30 years ago, 'Mac Tonight' made our stomachs rumble

Published Jan. 5, 2017

It was 1987 when McDonald's restaurants unleashed "Mac Tonight" on a weary, fast-food nation. Granted, many in '80s Nation had possibly never heard the original Mack the Knife song by Bobby Darin, but did that make us crave Big Macs any less? Noooo. Thirty years later, the Mac attack survives.

According to reports, Mac Tonight was an ad campaign designed to boost the dinner business at McDonald locations in the Los Angeles area. Launched in the fall of 1986, the campaign was expanded nationally in 1987 after it significantly heated up nighttime sales.

Actor Doug Jones (Falling Skies, Hocus Pocus, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) portrayed the moon-faced character in more than two dozen ad spots (another actor provided the singing voice). In a 2013 interview with, Jones credits Mac Tonight for getting his career started.

"When I started going TV commercials, my agent at the time knew that I had a mime background and could put my legs behind my head, which qualified me as a contortionist. So, I was sent out for anything physical, like tomfoolery, pratfalls, armpit farts, or whatever it was," he said. "And then, I landed a really big commercial campaign for McDonald's. I was their crescent moon-headed Mac Tonight character for 27 commercials, over a three-year period. That's when my career took a turn that I was not expecting. I didn't know that was a career option. So, the referrals came from there."

But why that song? According to the New York Times, it was the tune stuck in the head of the ad agency's president - Brad Ball of L.A.'s Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto Inc. - when he began pondering a campaign for the fast food giant. Aside from the obvious product tie-in, the song was familiar to Baby Boomers - and it cashed in on the '50s revival movement that streaked through the decade.

Later in the '80s, the estate of Bobby Darin went to court over the ad, claiming copyright infringement. But the legend of Mac Tonight would live on in Happy Meal toys, personal appearances, NASCAR logos, a cameo on The Simpsons and YouTube.