It wasn’t until John Paris was 12 that he learned the truth about his father.
“My mom decided it’s time for the kid to know what is going on,” John said.
Pat Paris pulled out scrapbooks overflowing with photographs and front-page newspaper articles. Films rolled on a borrowed projector detailing the meteoric rise of his dad to international fame and fortune.
Andrew J. Paris, John’s late father, was anointed the “Bubble Gum King” by Life Magazine in 1947. From McAllen, he cornered the latex market, flooding the United States with cheap bubble gum. His success made him one of the most photographed people in the world.
“It just blew my mind,” John said.
“Andy Paris: The Bubble Gum King,” the documentary executive produced and co-directed by John, will be screened Saturday and Sunday at Cine El Rey in McAllen.
RISE OF THE ‘BUBBLE GUM KING’
Andy Paris was the son of Greek immigrants. He was born in California, eventually relocating to Detroit, Michigan.
At 7, Andy sold newspapers and magazine on the street. His family owned a business selling things like cigarettes, candy, gum and mints.
Though he earned a full scholarship for college, Andy decided against attending school.
“There was too much to do out there than sit in a classroom,” Pat says in the film.
The rations of World War II hurt the family business. Fluent in Spanish, Andy took a train to Mexico City in search of imports. These connections would prove important when he started an import and export business in McAllen.
He’d eventually set up his own office with several chewing gum manufacturing plants in Monterrey, Mexico.
Andy’s stroke of genius, as the legend goes, came when a group of kids were fighting. A piece of bubble gum that went for a cent was rented among friends at a ridiculous markup. He recognized the potential and persuaded the Mexican factories to produce bubble gum.
The documentary reveals how Andy would speed to Monterrey with suitcases of cash, along with an armed guard, to make payments.
Paris Bubble Gum would go on to sell $10,000 worth of gum a day, according to the film, and eventually open a stateside factory at 609 W. Business Highway 83 — now commemorated with a Texas Historical Marker.
Andy became a worldwide celebrity, frequenting radio shows and was even enlisted as a bubble-blowing consultant to Natalie Wood during “A Miracle on 34th Street.” He briefly dated Marilyn Monroe, according to John.
Eventually, a few poor investments, ill-fated recipes and the IRS brought down the Bubble Gum King. He declared himself a pauper and agreed to pay $12,000 in order to free himself from the hundreds of thousands the IRS sought, according to Pat.
John said he didn’t set out to be so heavily involved in creating a film about his father.
Over the years, the documentary project shuttered due to many “false starts” with different teams, he said. It was actually the enthusiasm of others that convinced him it was worthwhile project.
“I’m not the original driver of these ideas,” John said. “It’s significant information. If I didn’t do it, it was going to be lost.”
He credits his mother, Andy’s longtime secretary, and co-director and editor, Gabriel Ramirez, for making the film possible.
“That year, I didn’t sleep a lot,” said Ramirez, who got involved with the project in 2013. “It’s a lot of time, patience and lack of sleep, especially when you’re working a 40- to 60-hour full-time job”
Ramirez said the initial step was to take inventory of what they had, and craft a narrative that focused not only on Andy, but on what he did for the community — the opportunities he gave to others.
“I wouldn’t have signed on to the story unless I believed in it,” he said.
John calls the completion of the film “the proudest achievement of (his) life.”
“My father’s product was responsible for making millions of kids the world over happy again for the first time in many years,” John said.