Almost as daunting as collecting Disney memorabilia in general is collecting Disney theme park merchandise. After all, Disneyland has been merchandising itself consistently for 57 years. If you visit a Disney theme park these days, you might notice that pretty much everything in the parks is created by Disney for Disney… which means all of the profits stay within the Disney Company. You can’t blame them for marketing their theme parks like this. After all, most of us visiting Disney theme parks are looking for exclusive merchandise advertising our favorite characters and rides anyway. Though Disney has always carried exclusive merchandise based on rides and characters, in the early days of the parks they did bring in some outside merchandise that fit in with the theme of Disneyland, but wasn’t directly based on anything Disney. Great examples of this are the Randotti skulls.
If you are like me, your first thought at reading the company name “Randotti” is that it is an Italian company. It seriously sounds like an Italian name to me. The company was actually created, however, by the Smith’s. That is, Randy and Dotti Smith to be exact (Get it? Randy and Dotti … Randotti. It makes sense). I could regurgitate the history of the Randotti Company, but the best way to learn about Randy Smith is to read his biography here on a website created by Randy’s son that is dedicated to the Smith family legacy.
The story of this small company is amazing to me. They made a sustainable business out of creating souvenirs for Disneyland, and Disneyland only (later Disney World as well). It just goes to show how successful Disneyland was. Randotti skulls come in several different sizes, and some are even a little bit more specific to rides in the parks. For example, there is a skull with an eye patch made for Pirates of the Caribbean. The company also produced tikis, statuary, and tomb stones for The Haunted Mansion. When I first learned about Randotti skulls, I thought that they didn’t start selling them in the parks until the creation of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, but they began selling souvenirs in the parks in 1956, just one year into Disneyland’s existence. The earliest Randotti products are marked only with an “rj”, but the late 60’s skulls forward are very clearly marked and dated.
I think these skulls are beautifully sculpted and cast, and I can understand why they were so popular as souvenirs, and why they are still highly sought after today. I have to admit, though, I can’t imagine carrying one of these around the park with me all day. The skull I have is just shy of being life sized, and is cast in solid plaster. I actually weighed it, and it’s about five pounds. I know that isn’t that much, but still, it goes to show that people liked these things so much that they would slightly inconvenience themselves by carrying a five-pound weight around Disneyland all day in order to own one.
One of the coolest features about Randotti skulls is that they glow in the dark, and the glow feature works as well today as it did in 1974 when my skull was created. I can only imagine how cool it must have looked to see an entire display of these guys in a souvenir stand at Disneyland at night.
Randotti products are highly sought after today by Disney theme park collectors, especially with collectors of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. They may not be based on any specific characters or attractions at Disneyland, but for those who visited the parks between 1956 and, I believe, sometime in the ‘80’s, they were a very memorable staple of the souvenir stands in Adventureland, New Orleans Square, and in the Main Street Magic Shop. Randotti souvenirs are a rare example of Disney theme park merchandise created by an outside source that are just as highly prized as many of the official Disney products of their day.