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Ohio State alumnus brings McDonald’s story to big screen in ‘The Founder’

Still from “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton. Credit: Courtesy of TWC Publicity

There are three words that have become synonymous with the McDonald’s franchise — “I’m lovin’ it.”

The making of the staple of the fast-food industry will be brought to the big screen on Friday, thanks to Ohio State alumnus Don Handfield.

Handfield, a 2005 journalism alumnus and actor, producer and writer, decided to pursue the McDonald’s tale after discovering the story via some vigorous research. This research ended with Handfield speaking to and convincing the family of the company’s founders to tell their story.

After he got the clearance to do so, he then got a writer and director on board and produced “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton, which is set to hit theaters on Friday.  

Businessman Ray Kroc is largely credited with starting McDonalds, but the story truly began with brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in Arcadia, California, Handfield said.

“There’s two McDonald’s. There’s the McDonald’s the brothers created and then there’s the McDonald’s Corporation,” he said. “I don’t have anything against McDonald’s, but I think the brothers were driven by a much different need than Ray Kroc, and that’s what I wanted to show.”  

Handfield, who minored in theatre, moved to Los Angeles after graduation to pursue acting. Wanting more control over his destiny, he said he decided to get into production.

“I wanted to have more control over my life, and as an actor you are kind of waiting for people to call you,” he said. “What I did was I ended up getting a job at E! Entertainment Television back when it was pretty new …  The journalism degree was the only reason I got the job.”

In “The Founder,” the McDonald’s brothers got the idea to start a restaurant after noticing the success of a local hot dog stand, prompting them to start a barbecue restaurant in 1940.

“They weren’t doing quite well, but they didn’t want to build a new restaurant,” said Jason French, Dick McDonald’s grandson. “They quite literally paid a guy $200 to cut the building in half, put it on the back of a truck, and moved it from Arcadia to San Bernardino (California).”

They soon noticed that 80 percent of their sales weren’t even barbeque, but rather specialty items such as root beer, orange soda, milkshakes, cheeseburgers and french fries.

The brothers then decided to make a change in 1948. They dissolved their barbecue shack and converted it into a full-time burger restaurant, McDonald’s.

Beyond Keaton, “The Founder” features Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Mac McDonald. Linda Cardellini portrays Kroc’s wife Joan Smith and BJ Novak portrays Harry Sonneborn, the company’s first chief executive.

“We can’t be happier that the true story of my grandfather and how (the start of McDonald’s) played out would actually make it to the big screen,” French said. “It’s just unbelievable, and a lot of it has to do with Don Handfield, and we can’t thank him enough.”

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