eBay seller Paris Themmen played the mischievous wanna-be cowboy Mike Teevee in the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder in 1971. Five decades later, Paris remains steeped in Wonka culture, which he parlayed into a business. Paris sells autographed cast photos on eBay.
“eBay has been great for me over the years!” Paris proudly proclaimed on a video call from Barcelona, Spain. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of nice people and do business at the same time.”
Paris established his eBay Wonka Shop and website more than two decades ago. He sells signed movie posters, cast photos, Golden Tickets, prints, even a Willy Wonka Contract as depicted in the film. The idea to sell on eBay came to him after taking part in his first celebrity signing convention in the late 1990s, which brought some of his Wonka cast mates together for the first time in nearly three decades. The event, Paris discovered, could earn him far more than the small royalty check he received periodically for film.
“I made a lot of money that weekend,” Paris explained.
Back in 1970, 11-year-old Paris was already a seasoned actor of commercials, television, and the stage. Little did he know an audition for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” would forever change his life.
“It wasn’t a huge cattle call. They read from the book because they didn’t have a script yet,” Paris recalled. “It was just another audition for me. I hadn’t even heard of Roald Dahl, who wrote the story.”
Paris read for the role of sweet-hearted Charlie Bucket. But the director decided his quirky voice and mannerisms were better suited for the vain, television-obsessed boy from Arizona, Mike Teevee. Either way, young Paris salivated over the prospect of acting inside the chocolate factory.
“When I got the job, my mom and I were jumping up and down, hugging each other in a phone booth on a rainy afternoon in New York City,” he said. Filming took place in Germany, where his parents and two sisters joined him for the nine-week shoot.
“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was an instant classic when it premiered. Critic Roger Ebert deemed the movie the best children’s film since the “Wizard of Oz.” Gene Wilder’s role as the darkly paranoid chocolate maker cemented his reputation as a genius comic actor.
When 11-year-old Paris, as Mike Teevee, first stepped into the “Chocolate Room,” where the characters indulge their sweet tooth, and gluttonous Augustus Gloop is sucked into the chocolate river pipe to the fudge room, the finished film showed cast’s first reaction to the highly detailed set. The director intentionally kept the fully detailed set a secret until the first take.
“The director, Mel Stuart, did a lot of takes. The same thing over and over again, but he made a great film,” said Paris of the on-set mood. “Gene was great, a nice guy. Intense blue eyes. Very direct but soft spoken. I mean, he had to carry the movie while we were kids bouncing off walls.”
Paris’s eBay business involves other cast members, who are spread out across the globe. He mails cast photos to the so-called Wonka kids, the other child actors in the film, for each to sign. After the photos are returned, Paris then lists the item in his Wonka Shop.
His eBay business allows Paris to follow his lifelong passion for travel – 74 countries and counting. Credit: Paris Themmen.
Over the years, he’s held numerous production jobs, opened a travel agency, worked in finance and for Disney in their Imagineering department. He was even a contestant on Jeopardy! Yet, for the past two decades, selling on eBay has been the consistent business Paris relies on to maintain a flexible lifestyle.
“It’s a turnkey business,” he said. “I’m in a unique position where I have something, my signature, that other people can’t sell. Buyers are confident that not only is my signature real, but also the signatures of my fellow castmates. eBay also allows me to earn while staying connected with fans. It’s a win on all fronts.”