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25 Secrets of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971)

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The original Wonka Bar wrapper from the film!

The original Wonka Bar wrapper from the film!

Background to "Willy Wonka": Facts 1-3

  • The entire film was financed by Quaker Oats who wanted to launch a brand of Wonka-inspired candy. This was in spite of the company having absolutely no film experience. As such, the name was changed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to emphasize the tie-in more.
  • Rat Pack star Sammy Davis Jr. wanted to play the owner of the candy store. He was turned down because the filmmakers thought his presence would be too distracting in the more grounded opening of the film.
  • Mel Stuart, the director of the film, was more known for making documentaries before making a film catered to children. After the film failed to make a significant profit upon its initial release, Stuart largely went back to producing documentaries.
An aerial view of Munich, where much of the movie was filmed.

An aerial view of Munich, where much of the movie was filmed.

About the Filming: Facts 4-12

  • The vaguely European village which serves as Charlie’s hometown is actually Munich, Germany, where much of the movie was filmed.
  • The exterior shots for Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory were not actually of a factory but the Munich gasworks.
  • The restaurant in which Augustus Gloop is eating during his interview was not a set but an actual restaurant in Munich where the cast often ate lunch.
  • The cup that Gene Wilder eats in the “Pure Imagination” scene wasn’t actually candy; it was entirely wax. Wilder had to film the scene a number of times, spitting the cup pieces out immediately after each one.
  • The flavored wallpaper in the snozzberry scene was actually just normal wallpaper that the actors had to lick numerous times.
  • When the director realized how average the set of Willy Wonka's office looked, he ordered everything in the room to be cut in half to retain a distinct sense of wackiness.
  • The chocolate river was not just brown water. It actually contained huge amounts of cream. By the end of the shooting day, the cream had become rancid and smelled disgusting.
  • The tunnel scene, known for being particularly creepy in this version, was not extensively rehearsed; Wilder went off the script for part of it. Therefore, when Wonka appears to be going mad, the children were genuinely frightened because they hadn’t seen Wilder perform that segment before.
  • When Wilder initially rehearsed the “You Get Nothing” scene at the end of the movie, he was much calmer. He did this specifically so that the actors playing Charlie and Grandpa Joe would be taken aback by his anger during the actual filming.
Hardened wax. Yum!

Hardened wax. Yum!

About the Book: Facts 13-15

  • Although Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is credited as the screenwriter for the film, the script was drastically re-written by David Seltzer. He notably wrote the 1976 film, The Omen.
  • Almost none of the literary references Wonka makes were in Dahl’s original screenplay. David Seltzer added in allusions to Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and many other famed authors.
  • Roald Dahl wound up facing considerable criticism from the NAACP because the original illustrations in the book portrayed the Oompa Loompas as African. As a reminder, the Oompa Loompas were shipped over from a distant land and worked in the factory for cocoa beans. Dahl later revised this, and the film avoided the issue entirely by turning the characters orange.

"I don't like the look of it..."

"I don't like the look of it..."

About the Actors: Facts 16-20

  • Gene Wilder, the comedic actor known for films like Blazing Saddles and The Producers, accepted the role of Willy Wonka on one very particular condition. He was only willing to play the part if the producer allowed him to limp upon first coming out of the factory, fall into a somersault, and continue on with a normal gait. This, he figured, would catch the audience off guard and demonstrate that they couldn’t know what was coming next.
  • Ernst Ziegler, who played Grandpa George, was nearly blind. When the filmmakers needed him to look in a certain direction, they held up a red light and instructed him to look at it.
  • Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teevee, was known for his semi-malicious behavior on the set. Gene Wilder described him in one interview as being a handful.
  • Audrey Woods, the actor who plays the candy shop owner, also appeared in two other key British projects; a small part in Dr. Who and a vocal artist for the original radio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Most of the ten actors who played Oompa Loompas in the film did not speak English. Because of this, they had a difficult time lip-syncing the songs. In addition, one was a woman, obviously in heavy makeup.
The former child cast in a recent reunion.

The former child cast in a recent reunion.

After the Movie: Facts 21-25

  • Gene Wilder refused to watch the 2005 remake of the film, saying he didn't mind Johnny Depp but that he wasn't a fan of Tim Burton. Wilder did not like the extensive use of computer-generated images to create the fantastical sets of the new version.
  • Leonard Stone, who played Violet’s father, was a contestant on Wheel of Fortune in 2000. He came in second, winning over $4000 in cash and a trip to Bermuda.
  • Roald Dahl refused to watch the film all the way through; he was extremely unhappy with the final product. In fact, the only time he watched the film for an extended period, besides the premiere, was absentmindedly in a hotel room. When he realized what he was watching, he immediately changed the channel.
  • Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, was the only child actor who continued performing. Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, turned down a multi-film deal as an adolescent and became a veterinarian.
  • The film, upon release, was not particularly profitable. However, it found a second life as cable TV and video rentals became more common, leading to its modern reputation as a classic film.
This wrapper, a prop used in the film, recently sold on Ebay for over $10,000.

This wrapper, a prop used in the film, recently sold on Ebay for over $10,000.


Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on April 28, 2017:

Omg I love this film. I don't know how many times I've seen it! Reading the facts were really interesting to read!