Where are the Willy Wonka Children?
Watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory again recently on tv led me to wonder what had happened to the five children who starred in the film. Along with many children who’ve appeared in movies, they’ve mostly gone into careers other than acting, and have left their moment of fame behind them.
Here’s a brief summary of what has happened to them.
Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie and was around 14 when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was made, never appeared in another movie, although he was offered a three-film contract. He now works as a veterinarian in the rural areas of New York State. He is married to Loretta (nee Lepkowski) and they have two children, Helenka and Leif.
His most public experience these days is to visit schools in his community to talk about his experiences, what it’s like to be a veterinarian, and how your life changes with the decisions you make.
He’s been quoted as saying, “Do I regret turning down the movie offer? I don”t think so. I love the job I’m doing right now. Granted it is about as far away from Hollywood as you can get, but I have a feeling of self-satisfaction with it. I don’t believe that I made the right choice or the wrong choice. I made a choice that fit what I wanted, and it shaped how life unfolded for me. Would life been better if I took the movie offer? Maybe, but I’ll never know, and it’s something I’ll never question.’
Julie Dawn Cole, who played the obnoxious Veruca Salt, also has two children now. She was the same age as Ostrum at the time the movie was made and, along with Denise Nickerson, is supposed to have had a crush on him. Unlike Ostrum she went on to have a career as an actress, mostly in television, where she has appeared in a variety of series, from Poldark and Emmerdale Farm to Eastenders and Casualty. She now operates Centrestage, a children’s drama school outside of London.
Being nasty was “totally against her nature” and she had to be coaxed into doing the aggressive song and dance routine in the film.
Michael Bollner, who was Augustus Gloop, never made another film and, like Ostrum, eventually went into a totally different career. He is now a tax accountant, a job he performs in Munich, Germany. He was interested in acting, but is father wanted him to continue his education.
At the time the movie was made, Bollner didn’t speak English, and one of the crew coached him in his lines.
Paris Themmen, an American, was only twelve when the movie was made, and he performed the role of Mike Teevee. It was his only major movie, though he’d already been performing since he was six. He appeared on stage, initially with his parents, and then went on to act in a number of radio and television commercials, and to do voice-overs. Later he reached Broadway, appearing as the young Patrick Dennis in Mame, with Ann Miller. After his appearance in Willy Wonka, he went onto play another child role in the musical, The Rothschilds, andlater went on tour nationally in the same role.
He left acting in his mid-adolescence, and has barely been seen performing since apart from a few mostly uncredited roles. However, he still has links with the television commercial world, where these days he is a casting director for commercials rather than performing in them.
Denise Nickerson was also around twelve when she played Violet Beauregarde. Prior to this she had appeared in several episodes of Dark Shadows, and following the movie would have an extensive television career throughout the seventies, appearing primarily in a large number of episodes of the children’s program, The Electric Company, which was a series along the lines of the better known Sesame Street. She appeared in this with such well-known actors as Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Zero Mostel, and the actor who played Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder.