said Tracy.
“Yeah,” French smiled.
For French, seeing his family’s story told on the big screen is its own form of payback.
“We were overjoyed with the fact that the story’s being told the right way and that it’s being historically accurate,” he said. “They did create fast food. They started that from the beginning, and I don’t think they get enough credit for what they actually created.”