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The working title of this film was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the title of Roald Dahl's best-selling children's novel. Although studio publicity stated that the title "was changed to put emphasis on the eccentric central character of Willy Wonka," a September 1, 1970 Los Angeles Examiner article claimed that the change occurred due to "pressure from black groups" because "'Charlie' is a black label used for white men" and the film's "association with chocolate touched off the protests." In his 2002 book on the making of the film, director Mel Stuart confirmed the article's assertion and noted that, due to concerns raised by African-American actors, he also suggested changing the appearance of the Oompa-Loompas from the African pygmies that they had been in the original illustrations in Dahl's book to the film's distinctive green-and-orange coloring.
In the film's opening cast credits, Peter Ostrum is listed last with the credit "and introducing Peter Ostrum as Charlie." After the disappearance of each child in the film, the Oompa-Loompas sing a song disparaging the child's character flaw, such as being greedy or watching too much television. In the film, when it is announced that the fifth ticket has been found by a millionaire in Paraguay, a picture of Nazi Martin Bormann (who was rumored to have fled to South America) is shown. The character of "Willy Wonka" frequently quotes or paraphrases William Shakespeare and other writers, such as his comment on Charlie's honesty: "So shines a good deed in a weary world," which is from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
The film is generally faithful to Dahl's book, with several notable exceptions, such as the elimination of the character of Charlie's father and allowing the children to bring only one guardian to the factory instead of two, which cut down on the number of actors required. Although "Oscar Slugworth," Everlasting Gobstobbers and Fizzy Lifting Drinks are briefly mentioned in the book, the filmmakers decided to expand upon them for the picture in order to have a villain and more of a test of Charlie's character, according to modern interviews. In the book, "Veruca Salt" is pushed down to the furnace by walnut-cracking squirrels rather than falling to her fate after encountering giant geese that lay golden eggs. When Daily Variety announced in July 1969 that producer David L. Wolper had purchased the rights to Dahl's book for $500,000, it was reported that Dahl would receive a portion of the film's profits in addition to writing the screenplay.
On August 13, 1969, Variety announced that Wolper had struck a deal with Quaker Oats Company for the food manufacturer to finance two feature films and several television programs, with the first project to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The article noted that the projects were to be family-oriented and would be widely advertised by Quaker. In addition, because Wolper would obtain complete production monies from the start, he would be "in a good position for a preferred distribution deal." Wolper commented that his company would also retain the music and subsidiary rights to the joint projects, while Quaker would control the merchandising rights. In modern interviews, Wolper and Stuart have stated that the reason Quaker wanted to enter the motion picture business was to promote a new candy bar, and the pair, who were already considering filming Dahl's book, suggested it as the perfect vehicle. After the announcement of the deal, there was much speculation in contemporary sources that it would lead to new sources of corporate financing for Hollywood films.
A 2001 DVD documentary made to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the film's release featured extensive interviews with contributing writer David Seltzer, who was frequently on the set during production and contributed a great deal to the script. The picture marked the fiction feature film debut of Seltzer, who previously had worked only on documentaries for Wolper. Stuart has reported that Bob Kaufman also wrote gags for the film, mostly dealing with the comic interludes surrounding the search for the Golden Tickets.
According to modern sources, Joel Grey was the leading contender for the role of Wonka before it was offered to Gene Wilder, and Jim Backus was considered for "Sam Beauregarde." Jean Stapleton was offered the part of "Mrs. Teevee," but turned it down to appear in the pilot for the television series All in the Family. According to modern interviews with Stuart, the man with a centipede crawling on his face, briefly seen in the tunnel sequence, is producer-director Walon Green. Stuart's children, Peter and Madeline, appear in the film as schoolmates of "Charlie Bucket." Bobby Roe, who served as Peter Ostrum's stand-in and played "Peter Goff," was the son of assistant director Jack Roe.
According to modern sources, Wolper approached first Richard Rodgers, then Henry Mancini to write the film's songs, but both demurred. Wolper then hired the songwriting team of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, who had scored several successful theatrical musicals and written a number of hit songs. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory marked their first collaboration for motion pictures, although previously they had worked in the film industry separately. Modern sources also note that Newley wanted to play the part of "Bill," the candy store owner who sings "Candy Man," but Stuart, afraid that his strong personality would overshadow the production, dissuaded him. Another modern source states that Sammy Davis, Jr., who had a big hit with his recording of the number, also was interested in playing the part. The song eventually became a popular part of both Davis' and Newley's nightclub acts.
The exact titles of the songs vary in contemporary and modern sources, with "Candy Man" sometimes referred to as "The Candy Man" or "Willy Wonka, the Candy Man," while the Oompa-Loompa song, "Doma Loompa Doompa Dee Do," is more commonly called "Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-Dee-Do," or some variation thereof. According to modern sources, the voice of Diana Sowle was dubbed by Diana Lee. Stuart related in his book that when the film is shown in television, he often instructs that her song, "Cheer Up Charlie," be cut in order to fit time constraints.
According to contemporary sources, the majority of the film was shot on location in Munich and at Bavaria Studios in Geiselgasteig, Germany. Modern sources report that the exterior of the defunct Munich Gas Works, redecorated by production designer Harper Goff, was used for the exterior of Wonka's factory, and the town of Nordlingen was used for the overhead shots when Wonka, Charlie and "Grandpa Joe" fly in the glass elevator. In an April 1971 interview published in Los Angeles Times, Stuart stated that they shot in Germany in order to find "fairy-tale interiors with fairy-tale exteriors...[with] marvelous enchanted forests and fantastic Old World city streets." In modern sources, Stuart emphasized that he did not want the location of Charlie's home and Wonka's factory to be easily identifiable. In the DVD documentary, several members of the cast commented that their reactions upon entering the Chocolate Room for the first time were real, as they had not been allowed to see the set until then. Although the Chocolate Room was a full, "practical" set with no false walls, the chocolate river was made from water, chocolate powder and various chemicals.
The filming of the picture in Germany caused much controversy at the time, with members of the cameraman's branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) accusing Wolper and Quaker of contributing to the then serious problem of "runaway" productions, as reported in August and September 1970 and September 1971 trade papers. Wolper noted in a September 1970 Daily Variety article that he picked Bavaria as the location site for the film because "We needed storybook locations because it's a fantasy." In a September 7, 1971 Daily Variety article, Wolper denied the charge that he was going to produce another film in Germany for Quaker, as had been alleged, and maintained that the union was wrong in its assertion that the picture's interiors could have been shot at a Hollywood studio because "less than 65% of the picture was filmed indoors...it was vital that [the] interiors be shot near the actual locations or we would not have been able to make the picture at all." Union leaders threatened to picket the film and Quaker Oats, according to the articles, but it has not been determined what action, if any, was taken.
Some parts of the film were shot at the Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, according to contemporary news items, after the conclusion of principal photography in Germany. In his book, Stuart noted that the Los Angeles filming mostly consisted of the comic interludes. The film's final budget had been set by Quaker as $2.9 million, and the worldwide distribution rights were acquired by Paramount before production began. In an April 1971 Los Angeles Times article, it was reported that "the normal distribution fees (generally anywhere from 30 to 40% of a picture's gross) will be notably less than had Paramount itself financed the film." Modern sources add that Paramount retained distribution rights to the picture for seven years, and that later in the 1970s, Wolper engineered the sale of the film to Warner Bros., at which he was then a corporate director.
Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Rudy Borgstaller, George Claydon, Malcolm Dixon, Ismed Hassan, Norman McGlen, Angelo Muscat, Pepe Poupee and Albert Wilkinson (Oompa-Loompas); Pat Coombs (Henrietta Salt); Frank Delfino (Auctioneer); Stephen Dunne (Stanley Kael); Shin Hamano (Japanese candy store owner); Gloria Manon (Mrs. Cruthers); Ed Peck (FBI agent); and Clete Roberts (First newscaster). The following crew members are also added by modern sources: (London casting dir) Boaty Baker; (Sound Editing) Roger Sword; and (Craft service) Marci Sperling. Stuart noted in his book that the elaborate calligraphy for Wonka's contract with the children was written by Nancy Wynands, the wife of construction manager Hendrik G. Wynands.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory received an Oscar Nomination for Best Music Score, and Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor-Musical/Comedy. An April 1971 Variety news item, commenting on the picture's recent sneak previews, noted that the filmmakers were contemplating making a sequel, but it was never produced. According to modern sources, the sequel plans were quashed by Dahl, who was chagrined by Seltzer's changes to his screenplay for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The picture marked the screen debut and only film of Peter Ostrum, who had previously appeared only in amateur theater. The filmmakers have commented in modern sources that they interviewed hundreds of boys before hiring Ostrum, who was finalized for the part only a few days before principal photography began. The other child actors had more experience, particularly on television, and continued to act for a varying number of years after the release of the film, although by adulthood, only Julie Dawn Cole and Paris Themmen were still pursuing the profession.
Although the film was only moderately successful at the time of its release, with the songs in particular being criticized by contemporary reviewers, it has become highly popular over the years due to television broadcasts and releases on video, laser disc and DVD. In 1996, the picture had a limited theatrical re-release to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. The phrase "Golden Ticket" has become part of popular vernacular, and Golden Tickets used in the film have become highly prized by movie memorabilia collectors. Two musical groups, Veruca Salt and Vermiscious K., took their names from the character Veruca Salt and the "rotten Vermiscious Knids" who menaced the Oompa-Loompas in Loompaland.
Modern sources note that the Wonka candy bar created by Quaker, which was the company's main reason for investing in the film, was never successfully manufactured. Quaker's projected additional collaborations with Wolper were also never realized. In the late 1990s, Nestl licensed the Wonka name from Dahl's widow Felicity and began producing a successful line of Wonka candies. In 2003, an exhibition of memorabilia from and about the film was exhibited at the David L. Wolper Center at the University of Southern California.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Dahl's sequel to the book, was published in 1972, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was adapted as a children's play by schoolteacher Richard R. George and published with an introduction by Dahl in 1976. In 2005, Warner Bros. released another motion picture based on Dahl's book, with Felicity Dahl serving as one of the executive producers. Entitled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp as Wonka and Freddy Highmore as Charlie.