50 Years Ago, A Group Of Child Actors Helped To Make Movie History "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was released in theaters on June 30, 1971. To celebrate the film's 50th anniversary, NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with some of the actors who were in the film.

50 Years Ago, A Group Of Child Actors Helped To Make Movie History

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When you starred in one of the most popular family films of all time 50 years ago, you've had a long time to reminisce.

PARIS THEMMEN: I'll start it and you can finish it, OK, Julie?


THEMMEN: OK, there you go. So...

MARTIN: So much so that you can finish each other's stories.

THEMMEN: And he was like, do not show the children. Do not show the children. But, Julie...

COLE: I had been out there a little earlier and...

MARTIN: In this case, we're talking about the cast of the 1971 film "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" based on a novel by Roald Dahl. This year is also the 50th anniversary of NPR, and we're using it as an excuse to remember the films, albums and events that happened the same year.

PETER OSTRUM: My name is Peter Ostrum, and I played Charlie Bucket.

COLE: I'm Julie Dawn Cole, and I played Veruca Salt.

THEMMEN: Hi, I'm Paris Themmen. I played Mike Teevee.

MARTIN: Today, Paris Themmen runs a movie memorabilia website from LA. Peter Ostrum is now a veterinarian in Lowville, N.Y. And Julie Dawn Cole is a psychotherapist in London. I asked Julie if, when they were kids, they felt the magic that came across on the screen.

COLE: The sets were so wonderful, and it wasn't computer generated as it would be now. No CGI. And, you know, the chocolate room and the river and the inventing room - I really liked the inventing room. There was so much going on there. It was such fun - the goose room, you know, stuff all over the place. So, yeah, it did have a magic. It's hard for us to say because, you know, we grew up with it.


COLE: So we don't know the difference. But yeah, it does - it's not lost on us. And of course, we get it vicariously when we meet people.

MARTIN: Yeah. I do have to play a clip for you, Julie, because your character - I mean, we just have to say it. She's a brat. I mean, I think they actually say that word in the film. So let's listen to a little bit of Veruca.


COLE: (As Veruca Salt) They're not even trying. They don't want to find it. They're jealous of me.

ROY KINNEAR: (As Mr. Salt) Sweetheart, I can't push them no harder. Nineteen thousand bars an hour they're shelling; 760,000 they've done so far.

COLE: (As Veruca Salt) You promised, Daddy. You promised...

MARTIN: So this is Veruca berating her father for not working hard enough to find a golden ticket.

COLE: And the next line - you promised, Daddy, you promised I'd have it the very first day (laughter).

MARTIN: You still got it, lady. You still got it.

OSTRUM: Yeah, she does.


MARTIN: So did you have to - was it an artistic stretch to be able to work through those temper tantrums, or did they come quite naturally to you as a child?

COLE: Well, I think we've all got inner demons, haven't we? So, yeah, I was channeling my darker side that isn't allowed out very often.

THEMMEN: The impression one had of Julie...

MARTIN: Paris, please.

THEMMEN: ...When she was not stamping her feet and screaming as a child on film was that she was lovely. She was very nice. She was quiet. She was well-behaved. I would almost say demure, actually. So she was not, you know, the sort of wise mouthing child actor. I held that distinction myself.

COLE: Thank you. The check is in the post.


THEMMEN: Lovely.

MARTIN: I have - you know, people want to know, was it real candy on the set? Was it good?

OSTRUM: For the most part, everything that we ate was real...

MARTIN: I love that you're like, it was real...

OSTRUM: It was real, yeah.

MARTIN: ...Was it good? That's a different question.

OSTRUM: Yeah. But the - here we are in Germany, wonderful chocolate. And because it was an American film company, they had flown Peter Paul Mounds bars and Almond Joy over for us (laughter) to eat. So there was a little bit of a disconnect. So everything was real except the wallpaper tasted like wallpaper. So...

MARTIN: When you're licking the wallpaper, it wasn't flavored.

OSTRUM: No, no, no (laughter).

MARTIN: Oh, that's unfortunate. That's a tough scene to watch, frankly, as an adult. What was Gene Wilder like?

OSTRUM: Gene was wonderful, very patient, polite and just - and very professional. You know, Gene's career just skyrocketed after "Willy Wonka." So it was fun to be with Gene, to work with Gene prior to his most famous roles. Although looking back, that's what people remember. If you say Gene Wilder, they say "Willy Wonka." So it was wonderful working with him. I know Julie and Paris - I think we all have that same conclusion.

COLE: Totally agree.


COLE: And how lovely and kind he was and patient. I mean, for goodness sake, this man has got, you know, five kids bouncing around being noisy and obnoxious all over the place. And, yeah, he was very patient. He never - there was never any, you know, kind of leave Mr. Wilder alone or be quiet or...

OSTRUM: None of that, no.

COLE: Never, never, never.

MARTIN: Yeah. I want to play a clip. This is a clip of the scene on the boat. And Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder, is singing. Let's just listen to this.


GENE WILDER: (As Willy Wonka, singing) 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?

MARTIN: It's so creepy.

OSTRUM: The thing that made it exciting to work with Gene, you didn't know exactly what he was going to do, you know? And he wasn't going to tell you what he was going to do before he did it. That's part of the genius of Gene Wilder.

THEMMEN: And mind you, that clip happens after they've already rocked us around, shown us flashing lights, put images of things crawling and, you know, chickens' heads getting cut off and so forth. So that's just sort of to warm us up and get us in the right mood for Gene, you know, and then they hit you with that.

MARTIN: So, I mean, you all went different ways after this film. And, Julie, you went on to have the longest acting career. Peter, I understand at one point you turned down a three-movie deal. Is that right?

OSTRUM: Well, I guess I did have the option of a three-picture deal, but I had no idea. They had no idea of what those pictures were going to be. And I just didn't - maybe because I'm obsessive compulsive a little bit, I didn't like giving up that freedom of signing on the dotted line not knowing what I was going to be asked to do. And I - you know, I liked working on the film, but I wasn't completely sold that I was to be an actor the rest of my life. But this is - I mean, it's still fun to be contributing to a film that people 50 years later are watching. I mean, who would have known? Who would have thought that that would have taken place? So my point is, if you can only make one film, this was the film to make.


WILDER: (As Willy Wonka, singing) Come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination. Take a look...

MARTIN: The film, again, "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" from 1971. We spoke with Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket, Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, and Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teevee.

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