BRIAN VINER reveals how Roald Dahl hated Willy Wonka film adaptation

An invitation to the premiere of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in Chicago 50 years ago this summer, was not, so far as Roald Dahl was concerned, any kind of golden ticket.

Even though he had been paid a hefty $300,000 to write the screenplay, Dahl loathed the film, which was based on his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

He hated the choice of director, Mel Stuart, claiming that he had ‘no talent or flair whatsoever’.

He detested Gene Wilder’s performance in the title role, deeming it ‘pretentious’. He had wanted Spike Milligan to play Willy Wonka, or failing that, either Ron Moody or Peter Sellers, who actually phoned him, ‘begging’ to be given the role.

Roald Dahl was said to hate the film adaptation of his much-loved novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and detested Gene Wilder's performance in the title role. Pictured, Wilder in the 1971 film

Roald Dahl was said to hate the film adaptation of his much-loved novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and detested Gene Wilder's performance in the title role. Pictured, Wilder in the 1971 film

Roald Dahl was said to hate the film adaptation of his much-loved novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and detested Gene Wilder’s performance in the title role.

Pictured, Wilder in the 1971 film

Dahl, pictured in 1988, had been paid a hefty $300,000 to write the screenplay, Dahl loathed the film, which was based on his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Dahl, pictured in 1988, had been paid a hefty $300,000 to write the screenplay, Dahl loathed the film, which was based on his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Dahl, pictured in 1988, had been paid a hefty $300,000 to write the screenplay, Dahl loathed the film, which was based on his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Most of all, he considered it an outrage that an uncredited screenwriter, a young ‘upstart’ called David Seltzer, had been brought in to re-work his own script. 

Ironically, given that Seltzer went on to write one of the scariest horror films of all time, The Omen, Dahl felt that he had made the story too cuddly.

He actually thought of having his own name removed from the credits and then funding a campaign against the film in the US media.

Yet for all that, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains one of the most beloved children’s movies of all time, and on its release was hailed by the influential American critic Roger Ebert as ‘probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz’. 

Even the dyspeptic Dahl, once he’d seen the dramatic effect it had on his book sales, grudgingly conceded that there were ‘many good things in it’.

But on the whole, he still thought it ‘crummy’.

The original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory novel was released in 1964

The original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory novel was released in 1964

The original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory novel was released in 1964

The origins of the beguiling story of Charlie Bucket, the poor orphan who becomes the heir to Wonka’s confectionery fortune, lay in Dahl’s own South Wales childhood. 

Not that he knew poverty; his Norwegian immigrant father was a wealthy shipbroker.

However, he was only three when his father died, and in many of his stories the loss of parents loomed large.

‘Oh, you poor little scrumplet, is you not missing them very badly,’ cries the Big Friendly Giant in Dahl’s 1982 book The BFG, on discovering that little Sophie has no mother or father.

‘Not really,’ replies Sophie, ‘because I never knew them’.

Maybe Dahl felt the same about his father. Either way, it is probably more significant in the context of Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka that their creator, from an early age, hadn’t merely loved sweets in general and chocolate in particular … it was a full-on obsession.

In Llandaff, the Cardiff suburb where Dahl lived in the 1920s, there was a sweetshop run by an ill-tempered woman called Mrs Pratchett.

Young Roald and his friends were as intoxicated by the contents of the shop as they were intimidated by its owner. So, with Roald as ringleader, they conceived a prank, dropping a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers. When Mrs Pratchett realised who’d done it, she had them beaten. 

As Donald Sturrock writes in his 2010 biography of Dahl, it was an episode containing three ingredients that later flavoured much of his fiction: a sweetshop, a horrible old woman, and violent retribution. 

To Dahl, even as he got older, there was nowhere more exciting than a sweetshop.

He once suggested that, to him, it was ‘what a bar is to a drunk, or a church is to a bishop’.

There were some great inventions in the 1930s, the decade in which Frank Whittle patented the jet engine. But for Dahl, soon to become a wartime fighter pilot, easily the most thrilling were the Mars Bar, the Kit-Kat, Aero, Smarties and Popo Florist Maltesers. 

He later wrote, tongue just possibly in cheek, that the dates they were introduced to the world should be taught in schools, ahead of the dates of British Kings and Queens.

His lifelong love affair with chocolate had intensified when he went as a boarder to Repton School, where his housemaster arranged with the marketing department at Cadbury’s that each year, every boy would receive a box containing 12 different bars of Cadbury’s chocolate.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains one of the most beloved children's movies of all time. Pictured, Wilder and Peter Ostrum as Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains one of the most beloved children's movies of all time. Pictured, Wilder and Peter Ostrum as Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains one of the most beloved children’s movies of all time.

Pictured, Wilder and Peter Ostrum as Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film

Dahl was inspired by his lifelong love of sweets and chocolate, and was intrigued by stories of industrial sabotage, of Cadbury's burying spies deep in the Rowntree's empire. Pictured, the set of the 1971 film

Dahl was inspired by his lifelong love of sweets and chocolate, and was intrigued by stories of industrial sabotage, of Cadbury's burying spies deep in the Rowntree's empire. Pictured, the set of the 1971 film

Dahl was inspired by his lifelong love of sweets and chocolate, and was intrigued by stories of industrial sabotage, of Cadbury’s burying spies deep in the Rowntree’s empire.

Pictured, the set of the 1971 film

This tantalising box of treats included a checklist on which boys were invited to give marks and write comments. Even as a child Dahl rated himself as a connoisseur, and fantasised about the magical place where these recipes were invented.  

He was intrigued by stories of industrial sabotage, of Cadbury’s burying spies deep in the Rowntree’s empire, and vice versa.

It was all exhilarating fodder for his remarkably fertile imagination. The spy stories would inspire creepy Arthur Slugworth, whom we are led to believe is one of Wonka’s rival chocolatiers, bent on stealing his secrets. 

And Dahl never forgot the bewitching Cadbury’s factory he pictured as a boy, with its ‘inventing room’ where ‘fully-grown men in white overalls spent all their time playing around with sticky boiling messes … mixing them up to invent something new and fantastic’.

When eventually he came to write his story, it duly became a labour of love.

Yet the creation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was seismically, tragically, interrupted by the death from encephalitis of his seven-year-old daughter Olivia, in 1962. It was a loss that profoundly affected him, his wife, the glamorous American movie star Patricia Neal, and their marriage.

Dahl's creation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tragically interrupted by the death from encephalitis of his seven-year-old daughter Olivia, in 1962. He is pictured outside his home in 1983

Dahl's creation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tragically interrupted by the death from encephalitis of his seven-year-old daughter Olivia, in 1962. He is pictured outside his home in 1983

Dahl’s creation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tragically interrupted by the death from encephalitis of his seven-year-old daughter Olivia, in 1962.

He is pictured outside his home in 1983

Pictured, Roald Dahl with his son Theo Dahl his first wife, actress Patricia Neal, and granddaughter Sophie

Pictured, Roald Dahl with his son Theo Dahl his first wife, actress Patricia Neal, and granddaughter Sophie

Pictured, Roald Dahl with his son Theo Dahl his first wife, actress Patricia Neal, and granddaughter Sophie 

He found solace in writing, shaping the factory-owner Willy Wonka into arguably the most memorable of all his characters, and giving him a personality that, as Sturrock points out, was strikingly like Dahl’s own. 

Wonka was an adult with the sensibilities of a child.

He lacked sentimentality but was capable of great kindness. He was funny, but his sense of humour could be warped and sometimes cruel. And he relished his own company, deep within his own realm. Wonka’s realm was his factory; Dahl’s was the writing hut in his Buckinghamshire garden, inspired by that of his literary hero, Dylan Thomas.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in December 1964.

Dahl dedicated it to his son Theo, who had been left brain-damaged aged only four months, when a taxi hit his pram as his nanny was walking him across a New York street. Dahl’s personal life was blighted by tragedy; in 1965 Neal, not yet 40, was crippled by a series of strokes.

His professional life was a merciful escape, although that had its challenges, too.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only gradually became a bestseller, boosted oddly enough by a whirl of negative publicity after a high-profile American pressure group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, damned it as ‘racist’.

In early editions of the novel, Wonka’s factory workers, the Oompa-Loompas, were depicted as African Pygmies ‘from the very deepest and darkest part of the jungle where no white man had ever been before’, who worked for a wage of cacao beans. 

In early editions of the novel, Wonka's factory workers, the Oompa-Loompas, were depicted as African Pygmies but were changed in later editions to ‘rosy-white' dwarves with ‘golden-brown' hair. In the film they were given green hair and orange skin.

In early editions of the novel, Wonka's factory workers, the Oompa-Loompas, were depicted as African Pygmies but were changed in later editions to ‘rosy-white' dwarves with ‘golden-brown' hair. In the film they were given green hair and orange skin.

In early editions of the novel, Wonka’s factory workers, the Oompa-Loompas, were depicted as African Pygmies but were changed in later editions to ‘rosy-white’ dwarves with ‘golden-brown’ hair.

In the film they were given green hair and orange skin.

Pictured, (Back Row L-R), Michael Bollner, Ursula Reit, Leonard Stone, Gene Wilder, Roy Kinnear, (Front Row L-R), Denise Nickerson, Julie Dawn Cole, Nora Denney, Paris Themmen, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, on the set of the film in 1971

Pictured, (Back Row L-R), Michael Bollner, Ursula Reit, Leonard Stone, Gene Wilder, Roy Kinnear, (Front Row L-R), Denise Nickerson, Julie Dawn Cole, Nora Denney, Paris Themmen, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, on the set of the film in 1971

Pictured, (Back Row L-R), Michael Bollner, Ursula Reit, Leonard Stone, Gene Wilder, Roy Kinnear, (Front Row L-R), Denise Nickerson, Julie Dawn Cole, Nora Denney, Paris Themmen, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, on the set of the film in 1971

That, declared the NAACP, reinforced all the slavery stereotypes they were trying to overcome.

It was even suggested that the use of the word ‘chocolate’ in the title had racist overtones. They insisted that if a film was to be made, it should at least have a different title, so it wasn’t seen as promoting the book.

Dahl was horrified, insisting that the Oompa-Loompas being ‘dark-skinned’ Africans was just a fanciful detail and he had certainly never meant to cause offence.

The criticism hurt but also enraged him. 

He could not understand, he said, why the NAACP had described it as ‘a terrible dastardly anti-negro book’ and he furiously denounced their statements as ‘real Nazi stuff’.

Nevertheless, he agreed that the Oompa-Loompas should no longer be Pygmies.

In reprints of the book they became ‘rosy-white’ dwarves with ‘golden-brown’ hair, which at the time appeased his critics, though in today’s climate it would doubtless ignite further charges of political incorrectness. 

In the film, just to further distance them from the original description, they were given green hair and orange skin.

The NAACP got their way, too, with the film’s title.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory began shooting in August 1970, in Munich, which was not only significantly cheaper than shooting in the US but gave the film the timeless ‘mittel-European’ look that director Mel Stuart wanted. The Munich Gasworks doubled as Wonka’s factory.

Producer David Wolper funded the picture by making a deal with Quaker Oats agreeing they would finance the picture in exchange for rights to brand a chocolate bar as the Wonka Bar

Producer David Wolper funded the picture by making a deal with Quaker Oats agreeing they would finance the picture in exchange for rights to brand a chocolate bar as the Wonka Bar

Producer David Wolper funded the picture by making a deal with Quaker Oats agreeing they would finance the picture in exchange for rights to brand a chocolate bar as the Wonka Bar 

The project had been conceived a year earlier, when Stuart’s 11-year-old daughter begged him to adapt the book for the screen. Stuart then took the idea to producer David Wolper, who in turn approached Quaker Oats for funding, knowing the Chicago-based company was looking for ways to promote a new candy bar made by one of its confectionery subsidiaries.

Wolper told them that if they financed the picture, they could brand it as the Wonka Bar.

As it happened, Quaker Oats never did manufacture a Wonka Bar; deliciously, it’s said that they never got the recipe quite right, and that it melted too easily. 

But they did create the Willy Wonka Candy Company (later bought by Nestle).

And they did unveil the Super Skrunch Bar and the Peanut Butter Oompa just a month before the release of the movie, which they had financed to the tune of $3 million, giving them the right to use the Wonka name on a range of products.

In improbable harness with the NAACP, although for purely commercial reasons, Quaker Oats also wanted the title changed to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The movie was  re-made as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp as Wonka in 2005

The movie was  re-made as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp as Wonka in 2005

The movie was  re-made as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp as Wonka in 2005 

Freddie Highmore played Charlie Bucket in the 2005 adaptation of the classic children's movie

Freddie Highmore played Charlie Bucket in the 2005 adaptation of the classic children's movie

Freddie Highmore played Charlie Bucket in the 2005 adaptation of the classic children’s movie 

Dahl put up with the title change, but his antipathy set in almost from the start.

Stuart had annoyed even Wolper, the producer, by enthusiastically offering Wilder the title role (for which Fred Astaire was also in the running) straight after his audition, making it harder to negotiate on his fee.

But while everyone else involved in the production soon recognised Wilder’s suitability, Dahl never did.

The final straw was Wilder’s own insistence that Wonka should make his entrance with what appeared to be a pronounced limp, to the horror of the townsfolk at the factory gates, before turning a perfect forward somersault.

Fifty years on, that remains one of the most beloved sequences from the original film, which was re-made with Johnny Depp as Wonka in 2005 and is now set to be made again, this time with Timothee Chalamet in the title role. 

It is likely to be released in 2023, fittingly enough exactly a century after young Roald Dahl first discovered the delights and perils of Mrs Pratchett’s sweetshop in Llandaff.

Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has re-released the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 4K Ultra HD.

It is available now.

3 Responses to BRIAN VINER reveals how Roald Dahl hated Willy Wonka film adaptation

  1. Highly descriptive article, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?|

  2. Howdy! This article couldn’t be written any better! Going
    through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will
    send this post to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a good read.
    I appreciate you for sharing!

  3. Incredible story there. What occurred after?

    Good luck! https://parttimejobshiredin30minutes.wildapricot.org/ part time jobs hired in 30 minutes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress | Theme Designed by: axis Bank bca Bank bni Bank bri Bank btn Bank cimbniaga Bank citibank Bank danamon Bank Indonesia Bank mandiri Bank ocbc bank Panin Bank syaria hmandiri dana google gopay indihome kaskus kominfo linkaja.id maybank ovo telkom telkomsel WA