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Fact Checking The Founder
Ray & Joan: In the News
Ray Kroc was peddling franchises around the country for a fledgling hamburger stand in the 1950s—McDonald’s, it was called— when he entered a St. Paul supper club and encountered a beautiful young piano player who would change his life forever. The attraction between Ray and Joan was instantaneous, and instantly problematic. Yet even the fact that both were married to other people couldn’t derail their roller-coaster of a romance.
Just as their relationship twisted and turned dramatically, the fortunes of Ray’s new business came perilously close to failure. Ultimately Ray wrested control of McDonald’s from the original founders; in short order the successful burger stand in the desert of California would be transformed into a stock market sensation and international brand. At the same time, Joan was separately playing her own part in the building of McDonald’s–as the wife of an early franchisee and as Ray’s intimate confidante. The couple didn’t marry until 1969, twelve years after they first met.
To the outside world, Ray and Joan were happy, enormously rich, and giving. But privately, Joan was growing troubled over Ray’s temper and dark secret, something she was reluctant to publicly reveal. Those close to them compared their relationship to that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. And yet, this volatility paved the way for Joan’s transformation into one of the greatest philanthropists of our time. A force in the addiction and peace movements, she produced activist films, books, and music, and ultimately gave away billions of dollars, including landmark gifts to the Salvation Army and NPR.
Together, the two stories form a compelling portrait of the twentieth century: a story of big business, big love, and big giving.