If someone had informed this obsessive fan of Willy
Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 40 years ago, that I could hold a real
Wonka Golden Ticket in my hands, watch behind-the-scenes footage and read a
book on the making of my favorite film, examine script correspondence, listen
to cast commentaries and dive into all sort of Wonka memorabilia in one big
box, I probably would not have come up for air for weeks. In fact my reaction
would probably have been a lot like Charlie’s when he discovers the last Golden
Fans of Willy Wonka – rejoice! Has Warner
Bros. Home Video got a golden treat in store for you, just in time for the
holidays. The 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition has
just been released in one, big, heavy purple box, the same color as Wonka’s
waistcoat, full of the same goodies mentioned above, and more. The limited
edition gift set indulges and answers every possible question a fan might have
about the making of this extraordinary film forty years ago, even giving them a
real sense of what it was like to be there on the set with the cast and crew.
The Scrumdidlyumptious, 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo
contains over an hour of extras, including Mel Stuart’s Wonkavision, a
brand new interview with the director; a new-to-DVD featurette on author
Roald Dahl; a 144-page production book reprint filled with production photos and
notes, and archival letters. Sweet premiums like a retro Wonka Bar-shaped tin
box with scented pencils and eraser will have an infantilizing effect on
“adult” fans such as myself who saw the movie first-run, so you might want to
open it alone. (I made the mistake of opening it at the office, and practically
scared away four co-workers who sit in my area.)
ill-advisedly perhaps, unleashed me on cast members and director Mel Stuart on
October 17th at a press conference at the Jumeirah Essex House Hotel
in Manhattan, overlooking Central Park. With the exception of Michael Bollner
(Augustus Gloop) who wasn’t able to be present, the Wonka “kids” were there
still looking great, now in their early 50s. Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket),
Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregard), and Paris
Themmen (Mike Tee Vee) joined director Mel Stuart, now 83, and the “lead”
Oompa-Loompa, veteran actor Rusty Goffe, for a delightful conversation and
personal memories that have not dimmed with time. If they get tired of telling
the same old stories, you’d never know it.
I started with director, Mel Stuart, and Oompa-Loompa
No. 1, Rusty Goffe, who has quite an impressive resume to his credit,
post-Wonka, including the first Star Wars (1977) and two films in the Harry
Potter franchise. Mel is a gruff but warm-hearted New York native of the
old school. And, I discovered, a great raconteur.
Mel Stuart (pointing to Rusty Goffe): He was the
number one Oompa-Loompa. Tell ‘em why.
Rusty Goffe: Tell them why? I was the youngest, I was
the only agile one, I could speak English --
Mel Stuart: -- He did Shakespeare. If you do
Shakespeare, you’re number one in my book. See, you always have to cast people
for bit parts. You know, four lines, two lines. And I ask “Have you ever done
Shakespeare.” If it’s between him and the other one, I’ll take the one who’s
done Shakespeare. Right now I’m working on a picture, a documentary --
Shakespeare in Watts.
The Real Candy Man: Director Mel Stuart. (Photo copyright David Savage/Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
David Savage (to Rusty Goffe): What was he like on
the set of Willy Wonka? Was he a tough director?
RG: He was a very tough director. Mel is one of these
directors who knows what he wants. But he’s one of the few directors I’ve ever
worked with who can put that to that [gestures from mouth to
head]. So you can understand and know exactly what he wants. There are some
directors where you’re thinking ‘What’s he going on about?’ But now when you
see the film, he created magic. Not just a classic film, no seriously -- you
created magic, Mel. It’s now forty years on, I was at an event last week in New
Jersey, people are still crying, they still love it, people are still telling
me everything about it.
DS: What were the origins of Willy Wonka? I
understand your daughter had something to do with it.
MS: My daughter comes in one night, ‘Daddy, I want
you to make a movie out of this book.’ I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Charlie and
the Chocolate Factory.’ Well, I don’t know what it is, but it sounds like a
kid’s story. You know I don’t do kids’ stories, I told her, I do documentaries.
‘Daddy, I don’t care!’ She was screaming and yelling at me. I said, ‘Shut
up, I’ll read the book.’ So I read the book, and it was a nice book. So I go to
Dave Wolper, the guy I worked with, and I say ‘The kid wants us to do this
story.’ Dave asks, what is it? I tell him the story. That’s all Wolper ever
heard. He never read the book. So we go to Quaker Oats, because we were doing
documentaries for them at the time, and they ask us, ‘What have you got about
chocolate? We want to make a chocolate bar.’ I mean, the odds! L-U-C-K. And
Dave Wolper says, ‘We’ve been working on this story for years, we think it’s
the greatest thing that ever was put on paper. It’s got a factory, it’s got a
man and a kid, we could make Wonka bars and you could make a fortune!’ So they
bought it and gave me two-million-eight, and that was a big budget...
DS: So they financed the picture?
MS: They financed the picture.
DS: So this was not a studio picture.
MS: No, no! Paramount bought it when it was done, as
the distributor, but the company, thank God, put up the money. There was nobody
from the studio telling me what to do, nobody giving me ‘notes,’ I could do
whatever I want.
DS: If this had been a Hollywood studio picture, and
you had interference from the producers...
RG: It never would have come out.
MS: It never would have worked. Gene never would have
been as crazy. [The studio] would have said, uh-oh, he’s getting too crazy, I
mean they didn’t get it. So, Paramount bought it. And by the way, Quaker
Oats was never able to make the chocolate bar. It was melting right on the
shelves. They couldn’t get the formula right. So the candy bar failed and the
picture lived on.
DS: You are on the record as saying that you don’t
think this is a children’s movie. You said you think it’s a film for adults
that children appreciate.
DS: Can you elaborate a little on that?
MS: I’ll give you an example. It’s filled with
English poetry, it’s filled with Shakespeare. I didn’t worry whether the kids
‘got it.’ There’s a great example. Violet runs and steals a piece of gum and
chews it, which causes her to blow up like a big balloon. And the father rushes
over to Wonka and says, you’ve turned my daughter into a blueberry! I’ll
destroy you for this! And Wonka says, ‘Tell me where is fancy bread, in the
heart or in the head.’ That’s from The Merchant of Venice. Now, if
you’re really smart, you’ll get it. Don’t tell me an eight-year-old kid is
going to get that line. But maybe later they’ll get it. And if he doesn’t get
it, that’s too bad.
Reunited: Julie Dawn Cole and Peter Ostrum
DS: Tell me, who put in all those bits of English
poetry and Shakespeare? Was it Dahl?
MS: Dahl did most of it. And as you probably know,
‘The Kid’ also supplied a lot of it.
DS: David Selzter [who would later go on to write The
MS: There’s a great story about Seltzer. I think it’s
one of the greatest stories ever. I love writers. Seltzer had come over to
punch up Roald Dahl’s script. It’s very important that you know that writing a
script is not writing a story. You can’t shoot a story. You have to shoot a
script. You need that extra thing. And Roald Dahl did most of it but it still
needed something. The Kid, David Seltzer, for example, came up with the idea of
Slugworth. . . So I get to the last page of the script. And the last line in
the original script was -- as they’re going up in the Wonkavator -- Grandpa Joe
says, ‘Yipee.’ So I’m shooting with Gene on the set, and all the Germans are
running around, and I turn to the last page and I see this last line. I said,
I’ll be damned if I end this picture with the word ‘Yipee.’ So I turn around
and say ‘Get me The Kid! Get me The Kid!’ Now he had been in Munich and we had
him locked up in his hotel room and he couldn’t come out until the end of the
picture, so he’s in Maine trying to recuperate.
DS: Trying to get his head back together.
MS: He’s in this remote cabin in the middle of the
woods by this lake, and it just so happens that there is a pay phone stuck to a
tree trunk by his cabin. So we called the phone in Maine, and by sheer luck --
it was a phone for six people -- he picks up the phone. He says hello, and I
say ‘David! You didn’t give me the last line of the picture! I can’t end the
film on yipee! You’ve got to come up with a great line.’ He says, ‘How much
time do I have?’ I said, ‘You have five minutes.’
DS: I think I would have had a nervous breakdown.
MS: Well I couldn’t. I’m not a writer. Remember this
kid is only twenty-two, twenty-three! So he puts the phone down and walks away
and comes back two minutes later. He said, ‘OK. Willy Wonka says to Charlie,
don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always
wanted. Charlie says, what happened? He lived happily ever after.’ I said, ‘Not
too bad Seltzer. You can go back to your cabin.’ [Laughs]. The next feature I
did, One Is A Lonely Number, from MGM, I insisted they hire him.
Coming next: Part II of my interview with more cast
members of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory!
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