It’s impossible to think of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and not think of its adorable young cast — particularly Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket in the film and had all of his dreams come true. What’s amazing, considering how beloved that film is all of these years later, is the fact that the movie was a major box office disappointment when it was released in 1971, and that as much as fans from all around the world instantly know Charlie, the spoiled Veruca Salt, gum-chewing and blueberry-turning Violet Beauregarde, the TV-obsessed Mike Teevee, and the “let me in, I’m starving” Augustus Gloop, none of the actors who brought them to life actually spent that much time pursuing acting as a career.
Obviously the late Gene Wilder, who brought the eccentric Willy Wonka to life when he was 38 years old, became something of a comic legend thanks to his work with Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) and by teaming up with Richard Pryor. But it’s interesting to see what sort of directions life took his young co-stars after they all got their golden tickers and left Wonka’s factory. What is gratifying to see is that they all seem to love the film as much as we do (and tend to dislike the 2005 remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the same degree), and frequently come together for reunions, much to the delight of fans everywhere. So join us as we take a look back at what exactly happened to young members of the Willy Wonka cast.
Willy Wonka Charlie
Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket
He is truly the heart and soul of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, serving as the audience's eyes and ears into the fantasy adventure and a lot of credit for that has to go to Peter Ostrum, who was all of 12-years-old when he was signed for the film. What's so interesting is that although Peter (who was born in November of 1957) enjoyed making Willy Wonka, it didn't ignite a lifelong passion for acting. In fact, he chose to become a veterinarian. “I was offered a three-picture deal with the studio, but I decided not to pursue acting,” Peter explained to Express.co.uk. “Looking back, my paycheck was paltry, but it was during filming that I really became interested in medicine. So I bought my first horse with my earnings and that started my current career path as a vet.”
In an interview with the American Veterinary Medical Association, hosted at web.archive.org, he added that he started working at the stable where the horse was kept, and he was fascinated with the veterinarian that worked with it: "I can remember the veterinarian coming out and taking care of the horses, and it made a huge impression on me. This person really enjoyed what he did for a living. My father was a lawyer, and I really didn't have a clue what he did all day. But I knew exactly what the veterinarian did. Someone making a living from something he enjoyed so much really sparked my interest. Acting was fine, but I wanted something more steady, and the key is to find something that you love doing, and that's what my profession has given to me."
He does participate in various Willy Wonka reunions with his co-stars. He also has nothing but fond memories of actors Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson who, respectively, played Willy and Grandpa Joe. As he related to inquisitr.com, “To have made one film and to be associated with Jack and Gene, I feel like I really found the golden ticket.”
Willy Wonka Violet (1)
Denise Nickerson as Violet Beauregarde
"You're turning violet, Violet!" That warning from the character's father is all you need to hear to know exactly who he's talking to in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: the gum-chewing brat who defies instructions and ultimately turns into a blueberry. For Denise, born April 1, 1957, the opportunity to make the film certainly came at an interesting time.
At the time, she was co-starring in the daytime horror soap opera Dark Shadows during the day, while also doing a Broadway show in the evening. “I was getting up at five in the morning, going to the studio and doing Dark Shadows, I’d get off at four, go home and eat dinner and then go to the theater,” she told mediamikes.com. “It was an unusual childhood.”
For Wonka she was thrilled to go on the interview, because it was an opportunity to act with other kids, which is something she rarely got to do. “So when I got the script, I was, like, ‘Oh my God, there’s going to be kids and chocolate. How cool can that be?’”
What wasn't cool was the sequence where she did turn into a blueberry and had to wear the costume. The scene, in which she inflates and is rolled around by the Oompa Loompas, took eight hours to film on one day, and the next she came in to find a large styrofoam ball for her body to be placed in the middle, making her feel like an Oreo cookie. “After five hours of flapping my arms, I was pissed off!” she noted. "If you look at my face in the film, I am not acting. And those Oompa Loompas did not have their blueberry drivers license, so every time they’d try to push me out the door, they’d lose control and I’d slam into the door frame.”
Overall, though she did have a good time, remembering one sequence in particular. “When we entered the chocolate room for the first time, it was completely unscripted,” she reflected to celebrityparentsmag.com. “What you saw were our real reactions. And that’s exactly what director Mel Stuart wanted. We were looking at this enormous room with a boat and a chocolate waterfall Standing there at the top of the stairs was just incredible. Even though you are right there with us, emotionally, as a viewer, you’ll never be able to see what I saw. It was an amazing moment.”
Denise worked a bit more throughout the 1970s, co-starring on the children’s show The Electric Company from 1972-73, appearing in a couple of episodes of The Brady Bunch, and playing a regular on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. A few TV movies followed, but at the age of 21, she decided she’d had enough and walked away without looking back — Willy Wonka reunions notwithstanding.
Willy Wonka Mike Teevee
Paris Themmen as Mike Teevee
His character was absolutely obsessed with television, which led to his undoing when he decided to travel the airwaves over Wonkavision. Prior to the film, Paris — born June 25, 1959, in Los Angeles — appeared on Broadway with Ann Miller in Mame and in a 1970 production of The Rotchschilds. Following the movie, he largely dropped out of the public spotlight, but as he related to mediamikes.com, it's not like he was sitting around letting life pass him by.
"I’ve traveled all over the world," he said. "I backpacked through 60 different countries on six continents. Particularly in some very exotic locations like Borneo, the Sahara Desert, the Amazon, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal. Just try to imagine the cool adventurous things you’d want to do in your life…I’ve done many of them." He swam with sharks and piranhas(!), engaged in skydiving, became a real estate broker and even got involved in film production. "I worked in casting for a while. I was what they call a Walt Disney Imagineer, during when they were building Euro Disney. I’ve started two or three businesses. So I haven’t been just sitting in my room contemplating my navel. I’ve been out doing things."
Most recently, Paris, who is a more than willing participant in Willy Wonka reunions, was a contestant on Jeopardy, the news of which surprised a great many people. He came in second place, but, hey, show some respect: this man won a Golden Ticket!
Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt
She wanted the world and she got.... a trip down the bad egg chute, but Julie won our hearts anyway as Veruca in Willy Wonka. The British actress was born Oct. 26, 1967, and after that film, she enjoyed some success as an actress on British television throughout the 1970s and '80s. In 1998, she was certified as a fitness instructor, and in 2005 served as one of the ITV series Fat Families. She also developed a children's acting drama school called Centrestage.
Sharing her views of Veruca, she told cultfilmfreaks.com, “Veruca Salt, was spoilt! That is it really, just spoiled rotten... Her parents never said no, so she got used to getting her own way. Perhaps not so much of a rotten child, as rotten parenting! I guess she was my alter ego, the things I might like to get away with, but knew my mum would never let me do!” In that same interview, she admitted that no one had any idea that the film would endure the way it has over the years: “It didn't do well at the box office and it was only later when it came to be shown on TV that it began to grow... My life didn't change at all, I went back to school and because the film didn't last long at the cinemas, it was quickly forgotten. I just carried on working.”
Like the others, she is a frequent participant in reunions around the world.
Willy Wonka Augustus Gloop
Michael Bollner as Augustus Gloop
He was born Sept. 14, 1958 in Munich, Germany, and the bottom line is that of all the Wonka kids, he's the one who didn't really act before the film, and definitely hasn't done much since. Still, he stays very much involved with his co-stars when it comes time for reunions. He explained to the bbc.com that the most memorable scene to film was outside the chocolate factory as the Golden Ticket winners were getting ready to go in. "It took a few days to make the scene and during it, I was being interviewed by a German newspaper about life on set," he explained. "The other kids were complaining about having to take lessons during filming. I luckily didn't have to do any lessons and Gene Wilder thought it was funny that it was the German kid who was the one with no schoolwork."