Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Willy Wonka' Star Julie Dawn Cole Reveals How Gene Wilder Acted Toward Her Off Camera


Some movies are a hit immediately, and others take time to find their fans. The 1971 version of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” fell into the latter category.

Now, there aren’t many people who haven’t seen the film, but it was certainly not very popular when it first came out. Many current adults grew up with the movie and will drop phrases and allusions to the film, and even meme culture adopted “Condescending Wonka.”

Veruca Salt was a grating character, a spoiled brat who demanded things go her way. The actress who played her is a far cry from that annoying girl, and she has some fond memories of her time filming the now-cult-classic.

In an interview with Fox News, Julie Dawn Cole revealed that she’d gone through the three months of filming with just a tutor as a chaperone — her single mother was working and couldn’t leave her job. When asked how she managed, she laughed.

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“Well, I’m now a therapist so that explains a lot,” she said. “It wouldn’t happen now, would it? My mom had a job and my sister was in school so it wasn’t an option for her to give up her job. She was a single mom and that’s how it was.”

“I was going to have a tutor, someone who was going to be with me 24/7. I met her at the airport for the first time. And I guess she was my chaperone. I was away from home for three months with a total stranger.”

While she got along with most of the other kids on set and even developed a crush on one of the boys, 12-year-old Cole was impressed with Wilder’s behavior and the way he carried himself.

“I wrote a letter to my mom back home describing my initial impression of Gene Wilder, which is nice because I would have otherwise forgotten. But in my letter to my mom, I said, ‘Today I met Mr. Wilder. And he’s not as tall as you would imagine or I to be. He’s got reddish hair down to his shoulders.’”

“Gene came in rather dapper in his purple velvet coat with those wonderful twinkling blue eyes. Not as I imagined!”

Cole was surprised by how normal Wilder was, remarking that she was shocked at how down-to-earth and kind he was.

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“He was not a diva. He was not an ego. He was kind, he was considerate, he was fun to be around and he was patient.”

“You’ve got a group of kids bouncing all over the place high on chocolate and sugar. And yet he was so tolerant and very generous with his screen time.”

“Some stars just want all the limelight for themselves. They want all the laughs. They want all the moments. Gene was never that person. And I think that’s evident in his work. Not just in ‘Willy Wonka,’ but everywhere else. He recognized the strength of being an ensemble.”

Cole also revealed that she actually disliked chocolate when she was a child, and said that eating the chocolate in one scene was “very unpleasant.” She did enjoy the other sweets, however (what child wouldn’t!) and remembers that time of her life with fondness.

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