Playing Watson to Ronald McDonald’s Sherlock Holmes in 1979…


By Shawn Robare

Once again, in the spirit of spring cleaning, I’m diving back into the stack of random stuff that I’ve picked up over the years to discuss on Branded.  For some reason a couple years ago I thought it would be a great idea to start up a column on 80s era coloring books, but after picking up a few I realized that I just didn’t have all that much to say about them, so they were relegated to the bottom of a drawer and forgotten.   I unearthed the stack this past weekend and while flipping through them I found a few McDonaldland coloring calendars that I think are still pretty neat.  Today I thought I’d share the one from 1979, the Ronald McDonald Secret Solver Coloring Calendar…

Basically the “secret solver” gimmick involved a series of secret messages and images hidden within areas of the calendar that were printed in red and blue ink.  The messages/pictures are printed in blue ink and then obfuscated with a red ink overlay that creates a lot of visual static that makes it hard for the eye to interpret.  In order to “decode” the message you had to use the secret decoder paddle provided at the back of the calendar (basically just a piece of cardstock with a piece of red cellophane glued to it), which you’d use to hold over the colored ink area.  The red cellophane filters out the red ink leaving only the blue (much in the same way that the Transformers Tech Specs were hidden on the back of the toy packaging.)  I think it’s pretty fun that, along with the decoder paddle, you also received a secret decoder membership card.  I can distinctly remember an urge to fill my childhood wallet with cards and pictures and any time I was offered a membership card it was proudly tucked away for safe keeping.  I wonder if any kids requested that their parents laminate their secret solver membership cards?

Like I mentioned, I initially picked these McDonald’s calendars up because they were really just glorified coloring books.  Here’s an example of one of the pages, along with the super hidden secret of filet-o-fish lake!

First up, I know this is old news, but the whole concept of McDonaldland is just super freaking creepy.   Why would anyone want to live, frolic, or just lounge around in a magically land full of anthropomorphic foodstuff with a clown and all sorts of villains who want to steal your food away?   The idea of filet-o-fish sandwiches swimming in a lake is the antithesis of appetizing in my eyes.  Wouldn’t their buns be all soggy and gross?

Anyway, in the background you can see good ‘ol Captain Crook, the pirate captain villain who specialized in stealing your filet-o-fish sandwiches.   He was phased out of McDonaldland in the mid 80s in what I can only assume is an effort to make the characters less confrontational and more uber friendly.   I suppose that’s why they nixed Officer Big Mac as well, I mean you don’t need a police force to protect us when there are no more villains around to steal our food.  Also, why were all the villains trying to steal particular food items?  The Hamburgler burgled hamburgers, Captain Crook wanted my filet-o-fish, and originally Grimace was envisioned as a four-armed villain who wanted noting more than to steal my milkshakes and frosty beverages.  I wonder why they never had a witch who wanted my fries…

In addition to being a coloring book, these calendars also doubled as coupon books (much like the Chick-Fil-A calendars of today.)

Lastly we have the coveted Certificate of Merit.  After the grueling task of helping Ronald McDonald solve the 12 back-braking mysteries of 1979 kids were rewarded with this wonderful memento of achievement.  As far as give-aways for participation in activities run and sponsored by clowns I think this ranks right below the highly coveted official spectra vision Polaroid picture taken with Bozo the Clown after the first ball is thrown in the Grand Prize Game (a feat I dreamed of for years as a kid and honestly as an adult too.)

I do have a question though.  Why is Officer Big Mac drooling a bit of mayonnaise/secret sauce at the corner of his mouth?  That is just weird…

  • Paxton Holley

    I totally remember this. There was a very similar item available in Cap\’n Crunch cereal. It was a detective wallet with the secret window in it. I loved it. The artwork is gorgeous on these items. Nice one, Shawn.