‘A Recipe for Seduction’: Did Colonel Sanders shoot a man? The rags-to-riches story of the founder of KFC

Sanders became a cook as a child in his mother’s regular absence — when he was six, his father died and his mother was forced to go to work


                            ‘A Recipe for Seduction’: Did Colonel Sanders shoot a man? The rags-to-riches story of the founder of KFC
(Lifetime and Wikimedia Commons)
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A sexy Colonel Sanders is not something that comes to mind when you think of the guy who started KFC, but thanks to Lifetime, that’s an image we are going to be stuck with for a bit. In ‘A Recipe for Seduction’, Mario Lopez plays Harland Sanders in a risqué avatar.

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According to the official synopsis of the mini-movie created by Lifetime, KFC and agency Wieden+Kennedy Portland: “As the holidays draw near, a young heiress contends with the affections of a suitor handpicked by her mother. When the handsome chef, Harland Sanders, arrives with his secret fried chicken recipe and a dream, he sets in motion a series of events that unravels the mother’s devious plans. Will our plucky heiress escape to her wintry happily ever after with Harland at her side or will she cave to the demands of family and duty?”

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The film’s Harland Sanders may be mixed in some shady business, but what about the real guy? The American businessman born on September 9, 1890, for starters was not a real Colonel. He was a Kentucky Colonel — it the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and one of a number of honorary titles of Colonel conferred by American states. It is not a military rank.

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But there is much more to Harland Sanders’ life than just that title and KFC. A 1970 New Yorker profile of the man notes: “He stands about six feet tall and weighs two hundred pounds. He has white hair, a white mustache, and a white goatee, and he always wears a white suit, a white shirt, a black string tie, and black shoes — the appropriate outfit for a Kentucky Colonel. He is as alert and quick-witted as a man half his age, and his health is marred only by arthritis in his hands. Still adhering to the teachings of his beloved Mom, the Colonel does not play cards, smoke or drink, except for an infrequent glass of wine with dinner.”

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The profile told the story of how Sanders became a cook as a child in his mother’s regular absence — when he was six, his father died and his mother was forced to go to work, sewing for other families and peeling tomatoes at a canning factory in Henryville. Between the ages of 15 and 40, he worked as a streetcar conductor in New Albany, Indiana, served in the Army in Cuba, got married, had three children, worked as a fireman for railroads in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Virginia, studied law by correspondence and practiced in the justice-of-the-peace courts in Little Rock.

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He also sold insurance in Kentucky and Indiana, operated a steamboat ferry between Jeffersonville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky, worked as the secretary of the Columbus, Indiana, Chamber of Commerce, manufactured acetylene lighting systems for farmers in Columbus, sold tires in Kentucky and ran service stations in Nicholasville and Corbin, Kentucky. “The Colonel got rich late in life and hadn’t had time to develop expensive tastes,” the author remarked. 

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A statue of Colonel Harland Sanders (L) and Pete Harman stands at the newly rebuilt first KFC location on August 11, 2004 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The world's first KFC location opens back up after the original 52 year-old building was razed. The eating establishment also doubles as a museum of memorabilia. (Getty Images)

According to History.com, when Sanders first began to serve meals to truck drivers at an old family dining room table wheeled into the front of his Corbin, Kentucky, service station in 1930, fried chicken was not on the menu because it took too long to prepare. His country ham and steak dinners proved so popular, however, that he soon opened Sanders’ Café across the street. He then began to serve chicken fried in an iron skillet. 

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But he also had a wild side. Once, when he painted advertising signs all over the place, Matt Stewart, who operated a nearby Standard Oil gas station, did not like it and retaliated by painting over his signs. This turned into a kerfuffle. When Stewart fatally shot Shell district manager Robert Gibson, Sanders returned fire and wounded Stewart in the shoulder. Stewart was sentenced to 18 years in prison for murder. The charges were later dropped.

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Sanders was diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 1980. He died at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, of pneumonia on December 16, 1980, at the age of 90. ‘A Recipe for Seduction’ debuts on Lifetime on Sunday, December 13, at noon ET.