There are few actors who seem to care as much as Gene Wilder did. The iconic actor was an absolute treasure and the effort he put into his roles was clearly evident.
Watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was always a pretty big moment for people when they were kids. You honestly don’t know fear until you watch the creepy boat tunnel scene and experience a type of terror that makes no sense. But even though Willy Wonka kind of frightened us, we still loved his goofy nature and his outlandish attitude.
Wilder had many hit movies, but it’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that people keep coming back to. It’s probably because he cared so much about the production of that movie that it comes across as his most iconic role.
When the film went into production, he had a lot of requests for what he thought was best for the character. In order to accept the role, he had a specific demand.
“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.”
The reason why he wanted to do this was because he wanted to give a sense of uneasiness to the viewers, because “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
But this wasn’t the only demand he had. When he saw what they had in mind for the costume he knew he had to speak up…
His costume meant a lot to him, and while a lot of actors may not think much about what they wear for a role, Wilder knew that it’s how people would remember him forever. This role was going to be a defining moment for him and he knew it, so he wrote a letter to the director of the film with his desired look.
The letter was released and it shows just how much thought he put into the iconic character.
I’ve just received the costume sketches. I’ll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.
I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn’t know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they’re lovely sketches.
I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)
I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.
And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.
What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does. 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’m not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I’ve suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.
Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.
The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special. Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.
To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste.
Hope all is well. Talk to you soon.
All my best,
Many of his suggestions were incorporated into the look. His pants changed, and while they didn’t add the blue ribbon to the hat, it was the height he wanted.
It’s because of Wilder’s devotion to the character that we love this movie so much, and it continues to be a classic today. Although that boat scene still freaks me out…