Unwrap These 25 Scrumdidilyumptious Secrets About Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

In honor of Timothee Chalamet's debut as the famous chocolatier, we're revealing 25 secrets about 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder.

By Tierney Bricker Dec 15, 2023 12:39 PMTags
Watch: Did Wonka's Timothee Chalamet Ask Johnny Depp for Advice?

Come with us to a world of pure imagination.

Based on the 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory invited movie audiences into paradise, bringing the titular magical place to life, chocolate river and edible wallpaper included.

While the 1971 movie only earned $4 million by the end of its theatrical run, it went on to become a beloved classic, thanks in large part to Gene Wilder's wildly entertaining take on the eccentric Willy Wonka. Even though Wilder earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, he wasn't Dahl's first choice to receive the golden ticket to play the chocolatier, and the author wasn't exactly impressed with his take on the character.

Now, 52 years and a 2005 film starring Johnny Depp later, Timothee Chalamet is putting his twist on Willy, with Wonka, a prequel directed by Paul King, dancing into theaters on Dec. 15.

Kylie Jenner & Timothée Chalamet: Romance Rewind

In the original story, the reclusive Wonka allows five winners of Golden Tickets, found in his chocolate bars, to visit his whimsical factory. However, in the new film, the focus is on Willy's life before the events depicted in the book and previous movies. It also shows how he met the Oompa-Loompas, the little people he later brings to work at his factory. (They are played by Hugh Grant. Naturally.)

In honor of Wonka's premiere, we're hopping in the hard candy boat and rowing down the chocolate river to revisit the OG movie. We know the suspense is terrible, but it won't last as we're unwrapping thesed 25 secrets about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

1. Based on his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, author Roald Dahl is credited for writing the screenplay for 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. However, David Seltzer was brought in to do an uncredited rewrite after Dahl faild to deliver a completed script by the start of production.

2. Seltzer's version contained several changes that Dahl disagreed with, including making Wonka's rival Slugworth a more prominent part, the walnut-shelling squirrels becoming golden-egg-laying geese, the ending dialogue, and most notably, Wonka becoming the focus of the film instead of Charlie..

"He thought it placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie," Liz Attenborough, trustee of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, told the BBC. "For him the book was about Charlie." 

3. The Quaker Oats Company financed the movie for $3 million to promote its new Wonka chocolate bar, which is why the movie's title differs from the book's original name. (The company was purchased by Nestle in 2001.)

4. Actors who were considered for the titular role included Fred Astaire, Joel Grey, Ron Moody and Jon Pertwee, though comedian Spike Milligan was Dahl's first choice.

5. But for director Mel Stuart, Gene Wilder was the only person who could play the eccentric chocolatier.

 “His inflection was perfect," Stuart said in Lucy Mangan's 2016 book, Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. "He had the sardonic, demonic edge that we were looking for."

While producer David Lloyd Wolper thought Wilder was "perfect," he tried to stop Stuart from pursuing the actor so that they could negotiate a deal on his salary. But the filmmaker couldn't help but run out into the hall to tell Wilder that he had the part.

6. Before signing on, Wilder had one very specific request.

"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," Wilder wrote in a letter to Stuart. "After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet...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."

As for why this was so important for Wilder? "From that time on, " he explained in his autobiography, Kiss Me like a Stranger, "no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth.”

7. Wilder also offered input on Wonka's outfits, including the color of his suits, the cut of his jacket and the height of his signature accessory.

"The hat is terrific," he told the costume designer, "but making it two inches shorter would make it more special."

8. The hardest role to cast was Charlie Bucket, the poor boy who finds the last Golden Ticket. Producers found12-year-old Peter Ostrum at the children’s branch of the Cleveland Playhouse, Ohio, just 10 days before filming began in Munich, Germany.

9. However, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would be his only acting role, with Ostrum going on to become a veterinarian. 

"I guess I just didn’t feel that that was the path that I wanted my life to go," Ostrum explained to The Hollywood Reporter. "I had a great time. I love watching theater. I love watching film. I have so much respect for people that can make a living doing that. But you have to remember being a childhood actor, it’s very difficult to transition from a successful childhood acting career to an adult career."

10. Sammy Davis Jr. wanted to play Bill, the candy store owner, but Stuart felt he was too big of a star and would distract movie-goers.

11. Despite not having a role in the film, Davis recorded the song "The Candy Man," which became his only No. 1 hit.

12. While he enjoyed working with most of the child actors, Wilder revealed that the crew had some problems with Paris Themmen, who played Mikey Teavee. 

 "Oh, he was a little brat!" Wilder said in an interview for the 30th anniversary special edition. He went on to address Themmen directly, saying, "Now if you're watching this, you know that I love you now, but you were a troublemaker then."

13. One example of Themmen's misbehavior? He released bees from a beehive on Wonka's gum machine. "As life mirrored one of the morals of the movie," Stuart recalled in his 2002 book, "one of the bees stung him."

14. The famous chocolate river was made up of food coloring, cream and 15,000 gallons of water, which spoiled quickly due to the set's lights and smelled terrible.

"It was not chocolate at all, but just stinking water lying around for more weeks," Michael Bollner (a.k.a. Augustus Gloop) told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021. "And it was dark water. I had to jump in that water, which was just 15 centimeters deep. I was always afraid that I will hit my head on the ground of the river."

15. About one-third of the set was actually edible, though, according to Wilder, the cup he bites was not made of chocolate, but was actually wax and he had to keep spitting pieces of it out after each take.

16. The young actors were not allowed to see the Chocolate Room set until filming their first scene in order to get their genuine reactions.

17. The Oompa Loompas were played by ten actors of short stature, including one woman and nine men who were cast internationally.

"They were characters," Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, recalled in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "And they liked to party and they liked a few drinks after work.

18. Despite only making $4 million at the box office, the movie received a nomination for Best Original Score at the Oscars and Wilder was nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globe Awards. 

19. While audiences loved Wilder's performance, Dahl felt his "casting was wrong,” Donald Sturrock, a friend of the writer and the author of Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, said. "I think he felt Wonka was a very British eccentric. Wilder was rather too soft and didn’t have a sufficient edge. His voice is very light and he’s got that rather cherubic, sweet face."

For Dahl, Sturrock explained, "There was something wrong with [Wonka’s] soul in the movie. It just wasn’t how he imagined the lines being spoken."

21. After Dahl's death in 1990, Warner Bros. was in talks with his family for years to make a new Chocolate Factory movie. Nicholas Cage, John C. Reilly, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Christopher Walken were among the actors rumored to be playing Wonka before it was announced that Johnny Depp was longtime collaborator Tim Burton's pick to don the famous tophat in the 2005 movie.

22. Known for his eccentric transformations for roles, Depp modeled his version of the character off of children's show hosts from the 1970s and based his exaggerated bob cut and sunglasses on Vogue magazine editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. But there was one choice that Burton shot down.

"What I was really excited about was a long nose," Depp revealed to Entertainment Weekly. "I brought it up with Tim and he was like, ‘Hang on, hang on. A prosthetic nose? Come on!'"

23. At a book signing in 2013, Wilder called the remake "an insult," despite it making $475 million worldwide.

"I like Warner Bros for other reasons, but to do that with Johnny Depp, who I think is a good actor and I like him," Wilder said. "But I don't care for that director and he's a talented man, but I don't care for him for doing stuff like he did."

24. When a third Wonka movie was announced in 2016, there was speculation that Ryan Gosling and Donald Glover were on the shortlist to play the famous chocolatier.

25. However, Timothee Chalamet was picked by director Paul King to don Wonka's infamous top hat in the prequel, reportedly besting Tom Holland for the golden ticket.

"It was a straight offer because he's great and he was the only person in my mind who could do it," King told Rolling Stone of Chalamet. "But because he's Timothée Chalamet and his life is so absurd, his high school musical performances are on YouTube and have hundreds of thousands of views."

The performances in question? Videos of the then-teenage King star belting out songs from Sweet Charity during a performance at his Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. 

"So I knew from stanning for Timmy Chalamet that he could sing and dance really well," King shared. "And I knew that was in his arsenal, but I didn't know how good he was. When I spoke to him he was quite keen."

At Cinema-Con, the Dune star said that playing Wonka was a "a dream come true." And though past versions of the character were "cynical," Chalamet said, he revealed his interpretation is "a Willy that’s full of joy and hope and desire to become the greatest chocolatier."

Wonka is now playing in theaters.