15 Trivia Tidbits About the Original 1971 ‘Willy Wonka’

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15 Trivia Tidbits About the Original 1971 ‘Willy Wonka’

Tomorrow, Timothée Chalamet debuts as the new Willy Wonka in Wonka, and I feel exactly like I did 18 years ago when Johnny Depp took on the role in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — I do not give a single shit. There’s only one Willy Wonka that matters, and that’s Gene Wilder in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. So let’s just forget about this whole Chalamet thing and dive into 15 trivia tidbits about the original instead…

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Some Bitter Chocolate

Legendary children’s author Roald Dahl wrote the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and he was originally hired to write the screenplay. However, he never finished it. Instead he wrote an outline that kept pointing to different sections of his original book. The Omen writer David Seltzer was hired to do a rewrite. After that, Dahl quit the film and disowned it, though he remained the only credited screenwriter on it.

It Was Made to Sell Chocolate Bars

The idea to adapt Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a film came from director Mel Stuart’s 10-year-old daughter, who read the book and asked her father to make a movie about it. From there, Stuart took it to producer David L. Wolper, who happened to be in talks with the Quaker Oats company, which had recently acquired Breaker Confections, a Chicago-based candy company. Wolper convinced Quaker to make “Wonka Bars” and financed the film to promote them.  

Wonka’s Wild Ride

In 1980, Breaker Confections became “Willy Wonka Brands.” In 1988, the company was sold to Nestlé, who renamed it the “Willy Wonka Candy Company.” In 2014, the Wonka bar was discontinued due to poor sales and the company was rebranded as “Nestlé Candy Shop.” Four years later, Nestlé sold the company to the Ferrero Group, who revived the Wonka name in 2023 to sell “Magic Hat” gummies timed with the new Wonka film. This, however, is getting into lesser-Wonkas territory, so back to stuff about the original film…

‘About a Hundred’

To repay his daughter for coming up with the idea for the film, Stuart allowed her to have a cameo in it, despite the fact that he felt she couldn’t act. She plays a child in a classroom who says she’s opened “about a hundred” Wonka bars.

‘No One Will Know If I’m Lying or Telling the Truth

In an interview with Larry King, Wilder said he had one condition for playing Willy Wonka. “(Mel Stuart) said, ‘You wanna do it?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you, I will do it if I can come out, and all the crowd quiets down, and I am using a cane.’ Oh, my God. Willy Wonka is crippled. ‘And I walk slowly and you can hear a pin drop. And my cane gets stuck in a brick. And I fall forward onto my face and do a forward somersault and jump up, and they all start to applaud.’ Because, no one will know from that point on whether I am lying or telling the truth.”

Wilder on Working with Children

During the filming of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Wilder was asked how he liked making a movie with children. His response: “Four of them are fantastic, the other one I’m going to shoot in the head tomorrow” (he didn’t specify which one).

That’s a Lot of Doompety Doos

Rusty Goffe, who played one of the Oompa Loompas, said “Mel Stuart didn’t like to do things in one or two takes. It was around 50 takes, 30 takes, 76 takes, that was my record.”

Not Written for Kids

Stuart said that he didn’t want the film written for children. “The language would be for adults, not children,” he explained. “To my way of thinking, children will get it, eventually, and children are far brighter than people take them for.”

A Truly Timeless Classic

In an effort to make the film appear timeless, Stuart refrained from showing cars or a specific city.

The Tunnel Scene

The tunnel sequence has often been compared to a drug trip, but Stuart has said this wasn’t his intention. “It wasn’t a psychedelic drug trip, or at least it wasn’t my intention for people to think it was,” he explained.

Charlie’s Favorite Scene

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, said his favorite scene is when he sings “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” with Jack Albertson, who played Grandpa Joe.

It Was Not a Big Box-Office Hit

With a budget of just $3 million, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory only earned $4 million on its initial theatrical run. 

But It Was a Big Hit on Home Video

Despite its meager earnings, the film gained an audience through VHS sales and airings on television. When it was re-released in theaters in 1996 for its 25th anniversary, it earned $21 million.

What Wilder Thought of the 2005 Remake

In 2013, Wilder was asked how he feels about remakes of his films, specifically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His response: “I think it’s an insult. That’s probably Warner Bros.’ insult, I think… To do that with Johnny Depp, who I think is a good actor and I like him, but I don’t don’t care for that director (Tim Burton) — and he’s a talented man, but I don’t care for him for doing stuff like he did.”

The Legacy of the One True Willy Wonka

In an interview, Wilder spoke about the legacy of his portrayal of Wonka, saying, “If you had any idea of how many people stop me about Willy Wonka, you’d be surprised. You’re thinking ‘a lot,’ but it’s more than a lot. The mothers come up to me — two days ago, a mother came up to me in the country market, ‘Could I tell the children who you are?’ I said, ‘If you don’t say it loudly, you can.’ And, she did, and whispered, ‘That’s Willy Wonka.’ And she smiled at me and then she said, ‘What a legacy.’ Well, it is. That part warms my heart.”  

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