Whether it’s as a stand-up comedian, movie star, TV talk show host or, most recently, a radio host , Rosie O’Donnell always finds a way to be a kid at heart. When she hosted the syndicated “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” on TV from 1996 to 2002, she regularly armed herself with a series of Koosh toys to shoot at the audience. Those weren’t the only toys that tapped her inner child.
Starting in the mid-1980s, when O’Donnell was on the road a lot, she would often stop at McDonald’s to grab a bite. That’s when she picked up a new hobby collecting McDonald’s Happy Meals toys. The popular fast food chain has been featuring toys on the menu since 1955. However, the “Happy Meal” as we know it today didn’t technically debut until1979. The first ever Happy Meal toy: A circus wagon.
In 1996, when the chain restaurant offered the entire collection of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians as toys, “I started going to McDonald’s every week [trying to get the entire collection],” O’Donnell told Hot Toys Magazine. “When McDonald’s heard I collect them, they sent me all of the 101 Dalmatians. Although that ruins it in some capacity, I have to say the level of joy I felt when I held all 101 in my hands is sort of indescribable.”
That thrill of the hunt is a tell-tale sign of a serious collector. Another sign is her connection to these toys on a deeper level: “They remind me of my childhood,” O’Donnell told People magazine. According to Michele Karl’s 2006 book What Celebrities Collect!, O’Donnell had over 2,500 McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, which served as the centerpiece of an even larger toy collection housed on a special set of shelves in her Manhattan apartment. O’Donnell still has that apartment but now spends most of her time in Nyack, New York where she broadcasts her two-hour Sirius XM Satellite radio show.
[Photography courtesy of Christina Kennedy]