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What can you tell me about Tutti Frutti Surprise Balls

Blake Pontchartrain: The New Orleans N.O. It All


Dear Blake,

I stumbled across information about a business in Metairie in the 1950s called the Charles Gregor Company, maker of Tutti Frutti Surprise Balls. These crepe paper-wrapped toys were meant to be unwrapped to reveal numerous toy trinkets and were handmade in fanciful shapes. Can you tell me anything else about this company and its history?

Laurie R.

These surprise balls were made by the Charles Gregor Company in Metairie.

Dear Laurie,

  You no doubt will inspire lots of memories for readers who recall playing with those toys in their childhood. A label on the balls called it "the toy you destroy to enjoy," and they were made in Metairie by Charles Gregor Creations.

  Gregor, a German-born toy designer, introduced the balls in 1951. In a 1952 profile, he told The Times-Picayune the idea was inspired by a technique some European mothers used to persuade their daughters to knit: They would hide a trinket inside a ball of yarn, which the girls could retrieve only by using the yarn wrapped around it.

  "Gregor's surprise balls are rolled entirely by hand, using eight strips of crepe paper each 10 feet long," the newspaper said. "As the crepe paper is wrapped into a ball shape, a dozen little trinkets are added one at a time to its bulk." Children would unwrap the layers to reveal toys such as whistles, tiny puzzles, rings, play money and more.

  The outsides of Gregor's creations (about the size of a baseball) were just as fanciful. His factory employed several artists, including his mother, to paint and decorate the surprise balls to resemble Santa and Mrs. Claus, snowmen, clowns, pixies, pirates, princesses and a menagerie of animals. In 1952, Gregor featured more than 70 designs.

  Gregor opened his first toy factory at 240 Metairie Road and moved to Derbigny Street and North Turnbull Drive in Metairie in 1954. By the 1970s, Gregor's business had declined, and he became a manager for Leon Salloum's jewelry and antique stores. Gregor died in 1981.

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