Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In his memoir Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search For Love And Art, Gene Wilder wrote about the terms on which he accepted his titular role in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, demonstrating how involved he was in creating the iconic character:

When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself… but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.

When director Mel Stuart asked why, Wilder responded, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

A letter from Wilder to Stuart and published by Letters Of Note shows more involvement from Wilder, this time on his costume. In the letter, Wilder thinks very deeply about his character and understands how important his outfit would be to give a first impression and insight into who Willy Wonka is:

I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric—where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up—except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

Advertisement

Read the full transcript, and see the letter Wilder penned, on Letters Of Note.

The Willy Wonka costume. (Photo: Getty Images/Frederic J. Brown)