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A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As depicted by The Wrestler screenwriter Robert Siegel, Kroc begins the film as a 50-something milk-shake-mixer salesman who sweet-talks two brothers from San Bernardino, Calif., Mac and Dick McDonald, into franchising their successful hamburger stand.
As the restaurants multiply, Kroc ultimately snatches the McDonald’s name from them. The script maintains that Kroc cheated the brothers out of $200 million and, until his death in 1984, pretended to have made up the name McDonald’s himself.
The Machiavellian maneuvering recalls that of another film about the birth of an American corporate monolith: The Social Network, which dramatized the infighting between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the various Harvard classmates who claimed he double-crossed them along the way.
But while Zuckerberg and others depicted in that film have repeatedly stressed that Aaron Sorkin‘s script plays fast and loose with the facts, The Founder would seem to more or less adhere to the McDonald’s story as it actually happened.
In fact, many of Kroc’s less-than-gentlemanly deeds — including his refusal to honor a handshake agreement to pay the McDonald brothers a 1.9 percent royalty fee after buying the company from them in 1961 for $2.7 million — were admitted to in Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s, the 1977 business bible in which Kroc recounts the story of his success.
McDonald’s, for its part, has bigger headaches to focus on at the moment than a movie about its colorful founders. The company announced on Thursday that its CEO of the past three years, Don Thompson, would be exiting the position following two years of declining sales.
Says Lisa McComb, director of media relations for the company, “Ray Kroc’s story is compelling, so we’re not surprised Hollywood wants to dramatize it for the big screen.”
Adds McComb: “The historical facts of his journey to success are in his autobiography and other non-fictional accounts of McDonald’s.”
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