The Forgotten Mascot: The Frito Bandito

The Frito Bandito

The Frito Bandito

OK. Here’s your “Question of the day”: What popular product “mascot” was discontinued almost 40 years ago for being overly offensive to Mexicans?

Answer:  The Frito Bandito.

Everybody loves Fritos corn chips, right?  But even a popular product like Fritos can make questionable decisions, which they did with their one time product mascot.  In 1967, the good folks at Frito-Lay came up with a new mascot they dubbed “The Frito Bandito”.

The Frito Bandito was a classic Western movie stereotype of a Mexican bandit, complete with droopy mustache, unshaven face, unkempt hair, and even a gold tooth!  Oh yes, let’s not forget his big yellow sombrero.  He packed two big pistols and had bullets lining his holster which wrapped around the front of his chest in an X-pattern.

The Frito Bandito brandished his ominous guns and wanted to rob the television viewer of their Fritos corn chips. (Naturally)  He was “pursued” by the FBI… the “Frito Bureau of Investigation”.

His trademark jingle while he robbed people of their Fritos was: “Ay, Yi, Yi, Yi, I am the Frito Bandito. Give me Fritos corn chips and I’ll be your friend, the Frito Bandito you must not offend.”

The character was, surprisingly, voiced by the great Mel Blanc (1908-1989), probably the most popular and beloved voice-over artist of all-time.  Mel gained fame and cartoon immortality by voicing many beloved characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, and Pepe Lepew, among countless others in the classic “Warner Bros” cartoon staples.  He also was the voice of Barney Rubble on the first animated TV series, “The Flintstones”.

The Frito Bandito also bears a slight, not-so-amazing resemblance to another classic Mel Blanc character, “Speedy Gonzales”, a Mexican mouse with a thick accent who charmed the senoritas, wearing a big yellow sombrero and racing around at blazing speed.

The problems for the Bandito started after a few Frito Bandito national TV commercials aired. A group called “The National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee”, not surprisingly, got pretty riled up and lodged some angry complaints over the mascot.  The Fritos folks, instead of outright scrapping the whole Frito Bandito shtick, decided to “fix up” the character instead.

And so it was, a newer, less offensive Frito Bandito was born. Gone was the razor stubble, and the gold tooth; his formerly unkempt hair was also now neatly combed.  Did the new image work?

Apparently not.

The complaints from the group continued and the Frito Bandito’s days were numbered. In the end, for such an obviously “offensive” character, the Frito Bandito had a pretty good run.  After first lifting up his twin pistols in 1967, the “not-exactly-beloved” Frito Bandito robbed his last television viewer of his Fritos corn chips in 1971, managing to last a lot longer than most animated characters or product mascots.

You can check out one of the Frito Bandito’s ads here.  Adios amigo!

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Bonus Fact:

  • The character of the Frito Bandito is thought to have been based, or at least influenced, on the classic Mexican bandit who menaces and eventually kills Humphrey Bogart in the classic film Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).  If you’re not familiar, this is the character who said the classic movie line: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
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  • The line, “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” was not spoken in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It was uttered in Mel Brooks’ movie, “Blazing Saddles.”

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Jake Lakota: True, but it’s also on the movie listed, which Mel Brooks borrowed the line from. Thanks for pointing that out. I should have mentioned the Blazing Saddles reference too. 🙂

      • You are also correct, I should have wrote that variation of the line in the article was stated in Blazing Saddles. The original was of course said in TSM.

  • The line from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre is as follows:

    Gold Hat: Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.

  • I can remember my mom buying us the school pack of individual servings of Fritos for lunch. They came in a long paper/carboard container with 4 sides and a bottom, the top was cheap loose plastic wrap. They ran a promo and there was a free Frito Bandito pencil eraser in the pack (ours was blue). I think I wound up chewing his hat off (hey I was about 6 yrs old) but I wish I had it today, might be worth .50

  • Title of piece is “Fogotten [sic]” instead of “Forgotten”; given the character’s name, perhaps a better omission from the “F” word would’ve been the “E”? Since FB has an “R” in his name, it’s unfortunate it was foRgotten from the title….. 😉

    • Daven Hiskey

      @RW-in-DC: Ha, thanks for catching that. I often forget to double check the title for typos, being so focused on the main content.:-)

  • A verse I remember;
    I love Frito corn chips, I love them I do,
    I take Frito corn chips, I take them from you!
    I didn’t know where the erasers came from but I have seven of them in blue,red and one yellow.

  • Pancake rachel corrie

    Now we have 40 million frito banditos in the us