On Monday, the world was saddened by the death of actor Gene Wilder. Known for his roles in “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Silver Streak,” it was his role as Willy Wonka in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” that defined his career. While Wilder went on to act in a number of films after “Willy Wonka,” the film’s other star, Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket, dropped out of the spotlight.
Coming off the success of the film, Ostrum was offered a three-movie deal but turned it down. Ostrum never went on to make another film again, instead opting to focus on school and eventually graduating from Cornell University. During an episode of “Oprah: Where Are They Now,” Ostrum revealed that he was now working as a large-animal veterinarian and also spoke about why he gave up acting
In his early years, Ostrum lived in Cleveland and used to partake in the children’s theater. Casting directors for the film held a call in Cleveland, and Ostrum says he was “in the right place at the right time.” But after filming, the former actor, realized show business wasn’t for him.
“After the film, I always denied my involvement with Willy Wonka,” Ostrum said. “I didn’t really want to have anything to do with it… [Show business] really wasn’t for me.”
During a 2014 interview with Express, Ostrum revealed that during filming, he quickly realized that “acting was a lot of work.” But while Ostrum wasn’t fond of acting, he still holds great memories of working with the cast of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” including Wilder.
“I had a genuine grandfather-grandson type relationship with Jack Albertson, who played Grandpa Joe,” said Ostrum. “I also had a good relationship with Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka. I think that came through on the camera.”
In a 2011 interview, Ostrum recalled seeing Wilder as Wonka for the first time during the famous factory entrance scene. According to Ostrum, while many of the cast had already seen some of the set, seeing Wilder perform the entrance scene was a different experience. “Truth be told, I probably saw [the Chocolate Factory] in my travels throughout the studio, but Gene’s entrance, that was new. That was brand new.”
While the entrance was memorable its first time, Ostrum said eventually it became routine after multiple takes had to be recorded. “But after you see it — ‘Ok, cut, take one,’ — you’ll do multiple takes. So after your 12th, 13th, 14th take, ‘Ok, gotta get up for this.’”
Unfortunately, during his 2014 interview, Ostrum revealed he hadn’t seen Wilder. “I haven’t seen Gene in years, but I’ve remained close with the other kids and we have enjoyed so many reunions over the years. We all share a special bond and today it’s as if they are family.”
Ostrum has yet to comment on the passing of Wilder, but other cast members, including Julie Dawn Cole who played Veruca Salt, have spoken out. “Such very sad news. Words not enough. Treasured memories,” she tweeted. Cole has spoke about those “treasured memories” before. In a 2011 interview with CNN, Cole reflected on her time spent working with Wilder.
“Gene was brilliant. Looking back on it now as an adult, it must’ve been a pain in the backside to have five kids clamoring all over him all the time and vying for his attention, but he was very patient,” she said.
Cole revealed that during the filming of the movie, Wilder didn’t have a trailer and would hang around with the children and entertain them. The former actress also revealed a special gift that Wilder gave her on her birthday.
“For my 13th birthday, he arranged for a color photographer to come on-set and take stills all day which he gave to me for my birthday present,” said Cole. “In those days most of the stills would’ve been black and white, so that was my lasting present from him.”
Denise Nickerson, who portrayed Violet, also took to Twitter and offered memories of Wilder. “You were so talented and kindhearted. You will be sorely missed by so many,” she wrote.