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From the Vault of Art Shay: Getting to Know Ray Kroc

By Art Shay in Food on Nov 9, 2011 8:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his photography archives, Art shares some never before seen photos of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and looks back at working with McDonald's.)

Recently my archivist, Erica, digitized one of my favorite takes: My 1971 collaboration with the great Norman Rockwell!

McDonald’s PR man at the time, a reputable guy named Herb Rozoff, and founder Ray Kroc hired me to document their Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois, a drive from the site of the first Golden Arches in Des Plaines. I hit it off with Kroc and he hired me to do McDonald's annual report that year.

I insisted on going out there on a day when Kroc - a near neighbor of mine - would be there. Was he ever! He spoke to the class of graduates. His motto: "I did it… you can too." He scolded my 17-year-old son Richard (now a famous photographer in his own right) for not getting a haircut and held still while I did the famous portrait of Ray that's sold about 2,000 times, of Kroc eating a Big Mac at his first new McD's !

Ray had seen some pictures of mine with movement in them. "That's what I want for my annual report." he said. "Show how fast we get the stuff out. Can you do it?" When I nodded yes, he said to Rozoff, "Hire this guy to do it." Rozoff conveniently forgot to tell Ray he had already hired Norman Rockwell!

Now you know I came to collaborate with Norman Rockwell and why the McDonald’s 1971 Annual Report - cover by Rockwell, other photography by me - has sold at auction for $2500. Ray Kroc once offered me my own neighborhood McDonald's for $100,000: "You could pay it off in a year, Arty boy," he crowed. The next buyer he asked, did, and now owns 10 of them. The affable managers know of my almost-connection to upper management, so when I bring my hotcakes back for microwaving, they jump to the job. Ray would still be proud after 40 years.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago’s Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.