The Truth About Colonel Sanders' Wives

Colonel Sanders probably didn't seduce a young heiress like Mario Lopez-as-Colonel Sanders does in the new Lifetime Original Mini-Movie, A Recipe for Seduction. We say "probably" because Sanders was only married twice and neither of his wives were an heiress. He was also, however, a womanizer, or if you prefer kinder words, Entrepreneur once called him "notoriously licentious."

Reporter, Mark Schone, told This American Life that in Corbin, Ky., where Sanders opened the Sanders Cafe (and where he cheated on his first wife with his second wife), he "earned a rep as a hardass, redneck, potty mouth who really liked the ladies." The alleged reason that Sanders left his first wife, Josephine for his second wife, Claudia, was apparently due to a strong libido (via BuzzFeed). Sanders' and Josephine's daughter, Margaret, wrote in The Colonel's Secret: Eleven Herbs and A Spicy Daughter, "Mother refused to accept that she alone could not satisfy Father's physical needs, which from the very beginning of their marriage had seemed excessive to her." Sanders' solution to the problem was hardly, should we say, original. "Father nevertheless had a libido which required a healthy, willing partner," Margaret wrote. "He found one in young Claudia."

Colonel Sanders might have tried to kidnap his children

Colonel Sanders married his first wife, Josephine, in 1908, when he was 18 years old, per Snopes. Their marriage was rocky from the start. After he lost a job working on the railroad, Josephine, according to legend, left Sanders with their child (or children — they would have three — depending on the version of the story you hear one or more of them are involved in the incident). The story is the stuff of legend, and even Snopes can't tell if it's true or not. If you choose to believe it, Josephine gave all their furniture away and went to live with their child(ren) at her parents. Josephine's brother subsequently wrote to Sanders that Josephine "had no business marryin' a no-good fellow like you who can't hold a job."

Afterward, Sanders may or may not have planned on kidnaping his child(ren) from his wife. As the story goes, Sanders hid in the woods near his parent-in-laws' house and might have taken his child(ren) if they had decided to go outside and play that day. They didn't. When his attempt at kidnapping failed, Sanders decided on diplomacy. He made up with his wife, instead. Josephine and Harland Sander's marriage would last until 1947. In 1949, Sanders married Claudia Ledington, who had worked as a waitress at the Sanders Cafe (via Buzz Feed and Entrepreneur). Ledington, herself, was divorced at the time, and per The New York Times, brought two additional children into the marriage.

Colonel Sanders' second wife helped build his empire

There is no indication that Sanders became, suddenly, faithful after marrying Claudia. Sanders' biographer, John Ed Pearce, told This American Life that "a woman at the Chamber of Commerce told me that every time Harland came in, why, she had to beat his hands off of her. And she told him, Harland, get your hands off me. I got all I need at home." Despite his probable infidelities, Claudia would be instrumental in helping Sanders build his empire. 

"My wife, Claudia, and I slept in the car many nights while we waited for a restaurant to open so we could go into our sales pitch," Sanders would later recall of the period in the 1950s, when he was just beginning to recruit franchisees (via Santa Cruz Sentinel). Claudia, would also, according to The New Yorker, be in charge of "mixing, packing, and shipping" Sanders' legendary mix of herbs and spices to their franchises. Even after Colonel Sanders and his second wife sold the chain, Claudia still helped her husband promote it on national tours. ”I went into restaurants all over the country and played the part of the hostess with this antebellum dress on,” Claudia remembered in a 1991 interview (via The New York Times). Claudia Sanders was so instrumental to the company that, when she died, David Novak, KFC's president and chief executive officer wrote "We could not have been the company we are now without Claudia's contributions" (via AP).