Let’s set the Way Back Machine for Los Angeles’ Griffith Park in late summer 1972. Here we are on the set of the first TV commercial I ever wrote. As you may be able to guess, the client was McDonald’s.
I (the scrawny, long-haired, bespectacled and bearded lad third from the left) may look as if I’m in charge, patiently explaining the intricacies of the storyboard to Ronald McDonald, Bob Elen, the ad agency account executive, and Carl Gruener, its broadcast production manager. In reality I was scared to death that one or all of them would figure out that I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was doing.
This was back in the days before McDonald’s introduced playgrounds to its restaurants, and this commercial was supposed to promote their precursor, a primordial traveling McDonaldLand playground that went from location to location.
I don’t remember much about the commercial and, sadly, no longer have a copy of it. It’s no great loss because there was nothing especially memorable about it except that it was the first one I ever wrote. But I do recall that we had a problem with one of the TV networks. At some point in the commercial Ronald looked at a couple kids and said something like, “Let’s get this show on the road,” at which point the action shifted to super fast motion to show the transformation of Ronald’s 18-wheeler into a McDonaldLand playground.
After viewing the completed commercial, some officious genius in the network Standards & Practices Department said, “No way. We can’t show kids running down the stairs. That wouldn’t be safe.” A long-forgotten ad agency executive, probably one of the two other guys in the photo, finally convinced His Officiousness that it would be impossible for any children to suddenly shift into super fast motion, so the commercial eventually received his blessing.
By the way, this is the real Ronald McDonald. Each large market around the country had its own local Ronald who made personal appearances in that region. But this commercial must have been some kind of big deal because King Moody, who played Ronald in all McDonald’s national commercials between 1969 and 1985, deigned to grace us with his presence at this shoot.
Did I really just write the sentence, “This is the real Ronald McDonald” and emphasize the word real?
Advertising is a very strange business.