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so they won’t break my knees

August 15, 2012

The disdain I showed for Oompa-Loompas in my last post has in no way modified, but I

thought it would be a gesture of good will to give the lithe little lads some equal time be-

fore one of them ambles down the driveway and breaks my knees because he can’t reach

my ribcage.


The eleven actors who played the O-L’s in the 1971 version with Gene Wilder were not

listed in the credits.  They are (or were) Rudy Borgstaller, George Claydon, Frank Delfino,

Malcolm Dixon, Rusty Goffe, Ismen Hassan, Norman McGlen, Angelo Muscat, Pepe Poupee,

Marcus Powell and Albert Wilkinson.


None of them are household names, although it’s easy to imagine how one could work Pepe

Poupee into a conversation with a toddler.


In the 2005 version, director Tim Burton opted to clone all 165 O-L’s from one person, using

split screen, front projection and digital effects.  The clonee was Deep Roy, a 4′ 4″ (1.3 metres)

Kenya-born English actor of Indian descent.  Roy had already worked for Burton, portraying

two gorillas in Planet of the Apes.


Roy trained in yoga and dance at length for the role, and learned to play some musical instru-

ments.  “Tim told me that the Oompa-Loompas were strictly programmed, like robots,” he said,

“so when it comes time to dance, they’re like a regiment.”  He also contributed to the project by

suggesting that the song “Augustus Gloop” be performed as a Bollywood spectacle.


The chocolate river that the O-L’s worked near was the real deal in the 1971 film — chocolate

cream mix in 150,000 gallons (570,000 litres) of water.  But it looked muddy and turned

rancid, befouling the soundstage.  Burton went with 192,000 gallons of “faux melted candy”

because he liked the way it clung to the oars of Willy Wonka’s Viking boat.  It took nine tries

to find the most delicious-looking colour.


The Burton version also featured 40 co-workers of the O-L’s: live squirrels that were trained

for ten weeks to sit on tiny bar stools, tap open walnuts and put the meat on a conveyor belt.

Although their scene was enhanced by CGI and animatronics, Burton said that “for the close-

ups and the main action, they’re the real thing.”


The two films have made their marks.  The one from 1971 is a cult classic.  It earned only

$4 million U.S. from its original run, but found greener pastures on TV and home video.

The 2005 effort made $475 million world-wide.  It received better reviews than the first

one, mainly because it was much more faithful to the book it was based on.


Its writer Roald Dahl so hated the the first version that he disowned it and refused to let his

book Charlie and the Great Grass Elevator be filmed.  Dahl is credited with the screenplay,

but it was rewritten by David Seltzer when Dahl missed deadlines.  Dahl was also miffed

that his suggestion of British comic legend Spike Milligan to play Wonka was ignored.


Also, tragically, the first version featured the song “The Candy Man Can”, possibly the most

sugary tune ever set to screen.



P.S.  I just learned that Mel Stuart, director of the 1971 film, died last Thursday at age 83.


  1. Gordon permalink
    August 15, 2012 1:14 pm

    Rumor has it that the Drug Enforcement Administration had a hand in preventing the filming of Charlie and the Great Grass Elevator, forcing Dahl to relunctantly change it to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Now can we have more about the Whangdoodles, Hornswoggles, and Snozzwangers?

    • August 16, 2012 7:42 am

      My research staff is on it like white on Romney.

      • Gordon permalink
        August 16, 2012 9:37 am

        No pressure but info could be key in providing a deterrent to any attempts by the little funny-haired-and-dressed-unprovoked-dancing-devils at knee-capping on Canadian soil.

      • August 16, 2012 4:38 pm

        I’d like to think they’d have trouble getting through Customs. I’m fairly sure Canada doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Loompaland. My concern is that, as short as they are, and as busy as the border gets on the weekends, they could possibly slip past a kiosk without detection. As a precaution, I’m wearing some hard plastic kneepads that my stepson Nathan used when he was skateboarding.

  2. August 15, 2012 7:44 pm

    i never saw the second one.. i loved the first one except for the song ‘cady man’.. i liked gene wilder.. i thought charlies relatives were horrible lazy scum bags.

    • August 16, 2012 7:45 am

      I’ve only caught bits of the first one on TV. I thought the newer one was mean-spirited and Johnny Depp’s performance skin-crawling creepy.

  3. August 16, 2012 6:39 pm

    I loved Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I finally sat down and watched it with my kids and seen it thru their eyes. It had never appealed to me before. Some things are better left alone. I just don’t think I would enjoy the second one so much.
    My all time favorite is Mary Poppins…. I cannot imagine a new one from that classic so it was hard for me to imagine the latest one.
    I love Johnny Depp in the Pirate movies, but I never could picture him in character. Maybe I should sit down and watch it sometime.
    Interesting facts on the subject Allen, I love your posts because I never know what I am going to learn when I read them.
    Did you hear that the guy that played Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter died? Soooo sad.

    • August 18, 2012 9:08 am

      Although I didn’t like most of the second one, it did have some eye-catching sequences like the “Augustus Gloop” extravaganza. It was way over the top, something Tim Burton is famous for. Depp said he based his Willy Wonka character on kiddie-TV hosts like Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers, but I don’t remember them ever acting so weirdly. I did hear that Horshak died.

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