As a child, I was terrified of Willard Scott, the boisterous weatherman on morning news program Today throughout the ’80s. Today, I discovered the lurking, subconscious reason why: Scott was the original Ronald McDonald. Fast Food News posted one of Scott’s earliest television appearances as Ronald, and the clip is truly difficult to watch, from the first shot of Ronald hidden in the shadows, to the red-and-yellow-striped ass-shot of him frolicking into the distance. Ronald has a paper cup for a nose, a “magic tray” glued to his midsection, squeaky hands, and a smoker’s voice.
It turns out that Scott has a long clowning history: He also played Bozo the Clown. The Joy Boys website quotes Scott thusly:
There was something about the combination of hamburgers and Bozo that was irresistible to kids… That’s why when Bozo went off the air a few years later, the local McDonald’s people asked me to come up with a new character to take Bozo’s place. So, I sat down and created Ronald McDonald.
Maybe everyone already knew about Ronald-slash-Willard’s past but me. And maybe I just have an unusually high level of clown fear. Anyway, please excuse me while I go call my therapist.