Gene Wilder is one of the greatest actors and creative minds of the 20th century. He already has been casted in numerous iconic roles, such as Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein and Jim from Blazing Saddles. But by far the role he'll be remembered for generations is his portrayal of eccentric and insane chocolatier Willy Wonka from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. But when Wilder commits to a role, it was almost guaranteed that he would get artistic say. A letter was recently posted on DangerousMinds.net that was sent to the film's director, Mel Stuart, from Gene Wilder about the ensemble he would have to wear to embody the iconic Rohl Dahl character. The open letter says:
I’ve just received the costume sketches. I’ll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.
I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn’t know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they’re lovely sketches.
I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)
I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.
And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.
What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does.
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.
I’m not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I’ve suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.
Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.
The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special.
Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.
To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste.
Hope all is well. Talk to you soon.
All my best,
With Wilder turning 83 years-old this year, and mainly staying out of the public spotlight, finding small gems like this about his acting methods and how he viewed is roles is refreshing and brings back nostalgia for all of his films.
Which Gene Wilder Film is Your Favorite?