The Andy Paris Collection
The Briscoe Center has acquired the collection of Andy Paris, who in 1947 was dubbed “the bubble gum king” by Life magazine. Paris shrewdly cornered the U.S. market on gum after World War II by purchasing latex in Mexico, building a factory in South Texas, and creating a distribution empire across the nation. He became a celebrity millionaire almost overnight. However, it wasn’t long before established corporations (and the IRS) started taking notice.
“The collection not only documents a very unusual episode in Texas business history, but also sheds light on pop culture, the movie industry, and the post–WWII baby boom,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “And, of course, it’s a fun collection too, which includes rock-hard, seventy-year-old bubble gum!”
Andrew J. Paris was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1919. The son of Greek immigrants, Paris worked in the family tobacco store from the age of seven. During World War II, he began importing candies from Mexico in order to help his family’s business. During this time, he established connections in the latex industry around Monterrey. After the war, latex—at the time a crucial ingredient in bubble gum—remained in short supply. After seeing children fight over a stick of gum in the streets, he decided to strike out on his own.
By 1947, he had cornered the latex market in Monterrey, Mexico, and flooded the Americas with affordable gum—5,000 tons of it in the span of only a few years, according to some estimates. Dapper and newly wealthy, with a talent for both sales and spectacle, Paris was dubbed “the bubble gum king” by Life magazine. He became a Hollywood celebrity overnight, teaching child actress Natalie Wood how to blow bubbles for her role in Miracle on 34th Street and dating Marilyn Monroe. However, soon other corporations caught up with Paris, as did the Internal Revenue Service.
“He was an all-cash business. He would go down into Mexico with a pistolero at his side and a quarter of a mil in suitcases at a time, to pay for the latex, to pay the workers down in Mexico,” explained documentarian John Paris to Texas Monthly in 2015. “Being a cash business, his receipts were cash, so that generated some interest from the IRS. [Then] the competition hit pretty heavy . . . he had the IRS coming at him. That was a tough thing for him.”
Paris attempted to innovate his way out of trouble in the early 1950s. However, several products flopped, including licorice-flavored gum and candy-coated gum on a stick. In 1955, he was forced to liquidate his factory in McAllen in order to settle back taxes. He moved into the vending machine business, but never achieved the same success he had enjoyed in the late 1940s. “Andy really cratered,” his widow told the San Antonio-Express News in 2011. “But we never moped.” Paris died in 1997.
The collection contains correspondence, business papers, financial documents, photographs, advertising materials, and artifacts documenting Andy Paris and the Paris Gum Corporation of McAllen, Texas. The collection came to the center via Paris’s son, John Paris, who in 2010 produced the documentary Andy Paris: The Bubble Gum King. The film is available on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other streaming sites and includes materials now housed at the Briscoe Center.
“I think the main focus of this film is that it’s not so much a history of bubble gum, but what one man was able to do to make millions of kids happy all over the world, and how he did it, which was basically by being friends with Mexico,” Paris told Texas Monthly.