Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Watch Gene Wilder Behind the Scenes as the Original Willy Wonka

An on-set look at “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was brought to life in 1971. Chocolate rivers, candy-laden trees and edible tea cups; the film made a child’s imagination explode with excitement. Willy Wonka, the eccentric and beguiling man in charge of the factory and candy laboratory epitomized the magical world in which the audience was immersed. 

Gene Wilder, the actor who played Wonka, sadly died this week in his Connecticut home, aged 83. Wilder was synonymous for his expert renditions of manic behavior on stage and on screen. The mysterious, and at times unnerving, Willy Wonka contains tell-tale Wilder traits. It was a memorable performance.

This video provides a behind-the-scenes look at the 1971 film set. We see Wilder in discussion with Roald Dahl, the man who wrote the original children’s book. The video takes us through some classic scenes; a candy toadstool perched on the bank of a chocolate river and Oompa Loompas turn a wheel. Harper Goff, seen throughout, designed the enchanting set. 

We’re treated to more gems from the film as Charlie and Grandpa Joe float around bubbles, giant chocolate bars are wielded around by the small orange workforce, and other zany contraptions appear, with the voice of Wilder loud in the background. 

Among his many accomplishments, Wilder will perhaps be most fondly remembered for singing “Pure Imagination,” the bewitching song that felt like a ubiquitous presence during the film. It’s an apt way to finish the video, too, as Wonka takes a bite from a tea cup. 

Every day we track down a Video Wonder: an audiovisual offering that delights, inspires, and entertains. Have you encountered a video we should feature? Email ella@atlasobscura.com.

Update, 9/1: An earlier version of this story stated, incorrectly, that Roald Dahl’s book was called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We regret the error.