American treasure and crown jewel in Gene Wilder’s spectacular oeuvre Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory turns 45 this week. To celebrate, not only have we justly singled out the crime that was Gene Wilder getting passed over for an Oscar, but we’re also giving fans an anniversary-based roundup of obscure facts and trivial bits about everyone’s favorite vaguely sinister candy factory.
1. Wilder only accepted the role on one condition
In a letter to director Mel Stuart, Wilder wrote that he’d read the script and would take the part on the condition that, “When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”
2. Wilder beat out a few famous names for the role
Notably, Fred Astaire and Peter Sellers, who personally called Charlie & the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl to ask for the part. All six members of Monty Python – Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin – expressed interest in the role, while Roald Dahl pushed for British comedian (and personal friend) Spike Milligan for the role.
3. Wilder had extensive input into his character’s wardrobe
After viewing early sketches of the character’s costume, Wilder wrote a letter to Stuart with notes about the costume’s jacket pockets, pants, and shoes. Most delightfully, he includes this note about the iconic hat: “The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special. Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.” Stuart, however, contributed the idea of Wonka’s sawed-in-half office.
4. The film was actually financed by the Quaker Oats Company
Director Stuart’s 10-year-old daughter asked her dad to adapt the book, and coincidentally, his friend, producer David L. Wolper, was in talks with the Quaker Oats Company to make a film introducing its new candy bar, the Wonka Bar. The company bought the rights to the book and financed the picture, bringing Wonka’s name into the title instead of Charlie to make the candy bar tie-in more explicit.
5. Dahl hated the film
The author disliked it so much so that he refused to allow the movie to be remade so long as he lived, nor to sell the film rights to the sequel. Dahl died in 1990, and 15 years later, his estate greenlit Tim Burton’s remake.
6. The exteriors were shot in Munich
Rematching the film, it’s a little disorienting that this very Old European-style village seems to be populated by British and American children and adult. Producers chose Munich because it was cheap to shoot there.
7. Sammy Davis campaigned for a role in the film
Davis wanted to play the shop owner who sings “The Candy Man,” but producers turned him down. The song eventually became his only No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit.
8. Only one of the film’s child actors stuck with acting
The film is Peter Ostrum (Charlie)’s only role, and the rest of the child actors abandoned their careers, except for Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), who would go on to a career on British soaps. (And as the inspiration for the ’90s alt-rock band Veruca Salt.)
9. Charlie became a veterinarian
Ostrum, a Cleveland, Ohio, native, turned down a three-picture deal, became a veterinarian and moved to Rowville, in upstate New York. Dunkin’ Donuts did, however, get him to pass out “CharlieCards” (Boston’s public transit cards) in 2009.
10. The children’s reactions to the Chocolate Room are real
They were seeing the set for the first time as they were filming.
11. So was the chocolate river
Chocolate, cream and 15,000 gallons of water went into that river. It spoiled quickly in the heat from the set’s lights and smelled terrible.
12. Aubrey Woods nearly hit a girl in the ‘Candy Man’ scene
If you watch closely at 2:20, you can see Woods open the flip-top to the candy store counter, very nearly knocking one unlucky girl in the chin. It looks like she dodged just in time, which is probably why they kept the take, but it’s a close call.
13. ‘About a third’ of the stuff in the Chocolate Room was edible
According to Wilder, the cup he bites, however, was not chocolate; it was made of wax and he had to keep spitting pieces of it out after takes.
14. David Seltzer’s rewrite made Wonka much more literary
Among the famous authors Seltzer’s rewrite of Dahl’s own screenplay had Wonka quote: William Shakespeare, John Masefield, John Keats, Willam Allingham, Arthur O’Shaughnessy, Ogden Nash and Oscar Wilde.
15. Some of the key parts of Wonka’s performance were a surprise to his costars
None of the child actors were warned about the boat scene, so their terrified reactions were genuine. And when Wilder rehearsed the office scene (“You get nothing!”) with Ostrum and Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe), he did so in a much calmer tone, so that their reactions to his anger would be more genuine.
16. Mike Teevee was actually the worst
In the film’s DVD commentary, Wilder identified actor Paris Themmen, two years younger than the rest of the cast, as the worst of the child actors to work with. Themmen backed this up in a Reddit AMA in 2015, claiming “I was the brattiest.”
17. The Oompa-Loompas were cast from circuses around Europe and were quite the handful on-set
The 10 Oompa-Loompas came from British and Turkish circuses. There were nine men and one woman, and, according to Themmen, were frequently drunk by the end of the day’s filming. Once, they gathered the entire cast’s shoes from the hotel they were staying at, tied all the laces together, and left them in a giant pile to be discovered the next morning.
18. There are a few continuity errors in the film
For example, Salt’s hair grows progressively shorter, as the makeup and hair department continually got rid of Julie Dawn Cole’s split ends. Also, Ostrum’s voice dropped during filming and is noticeably in different ranges at different parts.
19. Dahl made ‘Snozzberries’ an incredibly foul pun after the film came out
In his 1979 book My Uncle Oswald (a bizarrely adult story about well, it’s bizarre, Dahl uses “snozzberry” as a euphemism for “penis” (George Bernard Shaw’s member, specifically don’t ask), thus creating an incredibly dirty pun (“The snozzberries taste like snozzberries”) in one of his own works, retroactively.