'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' Director Mel Stuart Has Died
Though Bob Hoskins retiring due to being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease was certainly some sad news, this hits just as close to my childhood heart. The Washington Post reports director Mel Stuart, responsible for the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic book Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has passed away at 83-years old after battling with cancer. In addition to directing that childhood favorite of mine, Stuart also leaves behind the legacy of documentary films such as The Making of the President 1960 (which won an Emmy) and the Academy Award nominated Four Days in November. More below.
Stuart also followed presidential campaigns with a documentarian's eye on the campaigns from 1964 and 1968, in addition to lensing Wattstax, following the music festival of the same name and the aftermath of riots in the community in 1965. Other documentary features included work for PBS as part of their "American Masters" series with portraits of director Billy Wilder and artist Man Ray. More recently he crafted The Hobart Shakespeareans, which chronicled the work of an inner-city fifth grade teacher in Los Angeles who put on a Shakespeare play with his students every year.
But much of Stuart's fans truly loved his adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a film that only came to fruition because his daughter Madeline asked him to make a movie out of the book she already loved so much (she even has a cameo in Charlie Bucket's classroom). The film marks Gene Wilder's best performance on screen in my opinion, and Tim Burton's new adaptation doesn't shake a stick at the original film. Other non-documentary features include If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ian McShane, and I Love My Wife with Elliott Gould.
Screenwriter David Seltzer remembers how Stuart influenced him by dismissing his first effort as a screenwriter "with the scolding that if I didn’t ‘have a drawer-full of magic,’ I had no business even thinking I was a screenwriter. He taught me that good enough wasn’t good enough.” The writer calls Stuart, "a mentor by way of drill sergeant, much-feared boss and much-loved friend." Sounds like he accepted nothing but the best and expected the same from everyone else working with him. Stuart made my childhood magical, and has and will influence cinema for decades to come. He will be missed. Rest in peace.