The Real Reason McDonald's Got Rid Of Mayor McCheese

After 26 whimsical seconds of children running hand-in-hand with Ronald McDonald through a forest of trees with eyes and apple pies, all of which you can watch on YouTube, the 1970 commercial for McDonaldland gives a nod to the head of McDonaldland, Mayor McCheese. Though not as famous as his pal Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese and the other denizens of McDonaldland (like Grimace and the Hamburglar) starred alongside him in commercials through the first half of the seventies.

Mayor McCheese's character is exemplified in a 1971 McDonald's commercial about him running for reelection that you can also watch on YouTube. In his bumbling speech he consistently requires Ronald McDonald to correct him, supplying "Trustworthy" instead of Mayor McCheese's "self-winding," and shooting down his idea for a cheeseburger in every glove compartment.

By the late eighties, however, Mayor McCheese had disappeared while Ronald McDonald enjoyed popularity with the next generation. The only time he's seen again in media approved by McDonald's is in the 2001 time-traveling episode of "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald," the direct-to-video miniseries. In the episode "Have Time, Will Travel," after bouncing around several different eras, the gang finally manages to arrive at a McDonaldland — except it's the McDonaldland in 1975. Upon seeing them, Mayor McCheese presents the latest dance craze: The Hustle. After this brief dancing cameo, Mayor McCheese is left behind as Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Hamburglar return to the present of 2001 in a narrative move that's a bit on the nose.

Mayor McCheese fell foul of a lawsuit

Mayor McCheese's mascot tenure ended with the 1977 court case Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions Inc. v. McDonald's Corp. The complaint was that Mayor McCheese bore a resemblance that crossed into plagiarism to H.R. Pufnstuf, the mayor character of the sixties children's show "H.R. Pufnstuf." As The Takeout reports, the plagiarism was almost certainly conscious, as the Kroffts, the puppeteers behind H.R. Pufnstuf, had originally been approached in 1970 by an ad agency to star their characters in a McDonald's campaign. After an initial agreement, the Kroffts were told the campaign wouldn't happen.

Then, "McDonaldland" starring Mayor McCheese and company appeared on television. However, it was Mayor McCheese who found himself at the center of the proceedings. The McDonald's defense team deployed this argument included in a case overview: "'Pufnstuf' wears what can only be described as a yellow and green dragon suit with a blue cummerband from which hangs a medal which says 'mayor'. 'McCheese' wears a version of pink formal dress — 'tails' — with knicker trousers. He has a typical diplomat's sash on which is written 'mayor', the 'M' consisting of the McDonald's trademark of an 'M' made of golden arches." 

The court disagreed, because honestly, the two look too similar and the course of events was too convenient for it to be a coincidence. McDonald's paid for damages, and Mayor McCheese was removed from the McDonald's mascot roster while the other characters continued their careers.

The strange afterlife of Mayor McCheese

Despite McDonald's deposing Mayor McCheese from office, Mayor McCheese as a character has enjoyed his own status of a pop culture figure within the demographic of people who'd been children in the seventies. He appears on "Family Guy" twice, the joke both times being that his head is a cheeseburger. He also appears in a "Robot Chicken" sketch as a sordid politician. Plus, he was a "guest" on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," playing a scientologist who defends his beliefs and denounces psychology and antidepressants in a manner that eerily prefigures what our contemporary public discourse sounds like.

While the intended humor of these appearances vary, it's interesting how the bumbling politician from the childhood of the people who wrote this material has become an icon separate from the rest of the McDonald's party. Ronald McDonald is inseparable from McDonald's to this day, but when Patton Oswalt shouted on Twitter in January 2020 that he'll support Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Mayor McCheese in the 2020 presidential election, it highlighted the enduring memory of the incompetence associated with Mayor McCheese. Still, fans remain fond of the iconic McDonald's character years later.

McDonald's seems to still harbor affection for Mayor McCheese, too. In August 2020, Comicbook announced that McDonald's approved of Funko Pops for Mayor McCheese, which you find on Entertainment Earth. Apparently, legal troubles don't plague McCheese's memory, as long as it's packaged as nostalgia. A Hamburglar-styled return of Mayor McCheese doesn't seem likely.