|(Artist - Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [Charlie Bucket])|
|Peter Ostrum is an American large animal veterinarian and former child actor whose only film role was Charlie Bucket in the 1971 motion picture Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. A native of Cleveland, Ostrum practices in Glenfield, New York, and lives in nearby Lowville with his wife Loretta (née Lepkowski), and two children: his son Leif and daughter Helenka. Described as “the most famous man in Lowville”, the village’s video store has twice worn out their VHS copy of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. |
Ostrum was in the sixth grade and performing at the Cleveland Playhouse children’s theatre, when he was noticed by casting agents who were searching nationwide for the actor to portray Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The agents took Polaroid photos of Ostrum and recorded him reading from the original novel before they returned to New York. Two months later Ostrum was called to New York for a screen test, and a month after that he was contacted and given ten days to prepare to leave for filming.
In 2000, Ostrum recalled that shooting Willy Wonka in Munich was “sort of like being an exchange student for five months.” Fond memories of his five months in West Germany included watching the construction of Olympiapark, Munich for the 1972 Summer Olympics, and working with Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson. Though in his audition he had been assured that his singing would probably be cut and dubbed, it was Ostrum’s own singing voice that made it to the screen—albeit significantly cut. After he finished shooting Willy Wonka, the then-13 year old Ostrum declined the offer of a three-film contract, later recalling that “everybody thinks that acting is such a glamorous profession, but it’s a difficult profession.”
In his senior year of high school, Ostrum was involved in film class and, at the interest of one of his instructors, looked back into theatre and acting. After auditioning for, but not landing, several roles (including Equus on Broadway), Ostrum declined to pursue it further. After putting his short film career behind him, Ostrum eschewed reporters and interviews, preferring not to speak on the subject; “I wanted people to judge me on who I was, not what I’d done”. For some time, Ostrum even lied and told people that his brother, and not he, had starred in the film. It took Ostrum years after moving to Lowville before he told anybody there about his one-time stardom; even his wife Loretta didn’t know about his role until he warned her about it just before she met his mother.
In 1990, he was invited to speak to students at Lowville Academy by teacher Carol Reed, and has since spoken to students there once a year—on the last day of school, as a special treat—about his experience with Willy Wonka as well as his work in veterinary medicine. About the film, the students chiefly ask about the special effects, and Ostrum describes to them “what happened to Veruca, how did Violet blow up like a blueberry, how did Charlie fly with Grandpa Joe, all those types of questions.” In October 2000, Ostrum and some of his co-stars from the film were scheduled to record an audio commentary for a special edition DVD. In a 2010 interview, Wonka co-star Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde) revealed that Ostrum had agreed to join her and Paris Themmen (Wonka’s Mike Teevee) for a reunion commemorating the 40th anniversary of the film’s release in 2011.
In the run-up to the release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, Ostrum garnered a spate of attention that included seeing the film in New York City with NPR as well as being included in VH1’s list of “100 Greatest Kid Stars” (placing 78th). The media attention on him was so pervasive that Ostrum stopped answering his phone, and requested “please, no more interviews.”
In January 2009, Ostrum teamed up with Dunkin’ Donuts to hand out free rides on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority at South Station in Boston, Massachusetts; Ostrum’s participation connected the MBTA’s CharlieCards he was handing out with his portrayal of Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka. The promotion also gave out one “golden ticket”, worth unlimited rides on MBTA and unlimited Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for 2009.
Soon after Ostrum returned home from filming Willy Wonka, his family acquired a horse; while the teenaged Ostrum was interested in the horse, it was the animal’s veterinarian that left a lasting impression on him. Taking a hiatus from school between high school and college, Ostrum groomed horses and worked at the Delaware Equine Center in Pennsylvania. Ostrum contemplated a return to Hollywood, and even visited California for a week to “test the waters” there. He ultimately decided to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine instead, feeling that he would forever berate himself if he didn’t. In 1984, Peter Ostrum received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.