Ray & Joan is a quintessentially American tale of corporate intrigue and private passion: a struggling Mad Men-era salesman with a vision for a fast-food franchise that would become one of the world's most enduring brands, and a beautiful woman willing to risk her marriage and her reputation to promote controversial causes that touched her deeply.
Ray Kroc was peddling franchises around the country for a fledgling hamburger stand in the 1950s--McDonald's, it was called--when he entered a St. Paul supper club and encountered a beautiful young piano player who would change his life forever. The attraction between Ray and Joan was instantaneous and instantly problematic. Yet even the fact that both were married to other people couldn't derail their roller coaster of a romance.
To the outside world, Ray and Joan were happy, enormously rich, and giving. But privately, Joan was growing troubled over Ray's temper and dark secret, something she was reluctant to publicly reveal. Those close to them compared their relationship to that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. And yet, this volatility paved the way for Joan's transformation into one of the greatest philanthropists of our time. A force in the peace movement, she produced activist films, books, and music and ultimately gave away billions of dollars, including landmark gifts to the Salvation Army and NPR.
Together, the two stories form a compelling portrait of the twentieth century: a story of big business, big love, and big giving.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-22
- Reviewer: Staff
Golden Arches aficionados worldwide have been scarfing down their Big Macs and fries in ignorance of the tumultuous, glamorous love story of its founder, Ray Kroc, and his third wife, Joan. This glitzy history by journalist Napoli (Radio Shangri-La) follows the titular couple through the first years of the legendary company, the growing popularity of the McDonald’s brand, Ray’s early career and marriages to (and divorces from) his first and second wives, and all the way to Joan’s heroic philanthropic efforts before and following Ray’s death. They met when she was a restaurant pianist and he was an ambitious, newly wealthy businessman. She supported his business efforts in a way he hadn’t experienced with his previous wives, and their long, happy marriage weathered success, lawsuits, and a changing business world. Joan substantially supported myriad causes in her lifetime, notably embarking on a dedicated crusade to help people struggling with alcoholism. Napoli’s energetic, slightly tabloidesque narrative style make this a must-read for anyone who loves a good love story behind a business success. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House. (Nov.)
Giving away the Big Mac fortune
BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, November 2016
As we are constantly reminded, all those quarter-pounders from McDonald’s add up—to billions and billions served. Not as well known but just as importantly, millions and millions in McDonald’s profits were doled out to charities by Joan Kroc, widow of longtime Chairman Ray Kroc, during her lifetime and beyond. Ray & Joan is Lisa Napoli’s highly readable account of the Krocs’ romance and marriage, the growth of the McDonald’s fast-food empire and how all that money came to be given away.
It wasn’t exactly a storybook relationship under the arches. Ray and Joan were married to others when they first met and later left their spouses to be together, with Ray detouring into yet another marriage before he finally tied the knot with Joan. Once they were wed, Ray’s volatile personality and persistent drinking ensured conflicts, and the couple flirted with divorce. They stuck it out, though, and upon Ray’s death in 1984, Joan was suddenly in control of a fortune estimated at $1.7 billion and growing.
The Krocs were no strangers to philanthropy before Ray’s death, but Joan kicked things into high gear while still managing to live lavishly and patronize her favorite gambling casinos. Chief beneficiaries included Operation Cork (alcoholism education), the Salvation Army and National Public Radio (which Joan listened to only occasionally), with additional millions doled out as she wished. Pet causes such as nuclear disarmament got the full “St. Joan of the Arches” treatment as well.
Part corporate success story, part soap opera, this tale has a lot of territory to cover, and Napoli recounts it all in a breezy, amusing style. She’s at her best on the subject of Ray and Joan’s complicated relationship, but the backstories—Ray’s rise from milkshake machine salesman to titan of commerce and Joan’s journey from a difficult childhood to beloved philanthropist—are just as riveting.