In 2018, Pennywise and his razor-sharp grin would be front and center on the Mount Rushmore of famous clowns. Rewind the clock by three decades, though, and a kinder, gentler jester dominated the pop culture landscape — one who served up hamburgers rather than nightmares to billions and billions of children. His name? Ronald McDonald, of course — the red-haired spokesclown for the McDonald’s fast food empire.
Good ol’ Ronald has been less visible in the company’s marketing campaigns in recent years, but back in the 1980s, it was next to impossible to escape his blinding smile and equally blinding yellow jumpsuit. The clown’s face beamed at kids from Happy Meal boxes, TV ads, animated shorts and even 8-bit video games. Thirty years ago this weekend — Aug. 12, 1988, to be exact — Ronald made the leap to the big screen in Mac and Me, an E.T. homage (or, if you prefer, rip-off) that, to this day, merits its prominent position on the list of terrible kids’ movies. The movie’s status as a go-to punchline is confirmed every time Paul Rudd goes on Conan and plays a clip of Mac and Me instead of the actual movie he’s there to promote.
“It was kind of a disappointment,” admits Squire Fridell, the actor who wore Ronald’s white facepaint in nearly 50 commercials that aired during the height of his ’80s ubiquity, from 1985 to 1991. That’s also him in Mac and Me, popping up during a sequence in which the movie’s handicapped hero, Eric (Jade Calegory), smuggles his extraterrestrial friend, Mac (as in Mysterious Alien Creature), into a birthday party/dance-off held at his local McDonald’s franchise.