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No one has more vivid, Technicolor memories of Gene Wilder’s mad genius than Peter Ostrum, who was chosen at age 12 from a pool of thousands of young hopefuls to play Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s dark children’s story.
The movie may now be heralded as a fantasy classic, but it wasn’t always so. Initial reviews for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory were “lukewarm at best,” Ostrum recalls. “We were obviously trying to do our best, but we had no idea that that film would still resonate. From my point of view, I only made one film — and to be associated with Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson [who played Grandpa Joe], I guess I did win the golden ticket.”
Through TV airings and home video, the film earned its rightful place as a cinematic classic. The story has since spawned a 2005 Tim Burton adaptation starring Johnny Depp and a hit London musical directed by Sam Mendes, which is headed to Broadway next spring. Neither, however, can boast having that Gene Wilder magic.
“He was an icon for our generation,” Ostrum says. “And a very humble man.”
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