In 1993, the innovative former Chicago theatre executive credited with being the first to put butter on movie popcorn, passed away. David Wallerstein, who by then was the longest-serving board member at McDonald’s, had become a good friend. It was his idea to offer large fries at McDonald’s — I remember buying bag after tiny bag of 15-cent fries at McDonald’s as a kid. Dave never missed a McDonald’s marketing or communications meeting, and was always sharing his wise perspective and counsel on what might click with customers. The insights he brought to enliven the movie theatre business carried forward to enhance the world’s largest restaurant company. Here’s his obit from The New York
David Wallerstein; Theater Innovator In Midwest Was 87
David B. Wallerstein, an innovator in the movie theater business, died Monday at his home in Chicago. He was 87.
Mr. Wallerstein died of cancer, said Chuck Ebeling, a spokesman for the McDonald’s Corporation, which Mr. Wallerstein had served as a board member since 1968.
Mr. Wallerstein retired in 1965 from the presidency of the Balaban & Katz Corporation, a Chicago-based entertainment company that during his tenure was the largest movie theater chain in the Midwest. He joined the company in 1926 when he was 21, after graduating from the Harvard Business School, and quickly became one of the leading showmen in the country.
His innovations included adding live shows to the movie screenings. Such stars as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Mary Martin and Judy Garland sang before audiences in the company’s showpiece, the Chicago Theater, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.
Other innovations were putting butter on popcorn, ice in drinks and caramel on apples at theater concession stands.
In 1946, he was involved in the purchase of Chicago’s first television station, WBKB, whose successor station is WBBM, the CBS-owned affiliate. He was also one of those responsible for putting the “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” children’s show on television in the 1950’s. A native of Richmond, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1924. In his 80’s, he was still an active hiker, downhill skier and traveler. Last year he journeyed to the Antarctic and had planned to travel to the North Pole until health problems interfered.
Mr. Wallerstein’s wife, Caroline, died in 1982. A son, Michael R. Wallerstein, died in 1974.
He is survived by two sons, David L. Wallerstein of Washington and John M. Rau of Orange County, Calif., and one grandson.