With Dean Spanos and the rest of his extended Chargers-owning family possibly poised to pull the plug on San Diego, the eccentric history of another super-rich local team owner is about to get the Hollywood treatment. This past summer Michael Keaton was spotted on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, shooting a new biopic about Czech-American McDonald’s billionaire Ray Kroc, who saved the Padres for San Diego when he bought the team for $12 million in 1974. Entitled The Founder, and set for release in November of next year, the movie is described by its writer Robert D. Siegel as “being akin to The Social Network and There Will Be Blood,” according to IMDb.com.
Though Tom Hanks turned down the lead, the screenplay made L.A.’s so-called Black List of 2014’s “most liked” unmade scripts. Linda Cardellini, who played Velma in the 2002 feature version of Scooby-Doo, as well as appearing in 1997’s Good Burger, snagged the part of Kroc’s flamboyant, chain-smoking third wife Joan, famously remembered by San Diegans for her lavish Fairbanks Ranch manse and rolling her Cadillac in a late-morning single-car crash on Interstate 5 in 1997.
In May 1989, Kroc helped out her close friend, then-mayor Maureen O’Connor, by buying the bejeweled Pine Cone Faberge egg made in 1900 for Russian industrialist Alexander Kelch, which Kroc loaned to O’Connor’s Russian Arts Festival. “$2.8 million you paid for that egg?” exclaimed Today show host Jane Pauley during a national TV session with Kroc, the mayor, and their mutual friend Helen Copley, then owner of the Union-Tribune. “You either love eggs or you love San Diego!”
In another gesture to O’Connor — who, like Kroc, inherited a fortune from a burger-chain magnate, Jack in the Box’s Bob Peterson — Kroc tried to donate the Padres to the city. The bequest was blocked by her fellow baseball team owners, who didn’t want a city-owned ball club disrupting their backroom deals; local taxpayers were later required to fund a costly new downtown ballpark for subsequent Padres owner John Moores. An anti-nuclear advocate at the height of the Cold War, Kroc came up with $75 million to pay for the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, though the school was subsequently troubled by charges of mismanagement. She died of brain cancer on October 12, 2003.
In addition to the movie, a book on the Krocs is also on the way. Ray and Joan: The Untold Story of the Man Who Made a Fast Food Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away, by Lisa Napoli. The biography is set for release by Dutton Books to coincide with the movie.