If I hadn’t stumbled across I Want it Now! on promotion for Kindle, I wouldn’t have sought out Julie Dawn Cole’s memoir. Shamefully, I wouldn’t have recognized her name. Gene Wilder is the only actor’s name I knew from the movie. I suspect most Americans, outside of hard core Wonka maniacs, would say the same. And, while I love the movie, I’ll admit, I read this book in part because I’ve had a wee crush on Gene Wilder since I first saw him as Willy Wonka. Those blue eyes and that charisma drew me in even before I knew about crushes. I read Gene’s memoir, Kiss Me Like A Stranger, a couple years ago. It is among my favorite memoirs and made me feel as though those feelings are not misplaced. He’s every bit as complex as Wonka, but young Julie was nearly Veruca’s polar opposite.
What I learned from the book is while Juile is best known in America as Veruca Salt, she went on to have a successful acting career in British television and theater. At the time she was cast for Wonka, she was commuting hours each day to attend a school for the preforming arts. I admire the dedication to her craft at such a young age. She spent the ten weeks of filming away from her family in a foreign country and speaks candidly about how hard it was while also a wonderful experience.
The bulk of the book centers around the filming of Willy Wonka and Juile’s relationships with the other cast members. It’s truly a memoir of the filming filled with her personal recollections. It’s so sweet how she reveals her long-ago crush on Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, and how she and Denise Nickerson, who played Violet, would vie for his attention. It put me in mind of my childhood sweetheart in the innocence of it. Michael Bollner, the German boy who Augustus Gloop, did not get to know the others as well because he did not speak English.
One fascinating aspect of filming I would never have guessed is how a majority of scenes were filmed in chronological order. The four children were kept from viewing sets ahead of time to capture genuine reaction. Thinking back on the film’s elaborate sets, I could imagine how much fun it would be to film. The most overused word in the book is “magic” or “magical.” Co-author Michael Esslinger admits as much in the foreword. I tend to notice things like reuse of words in books, and this was no exception, but I honestly don’t know how any other word could fit. Walk onto those colorful sets, told to explore. Imagine, in the chocolate room, many of the props were actually eatable. Magic, no?
After recounting her tales about the Chocolate Factory, Julie covers her acting career, highlights of her personal life, and recent reconnection with the other Wonka kids. A potent reminder one can be famous elsewhere and relatively unknown in the States even among confirmed anglophiles.
I enjoyed the book. The rare and personal photos throughout are worth it alone for those with a strong attachment to the film. I did find the long captions were redundant, sometimes pulled directly from the text, but it is only a small criticism in an overall delightful book. I suspect it was a deliberate choice to appeal to anyone looking to thumb through for the pictures without reading every word. Many of the important points would be covered if one were to do this, but it is a small and light enough to read word for word.
One warning: You will come away a strong urge to watch the movie and it’s not currently offered streaming on Netflix.