12 Delicious Facts About Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

It’s a movie that’s nearly 50 years old, but Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is nowhere near showing its age. A cinematic classic for generations of children, the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory told the fantastical tale of what happens when four spoiled kids (and one good, sweet little child) visit a delectable candy-making factory. The film also turned star Gene Wilder into a cultural icon, thanks to his inimitable portrayal of chocolatier extraordinaire Willy Wonka. Whether you’ve seen Wonka 200 times—or, to quote poor Charlie Bucket, “just two”—we’ve got some sweet facts about the movie that are sure to taste better than an Everlasting Gobstopper.

1. GENE WILDER INSISTED ON DOING WILLY WONKA’S NOW-SIGNATURE LIMP-INTO-A-FORWARD-ROLL—OR ELSE HE WOULDN’T TAKE THE PART.

Gene Wilder, who died in 2016, knew exactly how he wanted to play Willy Wonka from the get-go. As he recounted to Larry King on CNN in 2002, Wilder told Wonka director Mel Stuart he wanted to introduce the character as walking slowly with a cane, then conclude the ruse with an expert somersault. When Stuart asked why Wilder wanted to take this approach, the Young Frankenstein star responded, “Because no one will know from that point on, whether I’m lying or telling the truth,” thus adding the necessary element of mystery to the character. Wilder also told King he wouldn’t accept the role unless this demand was met. Needless to say, Stuart made the right decision.

2. THAT WONKA INTRODUCTION BECAME SO SYNONYMOUS WITH WILDER THAT KATE MCKINNON REENACTED IT AS A TRIBUTE TO THE ACTOR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

The 42nd season of Saturday Night Live didn’t premiere until about a month after Gene Wilder’s August 2016 death, but the news was still timely enough for cast member Kate McKinnon to pay a fitting tribute. During the episode’s cold open, McKinnon, playing a pneumonia-battling Hillary Clinton, limped slowly—cane in hand—onto the faux presidential debate stage. But before she could fall over from fatigue, McKinnon then executed a flawless somersault. Both Wonka and Wilder would’ve been proud.

3. DENISE NICKERSON’S FACE WAS STILL TURNING PURPLE EVEN AFTER SHOOTING ENDED.

It’s commonplace for actors to hear some of the most famous lines from their movie repeated back to them via devoted fans. But when it happened to 13-year-old Denise Nickerson, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory hadn’t even hit theaters yet. According to People Magazine, two days after Nickerson, who played gum-chewing brat Violet Beauregarde in the movie, had shot the famous scene in which Violet turns into a blueberry, her face started reverting back to that now-familiar shade of purple. As luck would have it, this embarrassing moment happened when Nickerson was back at school and trying to be a normal kid again. But since the makeup needed another 36 hours to disappear, she ended up hearing friends of hers (unwittingly) paraphrase one of Sam Beauregarde’s lines from the movie: “You’re turning blue!” At least it wasn’t, “Violet! You’re turning violet, Violet!”

4. PARIS THEMMEN LIT UP TWITTER AS A JEOPARDY! CONTESTANT.

Back in March 2018, a gentleman by the name of Paris Themmen competed on the long-running game show Jeopardy!, finishing in second place. Describing himself as an “avid backpacker,” Themmen seemed like another run-of-the-mill trivia expert passing through the Alex Trebek-hosted set. But it wasn’t long before fans took to Twitter in their realization that Themmen had neglected to reveal a tiny detail from his childhood: He portrayed pint-size binge-watcher Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory when he was 11.

5. PETER OSTRUM BECAME A DAIRY CATTLE VETERINARIAN.

Peter Ostrum in 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' (1971)
Warner Home Video

He’ll forever be immortalized as the good-natured blond moppet who won a golden ticket—and an entire chocolate factory—but Hollywood was never in the cards for former child actor Peter Ostrum. Despite Charlie Bucket’s central role to the story, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was the only movie Ostrum ever made. Although he’ll appear occasionally for Wonka anniversary interviews (he also spoke extensively about Gene Wilder following the actor’s death), Ostrum chose a quiet life for himself, working as a dairy cattle veterinarian in upstate New York.

6. JULIE DAWN COLE AND DENISE NICKERSON WERE RIVALS FOR OSTRUM’S HEART.

That fierce elbowing between Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde during the “Pure Imagination” scene (see above clip) may not have been acting after all. Both Julie Dawn Cole—who played the petulant Veruca—and Denise Nickerson have since copped to a crush on co-star Peter Ostrum. “Peter was a hot patootie,” Nickerson told People in 2001. Cole admitted that she and “Denise were competing for [Ostrum’s] attention” in a 2011 interview.

7. WILLY WONKA DOESN’T SHOW UP UNTIL NEARLY 45 MINUTES INTO THE MOVIE.

It’s a rare breed of actor who can completely encapsulate one’s memory of a particular film, especially when it’s almost half over by the time his character appears. Viewers tend to forget that we first have to endure a good 43 minutes of Charlie Bucket character development (and Grandpa Joe’s whining) before Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka finally tumbles into our hearts. Wilder’s belated entrance also reminds audiences that good things really do come to those who wait.

8. THE FILM’S FIRST SONG, "THE CANDY MAN," GAVE SAMMY DAVIS, JR. HIS ONLY NUMBER ONE HIT.

But this famously upbeat tune wasn’t without its problems: Actor Aubrey Woods, who played the candy store owner, originally sang “The Candy Man” in the movie’s opening scene. Leslie Bricusse, who co-wrote the song with Anthony Newley, was horrified by this version, telling the New York Post in 2016, “The song was diabolically performed by an actor who couldn’t sing.” Enter Sammy Davis, Jr., whose manager was seeking a song that the Rat Packer could perform for children. Even though Davis wasn’t a fan of the treacly tune, he couldn’t argue with its success; his “Candy Man” cover garnered him his only number one hit back in 1972.

9. GENE WILDER HATED THE CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY REMAKE.

Wilder did not mince words when he spoke with Robert Osborne in 2013 about the Tim Burton-directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was released in 2005. “I think it’s an insult,” Wilder told Osborne, “to do that with Johnny Depp [who played Willy Wonka in this version], who I think is a good actor, and I like him.” But Wilder’s real rancor was reserved for Burton: “I don’t care for that director, and he’s a talented man, but I don’t care for him doing stuff like he did.”

10. THERE IS A LARGE ANTI-GRANDPA JOE MOVEMENT ON THE INTERNET.

In 2004, ostensibly in response to the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie, a website called Say No to Grandpa Joe appeared. It proceeded to underline every single solitary reason why Charlie Bucket’s initially bedridden Grandpa Joe (played by Jack Albertson in the 1971 film) is the absolute worst. A quick refresher: Grandpa Joe spends 20 years refusing to get out of bed while the Bucket family nearly starves to death (and don’t get me started on how Charlie gives his hard-earned cash to Joe so the guy can buy friggin’ tobacco). Then, the second Charlie comes home with a golden ticket in his hand, Joe springs out of bed, does a dance of joy and declares that he’s the lucky winner, not his pitiful grandson. Cut to 2018, and not only is the Say No to Grandpa Joe site still around, but there’s now a nearly 20,000-person strong Facebook group called “The I Hate Grandpa Joe From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Page.”

11. DIRECTOR MEL STUART’S DAUGHTER PERSUADED HIM TO MAKE WILLY WONKA.

Never ignore the bit players in a film, because they might just be the reason you’re watching it in the first place. Madeline Stuart, whose father, Mel Stuart, directed Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was the mastermind behind getting the movie made. “[Charlie and the Chocolate Factory] was my favorite book at the time, and I told him this would make a great movie,” Madeline told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. Madeline’s “finder’s fee” came in the form of a small role in Wonka: She played “Madeline Durkin” in the schoolroom scene where Charlie’s obnoxious teacher was conducting the percentages lesson. “Madeline” answered that she opened “about a hundred” Wonka bars during the golden ticket contest.

12. THE MOVIE TITLE WAS CHANGED TO WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY BECAUSE OF A MARKETING STRATEGY.

You thought it was because of Wilder’s sardonic portrayal, didn’t you? Nope. The reason was far more prosaic: The film was financed by Quaker Oats, who, naturally, wanted to use Wonka to advertise their forthcoming line of chocolate bars. The simplest way to forge a tie-in was to change the movie’s title from that of the book (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to one that included the name of the product. Since the chocolate bars were named for Willy Wonka—and not Charlie Bucket—the decision was easy.

Welcome to the Party, Pal: A Die Hard Board Game Exists

USAOPOLY/Amazon
USAOPOLY/Amazon

On the heels of the 30th anniversary of the classic Bruce Willis action film Die Hard last year, tabletop board game company The OP has created a game that will see John McClane once again battle his way through Nakatomi Plaza. Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist is a board game officially licensed by Fox Consumer Products that drops players into a setting familiar to anyone who has seen the film: As New York cop McClane tries to reconcile with his estranged wife, he must navigate a team of cutthroat thieves set on overtaking a Los Angeles high-rise.

The game has a one-against-many format, with one player assuming the role of McClane and the other players conspiring as the thieves to eliminate him from the Plaza.

The OP, also known as USAOpoly, has previously created games based on Avengers: Infinity War and the Harry Potter franchise. Die Hard has spawned four sequels, the most recent being 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Willis will likely return as McClane for a sixth installment that will alternate between the present day and his rookie years in the NYPD. That film has no release date set.

The board game is available for purchase on Amazon now for $40.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

12 Good Ol' Facts About The Dukes of Hazzard

Getty Images
Getty Images

When The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on January 26, 1979, it was intended to be a temporary patch in CBS’s primetime schedule until The Incredible Hulk returned. Only nine episodes were ordered, and few executives at the network had any expectation that the series—about two amiable brothers at odds with the corrupt law enforcement of Hazzard County—would become both a ratings powerhouse and a merchandising bonanza. Check out some of these lesser-known facts about the Duke boys, their extended family, and the gravity-defying General Lee.

1. CBS's chairman hated The Dukes of Hazzard.

CBS chairman William Paley never quite bought into the idea of spinning his opinion to match the company line. Having built CBS from a radio station to one of the “Big Three” television networks, he had harvested talent as diverse as Norman Lear and Lucille Ball, a marked contrast to the Southern-fried humor of The Dukes of Hazzard. In his 80s when it became a top 10 series and seeing no reason to censor himself, Paley repeatedly and publicly described the show as “lousy.”

2. The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee got 35,000 fan letters a month.


Getty Images

While John Schneider and Tom Wopat were the ostensible stars of the show, both the actors and the show's producers quickly found out that the main attraction was the 1969 Dodge Charger—dubbed the General Lee—that trafficked brothers Bo and Luke Duke from one caper to another. Of the 60,000 letters the series was receiving every month in 1981, 35,000 wanted more information on or pictures of the car.

3. Dennis Quaid wanted to be The Dukes of Hazzard's Luke Duke—on one condition.

When the show began casting in 1978, producers threw out a wide net searching for the leads. Dennis Quaid was among those interested in the role of Luke Duke—which eventually went to Wopat—but he had a condition: he would only agree to the show if his then-wife, P.J. Soles, was cast at the Dukes’ cousin, Daisy. Soles wasn’t a proper fit for the supporting part, which put Quaid off; Catherine Bach was eventually cast as Daisy.

4. John Schneider pretended to be a redneck for his Dukes of Hazzard audition.

New York native Schneider was only 18 years old when he went in to read for the role of Bo Duke. The problem: producers wanted someone 24 to 30 years old. Schneider lied about his age and passed himself off as a Southern archetype, strutting in wearing a cowboy hat, drinking a beer, and spitting tobacco. He also told them he could do stunt driving. It was a good enough performance to land him the show.

5. The Dukes of Hazzard co-stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat met while taking a poop.

After Schneider was cast, the show needed to locate an actor who could complement Bo. Stage actor Wopat was flown in for a screen test; Schneider happened to be in the bathroom when Wopat walked in after him. The two began talking about music—Schneider had seen a guitar under the stall door—and found they had an easy camaraderie. After flushing, the two did a scene. Wopat was hired immediately.

6. Daisy's Dukes needed a tweak on The Dukes of Hazzard.

Bach’s omnipresent jean shorts were such a hit that any kind of cutoffs quickly became known as “Daisy Dukes,” after her character. But they were so skimpy that the network was concerned censors wouldn’t allow them. A negotiation began, and it was eventually decided that Bach would wear some extremely sheer pantyhose to make sure there were no clothing malfunctions.

7. Nancy Reagan was fan of The Dukes of Hazzard's Daisy.

Shirley Moore, Bach’s former grade school teacher, went on to work in the White House. After Bach sent her a poster, she was surprised to hear back that then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was enamored with it. “I’m the envy of the White House and I’m having your poster framed,” Moore wrote in a letter. “Mrs. Reagan saw the picture and fell in love with it.” Bach sent more posters, which presumably became part of the decor during the Reagan administration.

8. The Dukes of Hazzard's stars had some very bizarre contract demands.

Wopat and Schneider famously walked off the series in 1982 after demanding a cut of the show’s massive merchandising revenue—which was, by one estimate, more than $190 million in 1981 alone. They were replaced with Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, “cousins” of the Duke boys, who were reviled by fans for being scabs. The two leads eventually came back, but it wasn’t the only time Warner Bros. had to deal with irate actors. James Best, who portrayed crooked sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, refused to film five episodes because he had no private dressing room in which to change his clothes; the production just hosed him down when he got dirty. Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” the mechanic, briefly left because he wanted his character to sport a beard and producers preferred he be clean-shaven.

9. A miniature car was used for some stunts in The Dukes of Hazzard.

As established, the General Lee was a primary attraction for viewers of the series. For years, the show wrecked dozens of Chargers by jumping, crashing, and otherwise abusing them, which created some terrific footage. For its seventh and final season in 1985, the show turned to a miniature effects team in an effort to save on production costs: it was cheaper to mangle a Hot Wheels-sized model than the real thing. “It was a source of embarrassment to all of us on the show,” Wopat told E!.

10. The Dukes of Hazzard's famous "hood slide" was an accident.

A staple—and, eventually, cliché—of action films everywhere, the slide over the hood was popularized by Tom Wopat. While it may have been tempting to take credit, Wopat said it was unintentional and that the first time he tried clearing the hood, the car’s antenna wound up injuring him.

11. The Dukes of Hazzard cartoon went international.


YouTube

Warner Bros. capitalized on the show’s phenomenal popularity with an animated series, The Dukes, which was produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired in 1983. Taking advantage of the form, the Duke boys traveled internationally, racing Boss Hogg through Greece or Hong Kong. Perhaps owing to the fact that the live-action series was already considered enough of a cartoon, the animated series only lasted 20 episodes.

12. In 2015, Warner Bros. banned the Confederate flag from The Dukes of Hazzard merchandising.

At the time the series originally aired, little was made of the General Lee sporting a Confederate flag on its hood. In 2015, after then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley spoke out against the depiction of the flag in popular culture, Warner Bros. elected to stop licensing products with the original roof. The company announced that all future Dukes merchandise would drop the design element. Schneider disagreed with the decision, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Is the flag used as such in other applications? Yes, but certainly not on the Dukes ... Labeling anyone who has the flag a ‘racist’ seems unfair to those who are clearly ‘never meanin’ no harm.'”

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