10 things you didn’t know about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl’s children’s books have been made into countless musicals, plays and films, but none have captured our imaginations quite like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Young and old alike have devoured the book since its release in 1964, with most libraries stocking well-thumbed editions thanks to regular borrowings.

Surprisingly though, the first film adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was not an immediate success.

Making its theatrical debut in 1971, it earned only $2.1 million on its opening weekend, and Paramount decided not to renew its distribution deal when it expired in 1977.

Later that year, Warner Communications acquired the rights to the film, and thanks to repeated television broadcasts and home video sales, it went on to gather a cult following.

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Here’s 10 more intriguing and fun facts about the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film:

1. The Vet

Peter Ostrum (who played Charlie Bucket) made no further films and turned down other film offers. Instead, he became a veterinarian. The only child star from the movie who continued to work in the film industry was Julie Dawn Cole (who played Veruca Salt).

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2. The Somersault

Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonker, said he would make the film under one condition: he wanted to begin his first scene limping with a cane, before doing a somersault and walking unaided when he meets the children. When asked why, the actor said that viewers would be left guessing as to whether he was telling the truth or not from that point on. His character was certainly unpredictable!

3. The Boat Ride

During the boat ride scene, Wilder’s acting was so convincing that it frightened some of the actors. Their reactions as they travel through the tunnel are entirely genuine.

There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing

Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing?

Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing
Is the grisly reaper mowing?

Yes, the danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing!

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4. The Company

The film was originally financed by the Quaker Oats Company. They wanted to tie the film into their new release Wonka Chocolate Bar, hence the name of the film. The Wonka Candy Company is now owned by Nestle.

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5. The Office Scene

In Wonka’s office at the end of the movie, Charlie’s stunned reaction to the eccentric candy maker yelling at him is real. The actor playing Charlie was not told beforehand that Willy would be yelling at him as the director felt that this would allow for a more realistic reaction.

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6. The Chocolate River

The chocolate river was made from 150,000 gallons of water, real chocolate and cream. The filmmakers had to change the formula for the chocolate river because the original concoction they were using turned blood red. Before the end of filming, the cream had gone off and smelled terrible.

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7. The Author

Roald Dahl was reportedly so angry with the treatment of his book that he refused permission for the book’s sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, to be filmed.

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8. The Factory

The exterior of the chocolate factory was Munich’s gas works. The film was shot in Munich, because it had a “storybook quality” to it and couldn’t be identified as any particular time or place. Throughout the film Willy Wonka speaks French, German, Latin and Italian.

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9. The Advice

The idea for adapting the book into a film came about when director Mel Stuart’s ten-year-old daughter read the book and asked her father to make a film out of it. Stuart paid her $50 for the advice.

Madeline and her brother Peter with their father Mel Stuart

Madeline and her brother Peter with their father Mel Stuart

Madeline starred in a scene in the movie as a girl in Charlie’s class.

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10. The Other

In 2005, another film adaptation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was released, starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. His performance was criticised by the original Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder, but the film was a commercial success.

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Cath Johnsen

If you drop in on Cath at home, you’re likely to find her household in a state of happy chaos. She loves reading, being outdoors and travelling with her husband and three children. When she’s not spending time with family, Cath is indulging her love of writing at Be a Fun Mum… She knew that journalism degree would come in handy one day!

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