Willy Wonka star reveals Gene Wilder’s “favourite brat”
A child star who had the opportunity to work alongside the infamous Gene Wilder has spoken out on the experience, 50 years since its first premier date.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hit movie screens 50 years ago on June 30, 1971 and achieved rapid success almost overnight.
The film went on to become a phenomenon that was registered in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
The child actors Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Michael Bollner, Paris Themmen and Denise Nickerson – who played Charlie Bucket, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Mike Teavee and Violet Beauregarde – all came together for a virtual reunion in honour of the film’s anniversary.
The actors all had the opportunity to co-star together, and even got to explore the imagined Wonka Chocolate Factory.
The cast recounted such fond memories of exploring the film sets in Bavarian Germany and working with Gene Wilder.
Themmen admitted that he was indeed a “notorious troublemaker on the set.”
So much so that even Wilder called him “a handful”.
“I can corroborate that,” the actor, who played the television-obsessed rascal Mike Teavee, admitted.
“I was younger than the others. I was 11, they were 13 and was naturally just sort of more high-spirited and rambunctious.”
The now-62-year-old opened up about one brief moment he shared with Wilder, in 1976 during a fundraiser screening for the film Silver Streak at the Avon Theatre in Stamford, Connecticut.
“I sat at the back of the room and he gave his commentary and then I went up to the front of the room afterwards with my poster in hand,” Themmen relived with a smile.
“I said, ‘Hi, Gene, how you doing? I’m Paris Themmen, I was Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka.”
“And he said, ‘Oh you were a brat!’ And I flashed all the way back 50 years, or 40 years at that time, and said, ‘Well, I’m 50-something now and maybe not as much of a brat.’
And he signed my poster, ‘To my favourite brat.’”
Wilder died in 2016 at the age of 83 after a long vibrant career.
Cole, who played Veruca Salt, said: “I think people kind of want us to tell you that he was like Willy Wonka offset, but he wasn’t.
“He was such a lovely, kind man, very unassuming,” she said.
“He was just down to earth, not pretentious, he was just a wonderful person to be around and to work with,” said Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket.