50 years of Wonka – How Gene Wilder’s wild idea turned into a classic movie moment


Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Credit: Paramount)

Alec Baris, Digital Engagement Associate

This week marks the 50-year anniversary of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” a classic kids film that was adapted from the novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl.

Gene Wilder, born Jerome Silberman to a Jewish family, shines as the titular, reclusive and whimsical Willy Wonka. Though he passed away in August of 2016, his spirit is captured in this adaptation, as is the case with many of his other roles.

However, one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, and of the Willy Wonka character himself, was straight out of the mind of Wilder.

In a 2013 interview with film historian Robert Osborne, Wilder describes his initial reaction to the Wonka script, recalling that he thought it was “missing something.”


According to Wilder, he demanded to include a scene that became as iconic as the movie itself. In it, Wonka comes out of the factory to greet the guests with a cane in a slow pace, only to fall and perform a somersault, revealing to the crowd that he’s still got that spring in his step.

When asked why he wanted this scene included in the final cut of the film, Wilder explained, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

The rest, one can say, is history. “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” went on to become a classic in the film genre, and Wilder’s popularity only grew. After 50 years, the film continues to be a mainstay in popular culture, and Wilder’s legacy continues to live on, even years after his death.