Frito Kid: “Pardner you just bought the world’s biggest nickel’s worth! Right, Klondike?”
Klondike: “Right! Bag of gold! Fritos golden chips of corn!”
As I continue to celebrate Disneyland’s 55th birthday, I am reminded of a rooting-tooting short-and-stout cowboy figure who brought his own special kind of Old West magic to Walt’s Frontierland. The Frito Kid and his well-beloved vending machine of Frito Corn Chips are fondly remembered today by those lucky enough to visit Disneyland during its first 10 years of operation.
The young blue-eyed boy with a scoop of yellow hair on his forehead (reminiscent of a Fritos corn chip) was dressed in a gray hat, red bandana, light blue shirt (sometimes a white plaid), brown boots, gloves and gunbelt. His best friend was the always-unseen-but-often-heard Klondike—deep in the Golden Chips Mine digging up new bags of Fritos corn chips. Over the years, some Disney fans have speculated that the deep voiced Klondike might be a bear while others imagine an old Forty-Niner gold miner who is like an uncle to the young Frito Kid.
In some of the giveaway comic books that recounted the adventures of the Frito Kid, which were free in bags of Fritos, the always chipper cowpoke had a yellow horse named “Maize” (the another term for corn) but good ol’ Klondike never appeared to solve the question of his appearance.
Advertisements proclaimed "You always expect to find FRITOS, America’s Favorite Corn Chips, where there’s GOOD EATING, FUN and EXCITEMENT! Sure enough, you’ll find them in Disneyland, too, along with other delicious food products."
There were several colorful matchbook covers with the Frito Kid reminding folks to “Meet Me At Disneyland” in Anaheim, Calif.
Frito Kid: "Someone else knows what’s good. Another bag of Fritos, Klondike!"
Klondike: "Okay, comin’ right up. One bag of crisp, salted Fritos."
From 1952 until 1967, the Frito Kid was the official mascot of Fritos corn chips.
According to the menu at the Casa de Fritos (House of Fritos) restaurant in Frontierland, “It all began back in 1932, when a young Texan, C.E. Doolin, stopped for lunch at a tiny San Antonio café. He was intrigued by the dish of chips that came with his meal—chips made from a tortilla, the native corn cake of Mexico. They had been cut into thin strips and fried. And they were mighty delicious.
“Sure that others would enjoy his discovery, Mr. Doolin bought the recipe from the café owner. Then with the aid of his mother and brother, Mr. Doolin began to produce the chips---right in the family kitchen.
“At first, Mr. Doolin made the chips—now known as Fritos (the Spanish word for fried)—just for neighboring stores and restaurants. But more and more requests from farther and farther away came in for the chips. Soon, Mr. Doolin had to move out of the kitchen and open a small plant. As the years passed, the demand for Fritos grew still greater. Today, Fritos plants across the country turn out millions of chips each day to satisfy America’s love for Fritos!
“The Frito Kid—one of the star performers at the Casa de Fritos—is the symbol of Fritos—king size or regular. Look for them both at your grocers!”
By 1933, Doolin moved the headquarters for the Frito Company from San Antonio to Dallas. By 1941, he expanded to the West Coast and opened a small manufacturing facility in Los Angeles. Delayed by the war for further expansion, the Fritos brand didn’t go national until 1949 with full color advertisments in top magazines like Life and Better Homes and Gardens. Westerns were extremely popular on television and at the movies in the Fifties and to tie in with the “Old SouthWest” theme the Frito Kid was born in 1952 and was very prominent in advertising by the following year.
In 1955, Doolin opened a Casa de Fritos restaurant in Disneyland and another one in Dallas.
The opening of Casa de Fritos in Frontierland on August 19,1955, just 32 days after the official opening of Disneyland, was also the dedication of New Orleans Street. Yes, New Orleans Street. It was Walt’s original plan that there be a New Orleans-themed section for Disneyland in the area between Frontierland and Adventureland.
On Opening Day, a Dixieland jazz band inaugurated the site where there was already a restaurant, Aunt Jemina’s Pancake House, with its wrought iron balconies reminiscent of the French Quarter. Aylene Lewis first portrayed the role of Aunt Jemima in 1955 at the Disneyland restaurant. As Aunt Jemima, Lewis posed for pictures and interacted with the guests.
In 1962, the restaurant expanded and became Aunt Jemima's Kitchen. In 1970, the name was changed again to the Magnolia Tree Terrace, perhaps as a reference to the Magnolia Park area that used to be near the location and had the Disneyland bandstand.
In 1971, the restaurant was renamed the River Belle Terrace.
The Casa de Fritos was originally right next door to Aunt Jemima, although what a Southwest restaurant was doing in New Orleans was probably just a result of sharing backstage facilities rather than good storytelling.
On that warm August day in 1955, the celebration started with the Disneyland Band, under the direction of Vesey Walker, leading the dignitaries that had gathered on Main Street to a bandstand on New Orleans Street. Following the band was actress Dorothy Lamour (not in a sarong but in a long, white, short-sleeved dress and heels) accompanied by her husband William Howard, riding in a Main Street surrey.
She was followed by the Disneyland stagecoach carrying the Frito Kid! Since this was in the days before costumed mascots made such public appearances, the Frito Kid was portrayed by a full-sized actor who wore a Frito Kid outfit, including the name Frito Kid on the shirt, but his real face was clearly visible.
In some later appearances, actor Michael Dunn, best known as the evil Dr. Loveless on The Wild Wild West television series, made personal appearances for Fritos in costume as The Frito Kid. Supposedly, this included at least one personal appearance at Disneyland.
In 1956 the Frito Kid made an appearance on the Today show with host Dave Garroway and that appearance marked the company's first use of television advertising. There were also animated television commercials in the mid-1950s. One of these featured a diminutive animated Frito Kid lassoing the arm of an unsuspecting housewife in the kitchen to tell her that whatever she was eating, “it tastes better with Fritos.”
Following the broadly smiling Frito Kid, who was named the official representative of “New Orleans Street residents,” were the Frontierland Indians just in front of a Dixieland band loudly playing "When the Saints Go Marching In."
The parade was still not over, because there were now members of the United States Marine Corps from New Orleans who happened to be in the area because of training at the El Toro Marine base near Disneyland. Finally, the rear of the parade was the original cast from Slue Foot Sue’s Golden Horseshoe Revue.
Lamour, to loud cheers from the gathered crowd, approached an ancient anchor laying on its side, but up in the air at an angle. According to Disneyland publicity, the anchor was believed to be a part of one of the pirate ships that sailed the Gulf of Mexico in the days of Jean Lafitte and it remained displayed at Disneyland for at least four decades. Lamour christened the anchor by breaking a bottle filled with water from the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Frito Kid introduced the Los Flamingos Trio, who were joined by Judy Marsh, the original Slue Foot Sue. Adding in his comedy stylings to the musical performance was wacky Wally Boag. Then, Gloria Sanchez, representing Fritos, sang some Spanish ballads. The festivities ended with guests dancing in the street to the sounds of the Dixieland Jazz Band and then eventually heading over to Casa de Fritos for a meal.
“Enjoy Delicious Mexican Foods,” including such bargains as three tamales for 35 cents, chili and beans for 35 cents, two enchiladas for 45 cents, or Frito Chili Pie for 55 cents. “Fritos free with every dish!”
General manager Raoul Casenza oversaw the cooking of these “authentic” Mexican meals.
However, if a guest just wanted Fritos and some entertainment, they wandered over to one of the most unique vending machines ever in Disneyland. The original Disneyland attraction poster had the tagline at the bottom: “See the Frito Kid in Action!”
A large Frito Kid statue stood just inside the doorway on the way to the counter. He was in front of the Golden Chips Mine and a long flume came from the top of the mountain to the level of the guests. At the bottom of the chute was a coin box on the fence in front of the display, where inserting a nickel, the figure of the Frito Kid holding a sample bag high in his left hand, would move his eyes from side to side, slowly lick his upper lip in anticipation, turn his head, and shout out to poor Klondike deep inside the mountain to send up a bag of Fritos. Klondike would cheerfully reply in a deep echo like voice and send down the flume a fresh bag of Fritos. A number of different audio tracks would play so each customer heard something different from the previous one.
Go to this site (link), click on the nickel and put it in the coin box and the experience is skillfully recreated. If you are curious, each time you put in the nickel, you’ll hear another dialog exchange like:
Frito Kid: “Hey, Klondike, quit eating those Fritos and send up another bag!”
Klondike: “Here they come, the best corn chips made!”
Frito Kid: “Hey, Klondike, some hungry folks up here. Get another bag of Fritos!”
Klondike: “Here they come, catch the bag and start enjoying Fritos!”
This unusual vending machine attraction near the counter was originally a concept sketch by Disney Legend Sam McKim, perhaps best remembered for his early large maps of Disneyland.
“They wanted to put a coin in, and this guy would wave. And I said, ‘Gee, I don’t like that thing with the big head, and I’m going to clean him up a bit, make him look a little different.’ I don’t think they ever used it in the meeting, because it had to be changed. Someone else redrew it. You had to stick with what they went with,” McKim told Disney historian Paul Anderson.
While the composition and staging was still used, McKim’s re-design of the Frito Kid as a slimmer, more realistic looking young boy only exists in his personal files.
With the popularity of items like Frito Chili Pie: a bag of corn chips sliced open and topped with chili and melted cheese and "Ta-cup" (advertised on the park poster) which was ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sauce in a fried corn dough cup, Casa de Fritos soon outgrew its space.
It was moved to the area by the Pack Mules into the location that was formerly the Williard P. Bounds Blacksmith and Marshal’s office next to the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbeque took over the Casa de Fritos location next to Aunt Jemima.
The new Casa De Fritos opened July 1, 1957 and was better themed to the new building of a long, low, one-story adobe structure that captured the spirit of Mexico rather than New Orleans. It served as the perfect backdrop for the appearances of Zorro and his friends at Disneyland as well.
The popular vending machine was relocated to a fenced-in area just outside the entrance and underwent a few cosmetic changes. The Frito Kid was moved from the right of the chute to the left hand side and the mountain itself was redesigned with a different angle of the flume. Oddly, high behind the figure were two serape clad two dimensional figures with knives in their hands.
Frito Kid: (Jingle Bells) "Dig those chips, dig that gold, dig those chips of corn."
Klondike: "They are dark and salted, too, Fritos best for you."
There was another celebration for the opening at this new location as it was officially declared “Texas Day” at Disneyland. Remember that Texas was the home of the Fritos company. Band director Irving Dreibrodt conducted the San Antonio, Texas, Brackenridge High School band, as a large group of Texans entered Frontierland.
Texas Governor Price Daniel designated the band as the official representative of the State of Texas. The governor joined George P. Parker, executive vice president of Fritos Western Division, and John R. McCarty, vice president of the parent company in Dallas, in raising the Lone Star State flag.
Over the years, the Frito Band Wagon, the company newsletter, featured many photos of the restaurant (including one of a smiling Walt putting in a nickel in the coin box to have Klondike send down a bag of Fritos) and even a photo of a giant ball of string (from string used to wrap cases of Fritos) that was collected inside the Golden Horseshoe by its cast members.
In 1965, Frito-Lay and Pepsico (who sponsored the Golden Horseshoe) joined together resulting in advertisements like the one from the June 13, 1967 issue of LOOK magazine where the Frito Kid faced off against Wally Boag’s Pecos Bill:
“Meet the Happiest Pair in Frontierland. As the hosts of Fritos Casa De Fritos and Pepsi-cola’s Golden Horseshoe Revue, the Frito Kid and Pecos Bill are ‘friendly rivals’ in Frontierland at Disneyland. But when the sun sets in the west, and friends drop by for some old fashioned hospitality, you’ll always find the happiest pair in Frontierland…or any old place. What’s there to argue about—even for friendly rivals—when there’s plenty of ice-cold, sparkling Pepsi-Cola and delicious, crispy Fritos corn chips? So if you want to make friends quickly, make sure there’s plenty of Fritos and Pepsi-Cola around your house. That way, whenever folks drop by, they’ll never get the drop on you.”
The Casa de Fritos evolved into the Casa Mexicana (Lawry’s Foods) from October 1, 1982 to 2000. In 2001, the restaurant became the Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante. (El Zocalo means “the square” referring to the center of the town or the marketplace.)
Over the years there was a variety of Frito Kid merchandise, including a mug that could be purchased at Disneyland that featured a raised figure of the Kid on one side and a Disneyland decal on the other.
Doolin, the founder of Fritos, who was a vegetarian and ate them unsalted, died in 1959 and never saw the Frito Kid replaced by the Frito Bandito in 1967. This stereotypical Mexican bandit—with a huge sombrero, handlebar mustache and blazing pistols—only stole Fritos. The purpose of the commercials was to warn viewers that there might be a Frito Bandito in their own house so they should buy an extra bag of Fritos and hide it.
Almost immediately ,groups like The National Mexican Anti-Defamation Committee protested and launched a multimillion dollar lawsuit. Finally, in 1971, despite significant changes made to the character, the Frito Bandito was replaced by the Muncha Bunch (“munch a bunch of Fritos”) and eventually W.C. Frito, a caricature of popular 1940s comedian W.C. Fields.
In 2007, in celebration of Fritos' 75th anniversary, the Frito-Lay company released limited anniversary edition packaging with the old image of the Frito Kid, their first mascot, with the following explanation next to his picture: “From 1952 to 1967 the Frito Kid was the darling of America, but the true icon has always been the golden chips of corn inside the bag.”
Kaleta Doolin is busy making a film and writing a book based on the history of her father's groundbreaking work. He envisioned that people would take just a handful of the chips to accompany a soup or salad not snacked by the big bag.
Frito Kid: “A pardner of mine wants a bag of Fritos, Klondike. Any more left?”
Klondike: “Sure thing, Frito Kid, there’s plenty more where these came from!”
(Send an email to Jim Korkis)
Jim Korkis grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Jim describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.
From 2006 to 2010, Jim wrote under the pseudonym of Wade Sampson. He finally revealed his true identity in September of 2010. Those articles can be found here.