What Happened to Ray Kroc’s First Wife, Ethel Fleming? The Untold Story

Ray Kroc was an American tycoon who is perhaps best known for purchasing, popularizing and founding the fast-food giant McDonald’s. Kroc’s help brought immense expansion and eventually made McDonald’s a global franchise. Today, the company remains one of the most successful fast-food corporations in the world. His influence eventually shot him into the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century. And until his death in 1984, he owned the San Diego Padres baseball team for ten years. While many know about his corporate feats, not too many are familiar with the Ray Kroc at home nor the women in his life. This piece tells you about Ray Kroc’s first wife and actress, Ethel Fleming and exactly what happened to her. Stick with us!

Who Is Ethel Fleming?

Ethel Fleming was born—Ethel Janet Fleming— in Ohio, USA, on December 251890, to parents, Alexander Frew Fleming and Janet Fleming. Not to be mistaken with Sir Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist and pharmacologist best-known for discovering the world’s first antibiotic substance benzylpenicillin (Penicillin G). Growing up, Fleming was raised in Ohio and spent some part of her childhood in Melrose Park, Cook County, Illinois. She had six other siblings; Peter W FlemingMalcolm Blair FlemingAlexander FlemingAndrew Edward Fleming and Mae Belle Nerger.

There are no details about her childhood or what her parents did for a living. However, she attended the same high school as Ray Kroc – Lincoln School in Oak Park. She then became an actress and entertainer best known for her roles in vintage movies such as The Kiss (1916), The Wonderful Thing (1921) and Under Cover (1916).

It’s not certain how Ethel Fleming rose to stardom during her time or the circumstances that led to her choice of profession. By the time Ray Kroc met and married her, she was already a star actress in her thirties. Ray Kroc himself had grown up and spent most of his life in Oak Park. He served as a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War I. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t be allowed to do that because he was a minor but Kroc lied about his age and that put him in service line alongside the Mickey Mouse creator, Walt Disney. In 1919, after the war, Ray Kroc began his career in sales, augmenting his salary as a DJ at the local radio station or a pianist at a nightclub.

He moved on to other jobs that saw him sell everything from real estate in Fort Lauderdale to feminine accessories and embellishments. He also joined the American Stock Exchange in New York, where he read ticker tapes and translating symbols. In 1923, now aged 21, Kroc landed his first stable job as a salesman at Lily Tulip Paper Cup Company.

Ray Kroc’s First Wife

Ethel Fleming, on the other hand, was already a successful actress and had appeared no less than sixteen movies at the time. Some of which include; A Woman’s Wiless (1915), A Slave of Corruption (1916), The Oath of Hate (1916), East Lynne (1916), Under Cover (1916), The Kiss (1916), Putting the Bee in Herbert (1917), Untamed (1918), The Pretender (1918), The Silent Rider (1918), Smiles (1919), Modern Husbands (1919), Love Insurance (1919), While the Auto Waits (1920), The Church with an Overshot Wheel (1920), The Wonderful Thing (1921).

Save for their high school romantic history, sources say there would’ve been no reason for an established actress like Ethel Fleming to marry a young salesman twelve years her junior. They were married in 1922 and together, had a daughter named Marilyn Kroc. After about forty years together, their union hit rocks, leading to a divorce in 1961. 

Ever since there has been much debate as to what she spent the rest of her life doing. What made this even harder to determine was the fact that Ethel Fleming had left acting some four decades before the divorce. It’s not certain why she left acting. Sources, however, quote marital reasons; to enable her to focus more on her role as homemaker. However, that has been dismissed, because, before marrying Ray Kroc in 1922, Ethel Fleming had been married to William Courtleigh Jr. in 1915, until his death in 1918. Although Kroc went on to two other marriages with Jane Dobbins Green (1963 – 1968) and Joan Beverly Smith (1969 – 1984), Ethel never remarried.

See also: What Happened to Topher Grace? The Untold Reason He Left ‘That ’70s Show’

What Happened to Ray Kroc’s First Wife? The Untold Story

Ethel Fleming spent the rest of her life away from the public eye and eventually died on December 26, 1965, in Miami, Florida, USA, due to natural causes. It was a day after her 75th birthday. There are no details about the fortune she left behind or how it was distributed.

Steve A
Steve A
An award-winning writer and journalist with several years of experience – this author can turn dreams into reality on paper and can bring color back into a sometimes static landscape


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