On This Day: ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ Starring Gene Wilder Hits Theaters in 1971

by Emily Morgan
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On this day, exactly 50 years ago, the classic children’s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory hit theaters. As a result, children around the world were mesmerized by the idea of the coveted gold ticket living in “a world of pure imagination.”

Before Mel Stuart transformed it into a film, the story was adapted from Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Later on, the film starred late icon Gene Wilder as the mystifying chocolatier. 

As the story goes, a poor child named Charlie Bucket and several other children are the lucky recipients of the golden tickets. Thus they are granted a tour of Wonka’s restricted factory. After helping themselves to the sweets, they soon learn that the sweet escape is marred with an unsettling reality. 

When Paramount Pictures released the film, it received positive reviews from critics and fans alike. In 1972, the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. Wilder was also nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

Gene Wilder’s One Condition

Before production booked Wilder, producers had also considered other icons of the era, such as Fred Astaire, Joel Grey, and Jon Pertwee.

After Wilder was cast as Wonka, he accepted under one condition. “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. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet.”

He continued: “As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself. 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 round, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”

In honor of its 50th anniversary, the former child stars recently got together to share their thoughts on the film,

Former Child Stars Reminisce on the Wonders of ‘Willy Wonka’

During an interview, the cast revealed that the producers didn’t let the children see the set in advance. As a result, when viewers see the entrance shot, they’re seeing their sincere reactions to the candy-filled, sugar-coated world. 

“We saw it from the stairs, looking down. And the boat was going. And the river was flowing and it was very colorful and beautiful,” Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teavee, said. “It was basically like if someone built a Disneyland ride just for you, and you’re the only kids that are gonna get to go in there and play around on it… It’s just a beautiful, fabulous experience.”

After its debut, Wonka has become a legacy in its own right. Thanks to TV airings, remakes, and reimaginings, the film remains a part of pop culture today. The 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gave fans a unique take on the classic hit. Additionally, Warner Bros. recently announced Timothée Chalamet would star in an upcoming musical prequel, Wonka.

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