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The Bittersweet Details Behind Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is one of the most beloved tales of our time, a story adored by children and adults alike. But everyone’s favorite chocolate factory is actually hiding some pretty dark secrets. Both the 1964 Roald Dahl novel and the popular films based on his book aren’t as happy or whimsical as they appeared to be. These bittersweet details behind Charlie And The Chocolate Factory are strange enough to leave even Mr. Wonka himself in awe!

1. The NAACP had objections to the book

Oompa Loompas are iconic characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its first film adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But did you know their famous orange skin and green hair only came about because of protests by the NAACP? Yes, the anti-discrimination organization objected to the Oompa Loompas being based on African Pygmies in Roald Dahl’s 1964 book. When it came to making the movie, producers were pushed to change their skin color from black to orange to stop charges of racism being leveled.

2. Roald Dahl’s tragedies

English author Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over four years, and they were the toughest of his entire life. First, in 1960, his young son Theo was struck by a taxi whilst in a baby carriage. He developed a fluid buildup on his brain and needed several operations and major care. But worse was to come, as during Theo’s recovery Dahl’s daughter Olivia contracted measles, which became serious and led to her death. Dahl was devastated, and “lost his mind” according to his wife, actress Patricia Neal. During those difficult years, he poured himself into writing the famous children’s book.

3. The original movie flopped

When we think of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, almost all of us immediately think “classic” or “masterpiece.” Although this rings true today, the film was actually shunned by audiences when it came out in 1971, making a paltry $4 million at the box office. Yes, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory was essentially a box office flop, and it didn’t gain any popular traction until it started featuring semi-regularly on TV schedules.

4. Gene wasn’t Wild-er about the 2005 film

In 2005, a remake of the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory hit cinemas around the globe. This big-budget re-creation of the Roald Dahl story took the original title of the book. It was directed by Tim Burton, and starred Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. But the film had some detractors, none less than the original Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder. The now-deceased comedian and actor reportedly refused to watch it, lamenting the CGI used to create the sets and voicing his dislike of Burton as a filmmaker. Ouch!

5. The original story was about a boy turning into chocolate

Like many books in the early stages, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory originally told a much different story. A first draft of Dahl’s book was provisionally titled Charlie’s Chocolate Boy and the premise centered around Charlie entering a room that had car-sized chocolate eggs and normal sized chocolate people and animals. Charlie then becomes encased in chocolate when trying on a mold for chocolate people, before being given to an oblivious Willy Wonka’s son for Easter as a gift. The chief protagonist then stops a robbery and is rewarded by Wonka with a nine-story chocolate shop. Erm, what?

6. Gregory Peck almost played Grandpa Joe

David Kelly was wonderful as Grandpa Joe in the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But did you know that the role almost went to Hollywood legend Gregory Peck? Yes, the screen icon from the Golden Age of Hollywood was among those considered for the part. Other potential Grandpa Joes were Paul Newman, Peter O'Toole, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Peck in particular was amped for the role! Sadly, though, Peck passed away in June 2003 before filming began, and what could’ve been a special link-up never happened.

7. The original movie is one big advertisement

It's rare for an entire film to be one big advertisement (at least, in the 1970s), but that is essentially the case with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You see, while Mel Stuart was forming plans to make a movie out of Dahl’s book, Quaker Oats was looking to launch a line of chocolate. The company realized the potential of a major commercial tie-in with their new Wonka chocolate bars, so they plowed money into the production. They even got the name changed from the book title, ensuring Willy Wonka’s name was front and center like their cocoa treats.

8. Many characters ended up being cut from the book

Books go through countless edits before they're published, and unsurprisingly, there were several key alterations made by Dahl while he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There were originally going to be more than the five kids who got golden tickets, perhaps as many as 15. But Dahl realized this was too many, and settled on five. One of the characters cut was Miranda Mary Piker, who Dahl later described as “the filthiest, rudest, and most disobedient creature you could imagine.” There were also characters called Clarence Clump, Wilbur Rice, Bertie Upside, Tommy Troutbeck, and Terence Roper.

9. Certain chapters were also cut from the book

Dahl didn’t just cut characters from his final draft of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also tossed several chapters in the process of writing the book. These discarded chapters have been revealed online in recent years. One such chapter saw Willy Wonka lead the children into a Vanilla Fudge Room that was “a colossal jagged mountain as high as a five-storey building, and the whole thing was made of pale-brown, creamy, vanilla fudge.” Another had the kids taking a tour of the Warming-Candy Room, which featured a fancy machine making candy that warms when you eat it. For any Wonka fanatics out there, the lost chapters are usually available to read online!

10. Some of the actors disliked chocolate

It goes without saying that there was a lot of chocolate on the set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But whilst that might sound like heaven for some, it wasn’t for Julie Dawn Cole, the actress who portrayed Veruca Salt. Perhaps unusually, Cole disliked chocolate as a kid. Even so, she had to pretend that she enjoyed it for the film, particularly in the scene where Salt is eating chocolate goop from a giant candy ball.

11. Violet ended up with 13 cavities

All the chocolate and candy on the set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory must have been tempting for many of the sweet-toothed cast members. But ultimately, it would lead to some serious problems for others. For instance, Denise Nickerson – who portrayed Violet Beauregarde in the film – later revealed that her dentist discovered 13 cavities in her teeth post-filming, which she attributed to her chewing copious amounts of sugary gum. Oh dear!

12. Dahl was inspired by real chocolate spies

One of the most interesting aspects of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory story centers around the chocolate spies. They attempt to steal Willy Wonka’s secret chocolate recipes for rival chocolatiers. What’s most surprising is that this was inspired by real life. Yes, Dahl had read about how chocolate companies in the 1920s attempted to spy on any rivals. This included Cadbury and Rowntree in Dahl’s native Britain, and the tales about their rivalry and espionage were passed down the grapevine.

13. Book Wonka vs. film Wonka

There has been some lively debate from fans of Dahl’s children’s classic as to which of the two movies hews closest to the source material. Interestingly, there seems to be an almost 50/50 split on this, with some fans arguing Wilder portrayed Willy Wonka more accurately than Johnny Depp’s madcap version, whilst others claim the Burton-directed movie achieved a closer approximation of Dahl’s vision, particularly in terms of the factory and how it was described. Hmm, let’s call it a tie!

14. Augustus transformed into a gluttonous Gloop

Remember the kid who played the greediest golden ticket winner of them all, Augustus Gloop? Well, his name is Philip Wiegratz. Wiegratz won the casting director’s heart despite not being a native English speaker and it being his first English-language movie. Wigratz did not match the gluttony of the character he portrayed, so had to don a fat-suit. The talented actor also elected to perform his own stunts in the film. Gut gemacht, Philip!

15. The truth about the chocolate room

Ah, the Chocolate Room. An entire space where everything in it is crafted from something edible and sweet sounds like a dream come true, right? Not quite! Child actor Paris Themmen, who portrayed Mike Teevee in the 1971 film, disappointingly revealed that most of the room, and indeed the set, was not actually edible. The majority of the candy bars were fashioned out of wood, the giant gummy bears were plastic but with partially edible ears, Willy Wonka’s “candy” teacup was wax and the snozzberry wallpaper the children lick tasted like… paper.

16. The writer of The Omen did rewrites for the original

Although Dahl maintains the credit as the sole screenwriter of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in reality producers sneakily hired someone to do some considerable rewriting. That person was David Seltzer, who penned the script for the famous horror movie The Omen amongst others. Seltzer threw in literary nods to William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, and altered several plot points. Dahl was reportedly furious at this betrayal and ended up disowning the film.  

17. Veruca Salt cut her knee while filming

Poor Veruca Salt. Well, not literally, as she was an annoying and spoiled little girl with a wealthy upper-class father who catered to her every whim. The “high maintenance|” Salt ends up failing Willy Wonka’s morality test and, ironically, tumbling down a garbage chute. But poor Julie Dawn Cole, the actress who played the intolerable Veruca, was also punished, though unintentionally: she ended up cutting her knee on an authentic rock in the Chocolate Room when trying to smash a giant candy piece on top of it. Eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted the blood on her tights when Salt kneels down in that scene. Ouch!

18. Dahl originally wrote Charlie as a Black character

Roald Dahl was unquestionably ahead of his time with his writing. But what you might not know is that he was also ahead of his time in another sense: he wanted to write Charlie Bucket as a young Black protagonist. But his biographer Donald Sturrock revealed that Dahl's agent made him change it by claiming it would be unpopular with readers. Perhaps uncharacteristically, Dahl relented, and made Charlie a Caucasian boy instead. It's worth noting that Dahl was no saint, however, and had originally filled the book with racial stereotypes.

19. Actors playing the Oompa Loompas were pranksters

For the 1971 film, ten people were selected to play the notorious Oompa Loompas. The loyal Willy Wonka factory-working characters were comprised of nine men and one woman, and they were circus performers from either England or Turkey. On a Reddit AMA, Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teavee, revealed the Loompas had pranksters and boozers amongst their number. Themmen wrote, “In those days, when you wanted to have your shoes shined, you'd leave them outside of your hotel room door. One night, the Oompa Loompas grabbed all the shoes, tied the laces together, and left them in a pile to be found in the morning.” Charming!

20. Why the beginning of the film looked so drab

Viewers of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will surely have noticed something striking at the beginning of the movie. That something being how muted all the colors are: everything you see early doors appears to be dusty, gray and icy, even slightly depressing. Word is that Burton very deliberately chose to open the film like this, in order to provide a spectacular contrast later on when Charlie Bucket and the other kids and families arrive at the factory, which is vivid, exciting and colorful.

21. Dahl’s characters were inspired by his dislike of greed

A central part of the plot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is how the badly-behaved children get their comeuppance in some form or another, from Veruca Salt to Augustus Gloop. In real life, Dahl was known to have very little patience for ignorant or spoiled children. Perhaps this stemmed from the difficulties both his son and late daughter endured. Weirdly, he also really disliked televisions, but that’s another matter.

22. Grandpa George was partially blind

Remember Grandpa George from the first film? He's the guy wearing the coke-bottle glasses in this scene. Well, he was portrayed by an elderly man named Ernst Ziegler, who was a World War I veteran. Ziegler was partially blind, most likely due to poison gas exposure during the conflict. Due to his poor eyesight, the filmmakers had to find a way to get his attention, and ensure he looked in the right direction of the camera. So, they decided to use a bright red light, waving it in the direction they wanted Ziegler to turn his head and look.

23. Veruca was chased by real squirrels

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from 2005 boasted some impressive CGI and effects throughout. But one thing that wasn’t completely computer generated was the squirrels. Ask the actress who played Veruca Salt the second time around, Julia Winter. Apparently, Winter was overrun by around 40 of these tree-dwelling rodents that were trained for months in order to carry out the off-putting scene. Poor Miss Winter!

24. Dahl tossed his first version of the book because his nephew disliked it

Like any dad, Roald Dahl would tell bedtime stories to his young children Tessa and Olivia, often making them up himself. One of those tales he made up concerned a boy who lived close by a chocolate factory, who fell into a giant vat of chocolate, and was trapped inside a chocolate figurine. But Dahl’s nephew read it and told him that it was “rubbish” – a very English insult – and Dahl decided to ditch this idea, which was basically the very first draft of his now famous story.

25. The chocolate river was far from delicious

To viewers of the original movie – particularly kids – the liquid cocoa river that ran through the Chocolate Room probably looked delicious. It was actually made out of chocolate powder mixed with 150,000 gallons of water and some real cream, which gave it a more chocolatey texture. Problem was, after a few days of filming (and with the hot lights above it), the cream started to curdle. This in turn made the chocolate river smell really bad. Not so keen to swim and drink from it now, are you?

26. Dahl passed away before finishing the 3rd book in the series

Perhaps you are aware that Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had a sequel. It was called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, if you didn’t, and hit all good bookshops in 1972. But you likely don’t know that there was going to be a third book in the series entitled Charlie in the White House. Sadly, this would never be finished because of the not-insignificant matter of Dahl’s death in 1990. RIP.

27. There are hidden messages in the Great Glass Elevator

Eagle eyed viewers of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may have noticed something about the buttons on the Great Glass Elevator within Willy Wonka’s factory. They have little messages scrawled on them. These range from "Yankee Doodles", "Blackberry Sausages", "Root Beer Goggles", and "Black Box of Frogs". What on earth they mean is anyone’s guess. Must be a nightmare trying to get to the right floor.

28. The director tried to get authentic reactions from the kids

Mel Stuart directed the 1971 film, and the filmmaker employed some interesting tactics to get what he wanted from his actors. For instance, Stuart was a fan of hiding areas of the set from his largely young cast. That way, their reactions to the chocolate factory set would be as authentic as possible! This included the famous Chocolate Room, so the awe on their faces is genuine. On the more sinister side, the child actors were creeped out by the darkness of the boat tunnel and one of the creepy songs Willy Wonka sings. Gene Wilder also withheld his anger between takes for much the same reason.

29. "There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going"

The boat scene was one of the creepiest moments in the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and deliberately so. An interesting aside is that the person behind the Oompa Loompa steering the boat in the scene really thought that he was controlling it. Alas, the boat was actually on a track, but Stuart lied about this or withheld the information so that the actor really put his full concentration and effort into steering it on course. The ruse certainly worked, and made the Loompa’s steering look legit in the movie.

30. The characters represent the seven deadly sins

Over the years, people have speculated that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a lesson on the seven deadly sins. All of the children fall by one sin or another: Augustus Gloop falls to gluttony (and into the chocolate river), record gum chewer Violet Beauregard is defeated by her pride, Veruca Salt is a greedy little so-and-so, and Mike Teevee is the TV-obsessed sloth of the group. Then there’s the envy of Grandpa Joe and the wrath of the angry Willy Wonka to factor in. But what about Charlie Bucket? Well, he represents lust, as he desperately lusted after getting a golden ticket. Fascinating!