Gene Wilder said he would play Willy Wonka on one, brilliant condition

Louis Dor
Tuesday 30 August 2016 12:00
Picture: Paramount Pictures

Beloved actor Gene Wilder passed away aged 83 in Stamford, Connecticut, on Monday, his family have confirmed.

He is perhaps best remembered for his role as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, alongside other classics such as Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein.

As Letters of Note reported, Wilder told Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory's director, Mel Stuart, that he would accept the role on one condition.

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.

When asked why he should make this entrance, Wilder said:

Because from that time on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth.

He also had a few demands for the costume, another letter revealed, which revealed how much Wilder invested in his characters.

The points he wanted amended were details that he felt were too specifically eccentric, he wanted a Wonka that was:

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.

These points included:

  • Once elegant now almost baggy trousers, instead of Robert Helpmann trousers. "Baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character".

  • Ditching a precise pin pointing in place and time.

  • Sand colored trousers instead of slime green, for taste that wasn't 'icky'.

  • Makling the hat two inches shorter.

  • Including "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."

What a professional.

You can read the full exchange on Letters of Note.

More: People are saying this scene in Willy Wonka is Gene Wilder's greatest

More: The great Willy Wonka quote that sums up the allure of Gene Wilder