|Ethel Janet Fleming
|December 25, 1890 - December 26, 1965
|American Actress, Ex-wife of Ray Kroc
Ethel Fleming, an American actress, and first wife of the renowned McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, has often been a mysterious figure due to her connection with the high-profile businessman. Born in Illinois, Ethel Fleming made a name for herself in the acting industry before her life took an interesting turn with her marriage to Ray Kroc in 1922. The couple had two children together, Marilyn and Harry, and Kroc worked as a traveling salesman to support his family during the early years of their marriage.
As Ray Kroc’s ambitions in the business world grew, it placed a strain on their marriage. Ethel reportedly opposed Ray’s decision to start selling milkshake machines, as she believed he was giving up a stable job and was too old to embark on a new career. This disagreement marked the beginning of the complications within their relationship, ultimately leading to their divorce in 1961. The same year, Kroc famously spent $2.7 million to buy out the McDonald brothers’ stake in the company, eventually transforming McDonald’s into a global fast-food empire.
Despite her rocky relationship with the McDonald’s tycoon, Ethel Fleming continued to maintain a low-key life after their divorce. She passed away in 1965 at the age of 64, leaving behind her legacy not only as Ray Kroc’s first wife but also as an accomplished American actress.
Early Life and Career
Background and Family
Ethel Fleming was born on December 27, 1890, in Melrose Park, Cook County, Illinois. She was the daughter of Janet Blair Fleming and Alexander Frew Fleming Sr. Ethel spent most of her childhood in her hometown alongside her four siblings. Her parents were of Czech origin.
Entrance into Acting
Ethel began her career as a chorus girl in New York City, where she performed in various stage productions. Her talent eventually led her to take up an acting career. Ethel appeared in various films and stage productions during the early 20th century. One of her notable performances include a leading role opposite William Desmond in a stage production of “The Pretender” at the Alvin Theater.
Throughout her career, Ethel showcased her versatility not just as an actress but also as a swimmer. Her accomplishments in both fields helped her to establish a solid reputation and remain a significant figure in the world of entertainment during her time.
Filmography and Theater Work
Silent Film Era
Ethel Fleming was an American actress who became a recognizable figure during the early 20th century, particularly in silent movies. She made her foray into films in 1916 with a role in The Kiss. Some of her other notable films that same year include Under Cover and East Lynne. While these films established her presence in the cinema, her acting career further expanded with more roles in productions such as The Silent Rider and The Wonderful Thing.
In addition to her work in the realm of silent films, Ethel Fleming also made her mark on the stage in various stage productions around New York City. She began her career as a chorus girl during the early 1900s, and, as her talents were discovered, she progressed to more prominent roles. Notably, she starred opposite of William Desmond in the stage production of The Pretender. Moreover, her performance in The Summer Widowers at the Alvin Theater contributed further to her growing fame. Onstage, Fleming continued to showcase her versatility and talents, while earning the admiration of theatergoers and critics alike.
Marriages and Relationships
Ethel Fleming, born in Melrose Park, Illinois, in 1901, was known for her various roles as an actress and swimmer in the early 20th century. She married actor William Courtleigh Jr. after a three-week courtship, and their love story lasted until his death in 1918. Ethel then transitioned her career from a Chorus Girl to performing in films and stage productions, such as Love Insurance.
In 1922, Ethel Fleming married her second husband, Ray Kroc, the future founder of McDonald’s. The couple had two children, Marilyn and Harry. However, their marriage faced several challenges, including Ray’s increasing work commitment. Ethel was reportedly opposed to Ray’s decision to sell milkshake machines, believing he was risking their financial stability. As Ray’s involvement with McDonald’s grew, so did the strain on their relationship, leading to their divorce in 1961.
- Marilyn Kroc: Daughter of Ethel Fleming and Ray Kroc
- Harry Kroc: Son of Ethel Fleming and Ray Kroc
After her divorce from Ray, Ethel maintained a relatively private life. Ray went on to marry two more times, first to Jane Dobbins Green and then to Joan Kroc. Joan would later gain prominence for her philanthropic endeavors after inheriting Ray’s fortune following his death in 1984. While Ethel Fleming’s personal life and relationships experienced their fair share of ups and downs, her legacy lives on through her descendants and the role she played in the lives of William Courtleigh Jr. and Ray Kroc.
Association with Ray Kroc
Ethel Fleming and Ray Kroc, the famous American businessman and founder of the McDonald’s franchise, first crossed paths in 1919. They eventually fell in love and tied the knot in 1922, settling down in Chicago, Illinois. During their early years of marriage, Ethel played a supportive role in Ray’s various business endeavors. However, the couple’s relationship faced a strain as Ray’s ambitions rose and he spent extensive amounts of time away from home.
Kroc Family Dynamics
Ray and Ethel welcomed two children into their lives during their marriage, namely Marilyn and Harry. As Ray continued to focus on his career, Ethel took care of their home and children. Despite the couple’s seemingly picture-perfect family, their marriage couldn’t withstand the pressures. In 1961, after being married for 39 years, they decided to divorce.
Ray Kroc later moved to California, where he met Joan Kroc, his second wife who became an integral part of his life. Joan contributed significantly to his success, both in business and philanthropy. The couple’s philanthropic endeavors extended to organizations such as the Salvation Army.
In conclusion, the relationship between Ethel Fleming and Ray Kroc played a crucial role in the early stages of Ray’s career, but with time, their marriage lost its charm. The stress that came with Ray’s growing ambitions and constant traveling eventually led to the end of their 39-year-long marriage.
Later Years and Death
Health and Illness
During her later years, Ethel Fleming faced various health issues, including diabetes and pneumonia. The American actress, who had a successful career in Hollywood during the early 20th century, eventually retired and settled in Long Beach, California. Despite her health problems, Ethel remained dedicated to her craft and continued to be involved in the world of stage and film.
Legacy and Memory
Ethel Fleming is fondly remembered for her contributions to American cinema, particularly her roles in different films and stage productions. Among her most notable works, she starred opposite William Desmond in the stage production of The Pretender. Born in Pennsylvania, Ethel initially began her career as a chorus girl and went on to become one of Hollywood’s eminent actresses.
Even after her death on December 26, 1965 in Los Angeles, just a day short of her 76th birthday, Ethel’s memory lives on. The legacy she left behind in the entertainment industry continues to inspire aspiring actors and actresses, and she is celebrated as a true pioneer of her time.
Ray Kroc’s Ventures
Expansion into Franchising
Ray Kroc, formerly a traveling salesman, found great success with the McDonald’s franchise after discovering the original fast-food restaurant in San Bernardino operated by Richard and Maurice McDonald. Impressed by their efficient operation, Kroc proposed an idea to the brothers – the expansion into a franchising model. As the franchising agent, Kroc started a new company named McDonald’s Systems, Inc., which later became McDonald’s Corporation.
Kroc faced challenges in creating a nationwide chain of McDonald’s restaurants. However, the franchise’s fortune shifted with the involvement of Harry Sonneborn, who joined the company as a finance expert. Sonneborn introduced Kroc to an innovative real estate business model that greatly contributed to McDonald’s success.
Kroc’s business strategies played a vital role in the growth of McDonald’s. Below is a list of some key strategies employed by Ray Kroc:
- Standardization: Kroc insisted on uniformity across all the restaurants, ensuring consistent quality and service.
- Franchise Model: He expanded the business by selling franchises to local entrepreneurs who managed individual locations.
- Real Estate: The company, guided by Harry Sonneborn, leased the land on which the franchisees would build their restaurants and then subleased it to them. This strategy provided McDonald’s with a stable source of income and control over the franchisees.
- Supplier Network: Kroc created a strong network of suppliers to keep the growing number of restaurants running efficiently.
- Advertising: The development and promotion of a strong, family-friendly brand image played a significant role in McDonald’s growth and success.
While Ethel Fleming, Ray Kroc’s first wife, may not have been directly involved in the decisions and growth of McDonald’s, the expansion and success of Kroc’s ventures have cemented his legacy in the world of business. Ray Kroc’s innovations and entrepreneurial spirit allowed the McDonald’s brand to become a symbol of America’s fast-food culture, thriving decades after its inception.