The character and his clothes were 'Part of this world, part of another'

By Oliver Gettell
August 29, 2016 at 09:32 PM EDT

In a career full of memorable performances, Gene Wilder found his signature role as the enigmatic candy baron at the heart of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The actor, who died Sunday from complications of Alzheimer’s at age 83, portrayed Wonka as a man who gleefully tiptoed the line between whimsy and madness.

In addition to embodying Wonka’s strange charisma, Wilder also provided some insightful input on the character’s colorful costume, as captured in a 1970 letter sent to director Mel Stuart and reprinted by Letters of Note.

Responding to a round of sketches with polite but assertive opinions, Wilder weighed in on everything from Wonka’s purple velvet jacket (he loved it but wished to add a pair of large pockets) to his then-green trousers (“icky”) to his top hat (“terrific,” though 2 inches too tall).



At one point, Wilder mused on how Wonka’s outfit reflects his essence. “I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970,” he wrote, “but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.”

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It’s as fitting a description of Wilder’s Wonka as anyone could imagine. Read his full missive at Letters of Note.