“Ray & Joan” by Lisa Napoli
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
Whoever put those two delicious words together really knew what they were doing: order your food, ask for it “to go,” save yourself time, and eat wherever you want. You might not even have to get out of the car. Yes, “to go” are magic words but, as in the new book “Ray and Joan” by Lisa Napoli, there are still things you can’t take with you when you do.
It all started with oranges.
“Millions of oranges… dotted” the southern California hills in the pre-Depression years and, with newly-affordable automobiles spurring Americans to travel, brothers Mac and Dick McDonald saw a golden opportunity. They’d studied the way hamburger joints were run then, and they devised a better way. One of their new ideas was to hire an agent to sell franchises, which is where Ray Kroc stepped in.
Born in 1902 to Bohemian immigrants, Kroc had always possessed charisma, the gift of gab, and love for the limelight, eventually parlaying those strengths into a sales job that took him around the country. When he discovered what the brothers McDonald were doing, Kroc knew he’d seen the future and he persuaded them to hire him. Though financing was never quite secure in those early years, it wasn’t long before McDonald’s restaurants were seemingly everywhere.
And so, of course, was Ray Kroc. Part of his job was to approve new “store” openings and it was on one such trip that he met Joan Smith, who was playing piano in an upscale Minneapolis lounge. Though both were wed to someone else, they were smitten with one another; he asked her twice to marry him and she finally did.
But blissful happiness wasn’t to be. Kroc was volatile, and drank too much, while Joan was bored with merely being a billionaire’s wife, and she restlessly searched for projects. When Kroc died in 1984, she mourned, then seized her chance – but not in any conventional way.
Says Napoli , “She wanted to make a difference, but serving on a corporate board, on any board, wasn’t what she had in mind.”
Have you ever become so captivated by a story that you felt unmoored when it ended? Yep, I could have read “Ray & Joan” all day.
Yet, undoubtedly, as author Lisa Napoli indicates in her book, if Joan Kroc had had her way, we wouldn’t know the rest of the story. Kroc, says Napoli , wanted her philanthropic actions to be anonymous, even though she enigmatically left plenty of clues. Between tales of both Krocs and their contemporaries, Napoli follows those hints to leave readers wondering what we don’t know. This bit of mystery, inadvertent as it might have been originally, feels like the plot of a book of intrigue, and serves to leave readers hungry for the next page, and the next…
This book will likely be found in the business section of bookstore or library, but it’s really so much more. “Ray & Joan” has shades of history, pop-culture, biography, and finance inside – and doesn’t that sound delicious?
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin