Willy Wonka actors recall film as ‘a world of wonders’

By From page B10 | September 22, 2012


Julie Dawn Cole, left, pictured with Roy Kinnear and Gene Wilder in the 1971 film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." Cole and Paris Themmen, who played Mike Tee Vee in the film, will be speaking at the Candy Festival at Jelly Belly.

FAIRFIELD — The moment when the golden ticket winners walk into Willy Wonka’s chocolate room is one of the most iconic scenes in movie history.

The children — wide-eyed and not all so innocent — wander around the candy wonderland in amazement as Gene Wilder sings “Pure Imagination.”

This scene was magical, not only because of the clever and colorful set design (edible teacups, anyone?) or charming music, but because of the reactions of the children — and adults — on the set.

As it turns out, those reactions were real and raw.

Paris Themmen, the actor who played the television-obsessed kid Mike Tee Vee in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” said when that scene was shot it was, in fact, the first time any of them had seen the chocolate room.

“It was a world of wonders,” Themmen said.

More than 40 years after its release, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” remains a classic both for children and adults.

Themmen and Julie Cole, the actress who played Veruca Salt, will share their memories from the film as this year’s Candy Festival king and queen at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. It runs Saturday and Sunday.

Both actors were 12 when they started filming. Back then, neither knew the impact the film would have.

They came from acting backgrounds: Themmen from commercials and Cole from acting school. Cole didn’t take much interest with the Willy Wonka casting until she read Roald Dahl’s book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“I so wanted to be in it to see the chocolate room,” she said. “I can vividly remember reading it, on the train (going) home from school the night before my first re-call audition.”

Cole and Themmen worked with famous actors such as Wilder, Jack Albertson and Roy Kinnear, as well as young children like them, such as Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket.

Themmen distinctly remembers his experience with director Mel Stuart, a man he described as a “thunderbolt.”

“He yelled a lot,” Themmen said, laughing. “He was not a bastard of a guy . . . . He just yelled a lot.”

Stuart, who died in August, left his mark with “Willy Wonka.”

“Mel, who sadly passed away very recently, was a little scary but I think the end result was worth it,” Cole said.

Wilder, by contrast, was soft-spoken and a “gentle spirit,” Themmen said.

Both Themmen and Cole said they thoroughly enjoyed working with their cast and crew. They were less fond of their individual characters, though.

Cole’s character Veruca Salt is a rich, privileged girl who gets everything she wants from her father.

The character is, as Cole said, “absolutely horrid, and indeed a Vermicious Knid! But really it was the fault of her parents. I think there is a little Veruca inside everyone if we allow it.”

The cast filmed the entire movie in Munich in about nine weeks. After its release, Cole and Themmen moved on to other projects and eventually other careers.

Looking back, neither knew the impact the film would have many years later.

“Every scene I was in was memorable,” Themmen said of his experience. “Every day was memorable.”

Cole said the film is appealing to people for very different reasons. For her, it was the message of the film.

“I guess we all want to believe that good things happen to good people,” she said.

The 2012 Candy Festival opens at 11 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday at the Jelly Belly Factory, One Jelly Belly Lane.

Reach Heather Ah San at 427-6977 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HeatherMalia.

Heather Ah San

Heather Ah San

Heather Ah San covers Rio Vista, features and general news for the Daily Republic. She received her bachelors of art degree from the University of Oregon.

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