For 15 months Burger Baron Ray Kroc, 76, founder of the McDonald's hamburger chain, has been bedeviled by a rumor that he donates money to the Church of Satan, a San Francisco-based cult. "The most vicious thing I've ever heard and all lies," sputters Kroc. Nonetheless, on many fundamentalist Christians in the Southern and Midwestern Bible Belt, the rumor has had the impact of a Big Mac attack in reverse: they are boycotting McDonald's. So far, the protests have had a negligible effect, but just to make sure, McDonald's Executive Doug Timberlake last week told a conference of about 75 Baptist ministers in Birmingham that the tale is untrue.
How did the rumor start? Most of the burger boycotters cite a Phil Donahue TV talk show on which Kroc appeared in 1977. Yet transcripts of the show prove that there was no discussion of religion or the devil. Says Kroc. "I don't think holy-holy of our competition, but I don't think they'd stoop that low." The devil must have done it.