“Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted,” grins Willy Wonka–the famous Chocolatier at the close of 1971’s classic musical, “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory“; “He lived Happily Ever After”. One of Moviedom’s most memorable closing lines may seem an odd way to begin a story, but in this case, its strangely appropriate. Perhaps a bit of background is in order…
For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the committee for “Chocolate-The Event” a sumptuous celebration of all things chocolate in Anaheim Ca. hosted by the local “Muzeo“ to benefit its ’ENIRO” program which brings arts education to children. Early on it was decided that we wanted to have a “Grand Closing Night Gala“. Likewise, with chocolate as our central theme, it was only natural that we should like to incorporate that fore-mentioned character into the festivities in some way (this was a charity event after all, and part of the legacy of this enchanting little bit of celluloid is the way it gently reminds us that in the end, ’kindness counts’.)
Board members were required to meet regularly–often via phone. One night, directly after one such conference, I happened to be watching the SYFY Channel’s “Hollywood Treasure”–a program where experts find old show-biz props and memorabilia for auction. This particular episode featured genuine “Everlasting Gobstoppers”, those multi-hued, geometrically-shaped ’candies” which play an important part in testing young Charlie Bucket’s integrity at a pivotal moment in the plot. Chosen to verify the authenticity of these was none other than the movies’ award-winning Director, Mel Stuart. During the segment I learned two things: Mr. Stuart lived locally, and quite understandably, his knowledge of everything involving the production is absolute! In our next meeting the question was obvious: wouldn’t it be great if we could invite the man himself to participate in some way? Enter then, the good folks at Ultrastar Cinemas’ Ultraluxe Theaters (http://www.ultrastarmovies.com)
Situated across from Disneyland in the city‘s ‘Garden Walk’, Event Chairman and “Lance Magazine” Publisher, Lance Perkins had already approached the theater regarding our closing celebration, now only the details needed to be ironed out. Luckily this time, sitting in was Reuben Skipper, who assists with Public Relations there and has experience working with both “The Teen Choice“ and “Do Something“ Awards. Upon hearing my suggestion, Skipper took initiative, explaining, “I contacted Mel and explained to him what we were doing and how it benefits children’s charities and he was on board.” One sticking point remained though–neither “Chocolate-The Event” nor “Ultraluxe Cinemas” had been able to get Warner Brothers (the studio holding the rights) to agree to let us exhibit that original release. Of course, no one counted on its actual director coming to our aid, but at Perkin’s behest, that’s exactly what happened! As Skipper further relates, “within two hours we had received word that Warner Brothers had agreed, clearing the way for us to finally show “Willy Wonka”.”
Thus, on Sunday, July 31–the evening following “Chocolate-The Event”, a glorious and glamorous “After Party” was indeed held with many of the festivals’ volunteers and celebrity VIPs in attendance. Making their way down the red carpet, special guests included Alison Arngrim–“Little House On The Prairie’s” own “Veruca Salt-of-the-Earth“, “Nellie Olson”, and Master Chef Emmanuel Delcour from BRAVO TV’s Chef Academy. Once inside, attendees mingled with none other than ol’ Willy himself while being dazzled by Dancers from “Battle Of The Dance” (www.battleofthedance.com) whose M.C. Jack Rein adroitly performed the same role here this evening. Lance too, was on hand to present trophies to the winning participants in his Chef Challenge the day before–culminating with “Top Chocolate Honors” for Stuart, who in turn presented him with a ’Golden Ticket’ of his own.
At 82 Mel is a dapper gentleman and true to the perception, no one is a bigger fan of his delightful motion picture than he. Right off, the film-maker recalled how it was his then-eleven year old daughter Madeline who first approached him with the idea of translating Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s book onto the big screen. At first resistant, the girl persisted until dad ultimately relented. Little surprise then that if you pay close attention, you can catch Miss Stuart as Charlie’s classmate ‘Madeline Durkin’ when she is called on during the teacher’s lesson on percentages using “Wonka Bars”. (Yep, THIS is the lass who started it all!) Son Peter (now a successful Director in his own right) was similarly cast as ‘Winklemann”–the dark-haired kid who bursts in proclaiming excitedly, “Willy Wonka’s opening his factory! He’s gonna let people in!”
In order to better create an atmosphere devoid of absolute time and place, Munich was chosen as the location where the project was shot. Furthermore, to help achieve this effect, great efforts were taken to keep cars and other identifying elements to a minimum. Still another surprise the Director reveals is how, “I didn’t make it for children; I made it for the fathers and mothers to love, and if their children do too, that’s even better.” This way they were able to incorporate all those terrific Shakespearean quotes and snippets of poetry into the dialogue–even the words to Wonka’s ditty, “In Spring Time” (sung while the group is exploring the “Inventing Room“) are taken from “As You Like It.” Interestingly too, he divulges that each quote is used for a specific reason, citing the eccentric confectioner’s response to Violet Beauregard’s infamous “Blueberry” transformation when he questions, “where is fancy bred–in the heart or in the head?” (from the Bards’ “Merchant Of Venice”) “The quote is a commentary on parenting,” confesses Stuart; “Meaning, do you parent from the heart–which may risk your indulging your kids more, or more logically?”
When it came to adding songs into the mix, here also the man of the hour was characteristically frank. “I wanted it to be seeped in reality” he states. ”I didn’t want it to be a musical at all.” However, once he heard Leslie Bricusse’s inspiring “Pure Imagination”, he admits to being thoroughly won over. “One battle I did win though, regards the ‘I‘ve Got A Golden Ticket‘ song,” Stuart smiles. The initial intent was to stage the number as a huge street scene complete with dancing chorus such as had been done with other recent releases of the day like “Oliver“ and “Mary Poppins“; he on the other hand, rightly felt the song should be more intimate, describing, “just between Grampa Joe and his grandson.”
Before the projector started rolling, everyone was treated to one last surprise. Nine year old Johnisa Breault, stepped up to the stage to serenade the guest of honor with a delightful a capella rendition of “Cheer Up Charlie”–one of the numerous ’buried treasures” this score contains. Then it was lights down and ‘on with the show!’ “The highlight for me personally was being honored with that ticket from Mel,” notes Festival Chairman and the evening’s organizer, Perkins. “Now more than ever I’ll be looking forward to even more magic at our next events!” For more information on these, he advises logging onto: http://www.ChocolateTheEvent.com and http://www.LanceMag.com. All-in-all, given such a ‘scrump-dilly-umptious’ ‘blow-out“, the Candy-Man‘s closing sentiment expressed in that final reel could worthily describe what a fitting close this entire evening brought to “Chocolate-The Event” (pity there wasn’t a great glass elevator though.)
Credit & Thanks For The Photos Courtesy Of Bob Delgado, Rubina Iqbal, Wally Schlotter, Lance Perkins & Jeffrey Huggins; Special Thanks To Sandy Moul, Reuben Skipper, Johnisa Brealt, Jack Rein, Emmanuel Delcour, Alison Arngrim, And Especially To Mr. Mel Stuart And The Staff Of Ultraluxe Theaters in Anaheim, CA. As Well As An Extra Special “Thank You” To All The Volunteers & Commitee Members Of “Chocolate-The Event” For Making This Story Possible.