It wasn’t "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" but beloved actor Gene Wilder found himself surrounded by children again, Thursday, when he visited Holy Innocents’, where step-grandson Tucker Webb attends school. Wilder met with first-graders in Kristin Ahler’s classroom, patiently answering questions, signing autographs, and giving each student a hug.
The parents of Kate Deriso, one of Ahler’s students, won Wilder’s visit at the Gala auction last spring. "This is the best day of my life," proclaimed 7-year-old Noah Yates, as his classmates munched on Gummies and candy necklaces.
In fact, candy was a favorite topic for the questions that students had prepared. When asked about the sweets in "Willy Wonka," Wilder told the first-graders that "some of the candy was fake and some of it was real. When they licked the walls, it was real. But some of it was made of wax."
Later, Wilder told another youngster that he didn’t have to actually make chocolate Wonka bars to get the movie part. And, in fact, Wilder noted, he did not eat much candy during filming. “No, I'd be too full to go on acting," he said.
Wilder pondered a question about his own favorite confection, saying, “If I could ever have one, I'd want an Everlasting Gobstopper,” a reference to Willy Wonka’s magical jawbreakers. (The “Everlasting Gobstoppers” used in the movie, however, were more like gumdrops, Wilder revealed.)
Students were also interested in acting, and during the course of the afternoon visit, Wilder told them he had begun acting in junior high plays, that he learned his lines for "Willy Wonka" one filming day at a time, and that the way to get into movies is: "PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!"
Wilder was accompanied on Thursday’s visit by his wife, Karen Webb, whom he met during the filming of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil." Webb was a clinical supervisor for the New York League for the Hard of Hearing and helped the actor understand how a hearing-impaired person would communicate.
Wilder is not only an actor but also a director, author and screenwriter. In fact, his favorite Gene Wilder movie is one that he penned himself, in collaboration with writer/director Mel Brooks: 1974's "Young Frankenstein."