There Is No McDonald’s Without the Grimace

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Original, Evil Grimace

A former chief creative officer for McDonald’s said the original Grimace terrified kids.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was traveling the country appearing at comic book conventions, I used to joke with my friends that on my route, the McDonald’s signs would be changing due to my patronage. At the time, plenty of restaurants still had the signs with the rotating numbers, designating how many people the franchise had served. Soon after, the signs would change to read simply: Billions and Billions Served, the running estimate discarded.

On my many road trips, I would stop in at various McDonald’s around the country, on the hunt for 1 item: Grimace merchandise. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of the big ol’ purple guy, to the point I even printed up my own Grimace tees (more on that later).

I was only three or four, but I remember the ads with the Grimace (then the Evil Grimace), sporting four arms—the better to steal milkshakes with. That was his job, after all. Just as the Hamburglar was known for attempts to steal burgers, Evil Grimace had one thing on his mind: making off with milkshakes.

Unfortunately, PC-ism was already alive and well, and the chain soon reinvented Grimace, dropping the ‘Evil’ from his moniker (along with two arms), and reintroducing him as a sort of loveable foil to McDonald’s’ main franchise character, Ronald.

Saxophone Playing Grimace

Saxophone Playing Grimace

In 1992, I was dating a girl who couldn’t understand my love of all things Grimace. By then, I’d amassed quite  a collection. Travel makes for vast opportunities when hunting down cool items, some of which were only released locally, or were leftovers from long-ended promotions lingering in a back storeroom. I had a set of plates, cups, a wind-up jazz saxophone playing Grimace, complete with dark glasses and beret, a couple of plump stuffed beanie Grimaces, a Grimace countertop standee, two purple freezable Grimace toddler teething rings, a—well, you get the idea.

One day, while running a job at Printing Dynamics in Rockville Center, a machine ran out of ink, and Craig told me that it would probably be a half hour before my job was done. Not a big deal, and it was right around lunch time. Naturally, I hopped into my car, tooled over to McDonald’s, and grabbed some food. Which was when I noticed a little boy, standing in line, with a Grimace hand puppet.

Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a puppet. It was a flat plastic mitten, really, white, with a Grimace on it. The arms were where a child’s thumb and pinky would go. Nevertheless, I had to have one. The server couldn’t understand my enthusiasm, but of course, he didn’t know what I had in mind.

I went home, printed out some text, affixed my Grimace puppet to a sheet of 11×17 paper, and returned to the print shop, where, true to his word, Craig had my job ready to go.

“One more thing,” I added, laying down my paste-up job. He looked down at it, then up at me.

“Are you serious?” he wanted to know. But he really didn’t need to ask. You see, Printing Dynamics was one of the first shops in the area that was able to take a color image, print it on a sheet of tee-shirt transfer paper, and if you had your own heat press (as I did), you could turn pretty much any image into your own tee shirt. Which is what I did, running out two of them just to be safe.

Fast forward. It’s an off-weekend, and I drive to Jersey to spend the weekend with my girlfriend. The spiritual vegetarian. I show up wearing my new custom-made tee, the Grimace filling the chest, with the legend below him reading:

GRIMYSTICISM: The worship of the Grimace. Religious icon and universal symbol of happy-go-luckyism.

Even she had to crack a smile. On top of that, everyone wanted to know where I’d gotten it. Not wanting to step on McDonald’s’ toes, I told folks I made it myself, for myself, and that was that. But all of my friends wanted one. Fans who came to conventions to get books signed wanted one. I don’t know how many followed my instructions on how to make their own, but I’m sure a couple went out and did so, all so they could sport their own Grimace, or Hamburglar, or Fry Goblin fashion sense.

Grimace Appears at McDonald's

Grimace appears at McDonald’s

Flash forward. Couple of months later and one of my buddies calls me to tell me that who’s appearing at a nearby McDonald’s but—the Grimace! I quickly tear open the newspaper (no internet yet, this was the fast food stone ages), and sure enough, we’ve got about an hour to make it there. I throw on my t-shirt, pick up my friend, and off we go.

I don’t remember the name of the guy in the suit, but I’ve been there, done that. Maybe he was in the boss’ dog house. Maybe he just wanted to get out from behind the grill. Maybe he was the only guy who the suit really fit. Whatever the case, I walked in, saw him shuffling around the restaurant, threw up my hand and did my best Animal House with, “Grimace, my man!”

Staying in character, he turns to me, sees the shirt, waves his fuzzy arms like a long lost relative just showed up, and starts lumbering over. Unfortunately his wide hips nearly knocked a customer into a booth, but he eventually made his way over and did the Grimace thing, patting me on the back and trying to grab my shake.

My friend Joe Capo took the pictures you see here. I remember every one of ’em. While McDonald’s has, sadly, abandoned their core characters save for Ronald, the Grimace remains as popular today as ever, and his merchandise is still a hot seller among collectors.

Me? I just want to find another hand puppet. It’s been a while. I could use a couple of new t-shirts.

Joe and Grimace 1992

Me and the Grimace (1992)

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Last updated: Sep 16, 2013
Filed under: Retro Memories Tagged with: collectibles, fast food, McDonald's, Retro Characters