Mel Stuart’s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” truly is a wonderful movie. Directed in 1971, it achieved something not a lot movies can nowadays: transcend time.
The star of the film of course was our beloved candyman, portrayed by none other than the late Gene Wilder. But, as it turns out, Wilder wasn’t always sold on the role.
As reported by Letters of Note, Wilder agreed to play the role under one condition: (the article continues after the ad)
“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. 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 ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”
Yes, Gene Wilder agreed to play Willy Wonka only if he could limp out of the factory and then somersault when he meets the children.
When asked by Stuart why he wanted to do this, he simply replied: “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
Here’s the memorable scene:
Wilder provided some input on his costume as well. After he saw some of the first sketches, he wrote a letter with suggestions:
“I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another, a vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.”
I think we can all agree that no one could have ever capture the character quite like Wilder and we’re so thankful for doing so.