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6 Crazy Mascots From Texas Past

Big Tex stands tall over the Lone Star State
Big Tex stands tall over the Lone Star State

Pop culture is dotted with the ghosts of long vanquished mascot characters that once represented well-loved products, places, and sports teams. In some cases, the original version was reinvented like McDonald's "Evil Grimace" character, originally a four-armed horror that was one of McDonaldland's few bad guys. I guess realizing the original design flaw in introducing a frowning, four armed, purple abomination as part as their brand's attempt at winning the hearts and appetites of children, Grimace was soon changed into a much friendlier creature with a more conventional number of arms.

In other cases, the attraction that the mascot represented just went out of business, presumably sending the character to some form of Limbo where despoiled mascots are sent into exile. Let's take a look back at some of these once beloved characters that hailed from Texas.

6. The Frito Kid

In 1932 a San Antonian named Charles Elmer Doolin started a tiny business selling corn chips, and named it The Frito Company after the snack they were producing in small quantities. The company grew over the years and eventually merged with another resulting in it becoming Frito-Lay. The company needed a mascot, and from 1952 to 1967 that mascot was The Frito Kid, a sort of wide eyed childlike cowboy character. The Kid was innocuous enough, if a bit generic, and in 1967 he was replaced by...

 

5. The Frito Bandito

Things took a dip into controversial territory when this dude became the company's new mascot. A personification of Mexican stereotypes, the Bandito spoke broken English and robbed people of their Frito chips. The Bandito looked like he stepped straight out of a spaghetti western with not very culturally sensitive portrayals of Mexicans.

He was voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc and animated by Tex Avery, but the Bandito only lasted until 1971, because of pressure from groups like The National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Commitee. He was then replaced by a few short lived mascots that weren't around long enough to be noteworthy. Strangely The Frito Bandito still seems to have a few fans today, or is at least well remembered.

4. The Astros "Orbit", and other mascots

The Astros had quite a few mascots over the years, ranging from a non-costumed comedian named Bill Dana back in 1965, to Chester Charge, a sort of standard costumed mascot that took the field with his bugle in the late '70s. The '80s saw a couple of short lived mascots appear in the form of Astrojack, a giant rabbit, and Astrodillo, a great big armadillo. Probably the best remembered Astros mascot was Orbit, a goofy furry green space alien introduced by the baseball club in 1990. Orbit reigned for nearly ten years at the Astrodome before his tenure ended, and then returned recently. General Jack and Junction Jack also entertained Astros fans over the years, proving that the Astros leadership seemed indecisive about ever establishing a permanent mascot, and really liked the name Jack over the years.

3. Big Tex

Big Tex is the iconic giant who has looked over the Texas State Fair since 1952. I'm sure almost every person living in this state has at least some knowledge of 'ol Big Tex, but I was surprised to learn that he originally was created as a giant Santa Claus statue in Kerens, Texas. After spending a couple of Christmas seasons on display in that incarnation, the statue was sold to the State Fair and transformed into the enormous cowboy we are all familiar with today. Tex was modified many times over the decades, having different clothing and his original papier mâché skin replaced with fiberglass, as well as being engineered to speak and move. He's even been "aged" over the years, with touches of grey added to his hair to mark the passage of time.

In 2012 disaster struck, and an electrical problem caused a fire that basically destroyed Big Tex. Realizing his importance to Texas, plans were immediately put into motion to rebuild a bigger and better version of Tex, and the new version was unveiled at the 2013 Texas State Fair. His height was increased by three feet making Big Tex 55 feet tall, and enough structural weight was added to allow the statue to withstand 100 mph winds without support wires. Unlike the others on this list, Big Tex bounced back from disaster, and is likely to stand tall over Texas for generations to come.

 

2. McGruff the Crime Dog

I'm sure a few people are scratching their heads and wondering why McGruff the Crime Dog is on this list. He is a national mascot of sorts, right? What's the Texas connection?

And that's true. McGruff has been warning kids about various criminal activities they should be wary of since 1980, and he is a national figure, but earlier this year, McGruff made Texas news. An actor named John Morales who played McGruff at personal appearances was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being pulled over by police in Galveston. After finding drugs in his car, a search of the actor's home turned up over 1,000 marijuana plants, weapons including a grenade launcher, and 9,000 rounds of ammunition.

"Help take a bite out of crime!" Indeed.

1. Astroworld's Marvel McFey

In 1972 the still very young Astroworld theme park unveiled its official mascot, a flamboyantly dressed fellow named Marvel McFey. He looked like he could be related to Yosemite Sam, if that mean old bastard had a dandy brother or something, and in 1974 McFey was given his own theater and musical show. There's something very quaint and strange about McFey, and he was definitely a creation of the early 1970s, a time period where it made perfect sense to name an amusement park attraction "The Dexter Freebish Electric Roller Ride", and trippy TV shows like H.R. Puffinstuff were entertaining children. I could find no record of when Marvel was finally phased out of Astroworld, but I can't imagine that he survived into the '80s. I have an ancient figural bank of the guy (an eBay find) and sometimes I look at the thing and wonder where 'ol Marvel McFey is today. Is the costume still out there somewhere, in a former employee's closet? Or does his spirit still walk the demolished grounds of his former kingdom?


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