Scott in 1995
Willard Herman Scott Jr.
March 7, 1934
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
Mary Dwyer Scott
(m. 1959; died 2002)
Willard Herman Scott Jr. (born March 7, 1934) is an American weather presenter, author, television personality, actor, clown, comedian and radio personality, best known for his TV work on the Today show and as the creator and original portrayer of Ronald McDonald.
Scott was born in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 7, 1934, and attended George Washington High School. He showed an interest in broadcasting as a 16-year-old, working in 1950 as an NBC page at WRC (AM), NBC's owned-and-operated radio station in Washington, D.C. Scott then attended American University, where he worked alongside fellow student Ed Walker at WAMU-AM, the university's radio station (1951–1953). Scott became a member of Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity while at American University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and religion.
From 1955 to 1972, Scott teamed with Walker as co-host of the nightly Joy Boys radio program on NBC-owned WRC radio. (This was interrupted from 1956 to 1958 when Scott served on active duty with the U.S. Navy.) Scott routinely sketched a list of characters and a few lead lines setting up a situation, which Walker would commit to memory or make notes on with his Braille typewriter (Walker was blind since birth). In a 1999 article recalling the Joy Boys at the height of their popularity in the mid-1960s, The Washington Post said they "dominated Washington, providing entertainment, companionship, and community to a city on the verge of powerful change". The Joy Boys show played on WRC until 1972 when they moved to cross-town station WWDC for another two years. Scott wrote in his book, The Joy of Living, of their close professional and personal bond which continued until Walker's death in October 2015, saying that they are "closer than most brothers".
Scott spent the 1960s balancing his radio career with jobs as the host of children's television programs. He appeared on WRC radio's sister station, WRC-TV, playing characters such as Commander Retro and Bozo the Clown. In 1970, Scott began appearing on WRC-TV as a weekday weatherman.
Main article: Ronald McDonald
Another TV role he performed regularly from 1963–66 and occasionally as late as 1971 was Ronald McDonald for the McDonald's franchise in Washington, D.C. Scott wrote in his book The Joy of Living that he originally created the Ronald McDonald character at the fast-food restaurant chain's request.
In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser claims that McDonald's replaced Scott on account of his weight, supposedly concerned about McDonald's image. Scott has denied the claims, citing other commitments at the time.
Scott worked as the narrator for NASA's weekly program called "The Space Story", with his contributions spanning from the Apollo Program to the Space Shuttle.
Scott was tapped by NBC in 1980 to become its weatherman for The Today Show, replacing Bob Ryan, who replaced him at WRC-TV until 2010. After being inspired by a viewer request, Scott began his practice of wishing centenarians a happy birthday on-air in 1983.
During the 1980s, Scott routinely did weather reports on the road, interviewing locals at community festivals and landmarks. He also periodically performed on the program from Washington, D.C., which he still considered his home.
In 1989, The Today Show co-host Bryant Gumbel wrote an internal memo critical of the show's personalities, a memo that was later leaked to the media. In the memo, Gumbel said Scott "holds the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste…This guy is killing us and no one's even trying to rein him in." This garnered enough of a backlash that the next time they appeared on camera together Scott kissed Gumbel on the cheek to show he'd forgiven him, and also later said he hoped the whole thing would go away.
In 1992, Scott, who was the first incarnation of Ronald McDonald, recorded a commercial for McDonald's arch-rival Burger King. He also was the spokesman for the Days Inn hotel chain, appearing in their commercials from the following year until 1997.
Scott went into semi-retirement in early 1996 and was succeeded by Al Roker. He continued to appear two days a week on the morning program to wish centenarians a happy birthday. He appeared from the studio lot of WBBH, the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida. He was also the commercial voice of Smucker's jellies, which sponsored his birthday tributes on Today. Scott also continued to substitute for Roker for over a decade afterward, an arrangement that mostly ended after NBC acquired The Weather Channel in 2008 and started using that channel's meteorologists as substitutes (Entertainment Studios would later acquire The Weather Channel from NBC Universal in 2018, three years after Scott retired from television completely).
Scott announced his full retirement from television on December 11, 2015. Today held a tribute to Scott on his final day (December 15, 2015) featuring tape highlights from his years with the show. The plaza outside Rockefeller Center was renamed Willard Scott Way in his honor. Several former Today staff came to bid farewell to Scott including Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Katie Couric, and Gene Shalit along with Barbara Bush.
Scott made occasional guest appearances as neighbor "Mr. Poole" on The Hogan Family, where his character was married to Mrs. Poole, played by Edie McClurg. From 1961–63 Scott portrayed Bozo the Clown, in the classic children's television program. Scott also hosted the NBC telecast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1987–97 when he was replaced by Matt Lauer the following year.
For several years in the 1980s, Scott donned a Santa Claus costume for the broadcast of the National Tree-Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C.
In 1990 and 1992, Scott also hosted the Pillsbury Bake-Off on CBS (although under contract with CBS' rival NBC). In 1985, Scott was given a Private Sector Award for Public Service by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Other awards include:
In 2001, American University reissued some of the old Joy Boys radio broadcasts of the 1960s on CDs. He has also played Santa Claus at various White House events.
Scott spoke at his grandson John Swiatek's graduation at Middleburg Academy in 2011. He was also the guest of honor at his granddaughter's (Sally Marie) graduation at the Madeira School in 2013.
Scott has published several fiction and non-fiction books:
He has also co-authored two books with Bill Crider:
He preached a sermon at the 185th anniversary of his home church, First Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, that was published in Best Sermons 2, edited by James W. Cox [Harper & Row, 1989].
Scott was married to Mary Dwyer Scott from 1959 until her death in 2002, the couple had two children, Mary and Sally. On April 1, 2014, at age 80, Scott married Paris Keena, whom he first met in 1977 while she was working at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. They have been together as a couple since 2003. They now make their home on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Scott came up with the name Ronald McDonald, and a star was born. Two years later, the McDonald's Corporation introduced Ronald McDonald to the rest of the United States through a major ad campaign. But Willard Scott no longer played the part. He was deemed too overweight; McDonald's wanted someone thinner to sell its burgers, shakes, and fries.