Finding McDonaldland: Meet Ronald McDonald’s Friends! (Pt. 1)

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When the world first met Ronald McDonald in 1963, he debuted as a “hamburger happy clown” that could be found at his favorite place in town: a McDonald’s drive-in restaurant. Seven years later in 1970, ad agency Needham, Harper & Steers would conceptualize another hangout in McDonald’s advertising — the fantasy world of McDonaldland.

Here, trees were made out of apple pies, hamburgers and French fries grew in animated patches, and volcanoes exploded with creamy milkshakes. It was a universe full of upbeat adventures for Ronald and his friends — of which he had many! Today, we’re returning for a look back at these magical characters including beloved icons like Grimace and the Fry Kids in our two-part McDonaldland series.

Get yourself, ready for a trip in McDonaldland
Take along a friend, and grab hold of Ronald’s hand
Follow Ronald McDonald through the land of Apple Pie Trees
And don’t be surprised when you meet Big Mac and McCheese

There’s Thick Shake Volcanoes, you’ll even find a French fry patch
Now just turn around and see if you won’t find a Hamburger Patch
As you’re headin’ for…for McDonald’s

In McDonaldland at McDonald’s…

Mayor McCheese
Introduced in: 1971.
Portrayed/voiced by: Billy Curtis portrayed Mayor McCheese. Once Curtis retired in the late 1970s, Jerry Maren took over the role. Howard Morris voiced the icon.

As the mayor of McDonaldland, Mayor McCheese might have looked the part with his diplomat’s sash and top hat perched on his huge cheeseburger-shaped head. In reality though, he was a bit of a bumbler. Phased out in the mid-1980s, Mayor McCheese is still fondly remembered for his silly antics in McDonaldland.

Hamburglar
Introduced in: 1971.
Portrayed/voiced by: Frankie Delfino, Jerry Maren, and Tommy Vicini portrayed the Hamburglar throughout 1971 to 2003. Larry Storch voiced the character until 1986 with Howard Morris taking over from 1986 to 2003.

Officially known as Hamilton B. Urglar, this sneaky pint-sized burglar got his start on the hunt for all the hamburgers McDonaldland had to offer. His initial design varied greatly from the Hamburglar we know today, wearing a face mask with a much more pointed nose, gray hair, and muttering gibberish.

He would receive a redesign in 1973, giving the Hamburglar a much younger appearance complete with red hair, a black cape with yellow on the inside, and a shorter brimmed hat. He was also able to speak much more coherently adding “robble robble” in his sentences as he continued to play tricks on the McDonaldland gang. Another redesign in 1985 would feature the Hamburglar with the ability to wiggle his ears and being capable of eye and mouth movements.

Grimace
Introduced in: 1971.
Portrayed/voiced by: Patti Saunders portrayed Grimace from 1971 to 1984 with Terry Castillo taking over from 1984 to 2003. Voice actors including Lennie Weinrib (1971 to 1985), Frank Welker (1985 to 2003) and Larry Moran (occasionally dropping in through the 1980s to 2003) all provided Grimace with vocal talent.

Nobody quite knows who or what Grimace is, but his introduction into McDonaldland began as “Evil Grimace.” The large purple monster originally had four short arms instead of two to snatch as many McDonald’s shakes and sodas as he could possibly get his hands on. A year later, Grimace was rebooted as a good guy. He lost the second pair of arms and the word “evil” in his name to become more of a comic foil to Ronald. By the mid-1970s, his silly, well-meaning antics had won the hearts of children everywhere.

In 1985, Grimace was redesigned to be more kid-friendly in appearance. No longer a purple blob, he became a gentle giant in a light lavender shade. His eyebrows and eyelids were now moveable and he smiled much more with a visible pink tongue.

More information about the Grimace family began to leak out during the 1980s as well.  Members of their family tree included his mother, father, “Winky” the grandma, his great-great grandmother Jenny Grimace, two aunts named Millie and Tillie (as seen above), and a possible brother named King Gonga.

Of all the Grimace relatives, the most well known one was Uncle O’Grimacey. Introduced in commercial spots in 1978, Uncle O’Grimacey was the Irish uncle of Grimace — entirely green in design and wearing a coat covered in four-leaf clovers. He visited McDonaldland once a year to bring along Shamrock Shakes for St. Patrick’s Day.

Birdie the Early Bird
Introduced in: 1980.
Portrayed/voiced by: Patti Maloney performed Birdie while Russi Taylor voiced the character in commercial spots.

Who better than to promote new breakfast menu items at McDonald’s than Birdie the Early Bird? As the first female character in the McDonaldland crew, Birdie is a yellow bird that wore a pink jumpsuit, flight cap, and scarf.

According to the McDonaldland legend, Birdie arrived via a giant egg that fell from the night sky. Ronald and his friends stayed with the egg all night to protect it and keep it warm. In the morning, it hatched and Birdie was born, happy to be living in a place where she was shown so much love.

In 1986, Birdie’s character received several design revisions including blinkable eyelids, movable eyes, pigtails that stuck out to the sides, and the ability to walk, run, and move her lips. She still struggles with her flying skills a bit though!

Stay tuned for part two in this series as we get to know more about the lesser-known McDonaldland icons!

Image credits: McDonaldland: Filming in McDonaldland

Heather Taylor

Icon Researcher & Blogger at Advertising Week
Heather Taylor

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4 Comments
  1. What a delightful surprise to read so much about these beloved characters! Did you know that Russi Taylor was the original voice of several My Little Pony characters and continues to voice Minnie Mouse for Disney to this very day? Not many folks know the time and care that went into creating McDonaldland!

  2. Hello Heather! Thanks so much for the two terrific articles about the McDonaldland characters. I just discovered them. It’s nice to know that there is still some interest in the history of McDonaldland. So many kids grew up with fond memories of those characters on TV and sometimes in-person. It’s sad to see that all of the characters have been retired now, but I try to keep the magic alive through my Facebook page, “McDonaldland. Filming In McDonaldland”. I also have a Pinterest page with the same name “Filming in McDonaldland”. (Same pictures,…just organized differently.) And I really appreciate that you gave my Facebook page credit for the images. Very nice of you. Thanks. McDonaldland is Pop-Culture now. I put links to both of your articles on my McDonaldland page. Hope you get a lot of new readers. I’ll also share your articles to the Facebook Group “McDonald’s Collectors”. They’d be interested, too. Happy day. Rich Seidelman, McDonaldland ad agency Art Director.

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