The news of Gene Wilder’s death earlier this week came as a surprise to his fans around the world. Many people instantly recalled his illustrious film career, including leading roles in landmark comedies like The Producers, Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles. But for many of us, he’ll always be the titular candy man in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Few movies inspired as many quotable quotes as Willy Wonka, many of which were inspired by or taken directly from some of the most prominent literary icons in history. Here are some of my favorites, their context, and a bit of insight into why they might have been chosen for Wilder’s unpredictable Wonka.
Note: Spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk.
1) “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”
Disputably one of the most memorable (and quotable) scenes in Willy Wonka is when Mr. Salt (Roy Kinnear) mumbles, “It’s a lot of nonsense,” to which Wonka replies, in a sing-song voice, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”
This adoptable quip is from none other than Roald Dahl, the legendary children’s author. Although the film is based on Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the quote actually comes verbatim from its sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. (Some also attribute the origins of this quote to 18th Century English writer Joseph Addison.)
2) “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”
Another wry exchange between Salt and Wonka (let’s face it; they had some of the best two-liners in the film) takes place in “der Inventing Room.” After inspecting a ingredients in a big, bubbling vat, Salt sidles up to Wonka and covertly asks, “Butterscotch, butter gin. You running something on the side here?” Wonka whispers into his ear, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”
The motto of boozehounds everywhere, this line comes courtesy of poet and satirist Ogden Nash and is itself a poem entitled “Reflections on Ice-Breaking.” Nash considered himself a wordsmith, bending phrases, syllables, and letters to create rhymes. Truly an artist after Willy Wonka’s own heart — evidenced in Wonka’s safe code, “99, 44, 100 percent pure,” which was also drawn from a Nash poem.
3) “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
If there’s one line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that everyone and their mother can quote, it’s this. After Wonka invites his guests to taste his “lickable wallpaper,” where “the snozzberries taste like snozzberries,” spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) spits out, “Snozzberries? Who ever heard of a snozzberry?” Wonka grabs her face, tongue out, and intensely imparts, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
Though often associated with Willy Wonka, this line has had quite the pop culture go round, starting with its birth as the opening line of British poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s “Ode” from Music and Moonlight (1874). Over the years, it’s been sampled for songs, books, and even appropriated by the Church of Scientology. Anyone who considers this among their favorite quotes will love the rest of O’Shaughnessy’s poem even more.
4) “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
After each of the “naughty, nasty little children” is appropriately dealt with inside the factory, Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) and Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) are the only two visitors remaining. When inquiring about a promised lifetime supply of chocolate, Wonka flies into a rage, accusing the two of stealing fizzy lifting drinks during the tour, and punctuates his tirade with, “You get nothing! Good day, sir!”
In an effort to remedy the situation, the ever-honest Charlie sacrifices his only souvenir from Wonka’s factory — one that, had he sold it to Wonka’s competitor, would have ostensibly taken care of his struggling family for life — an Everlasting Gobstopper. As Charlie walks away, Wonka, touched by gesture, covers the candy with his hand and utters, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
Wonka must have been quite the Shakespeare aficionado, as this is only one line of many from the Bard littered throughout the film. This quote is derived from The Merchant of Venice, Act 5, Scene 1, in which Portia says, “That light we see is burning in my hall / How far that little candle throws his beams! / So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” The fact that Portia was one of Shakespeare’s strongest and most intelligent leading ladies only adds an extra layer of uncharacteristic sincerity to Wonka’s words.
5) “The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last.”
The first casualty of Wonka’s factory tour is the rotund German glutton Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), who takes a tumble into a chocolate river. He’s dragged along by a saccharine undertow until he’s sucked up into a vacuum shoot.
Augustus effectively blocks the tube’s flow until the pressure behind him builds into a frenzy. While his mother is having a conniption, Wonka watches entranced, saying, “The suspense is terrible, I hope it’ll last,” as it’s only a matter of time until Augustus rockets up the tube and into God-knows-what on the other side.
Though it seems tailor-made for the mischievous Willy Wonka, the line comes to us via the fanciful Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Like Wonka, she has a flair for the melodramatic and theatrical, so it seems natural that he’d borrow her turn of phrase.
6) “Where is fancy bred? In the heart or in the head?”
After the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) is transformed into a blueberry, a troop of Wonka’s factory workers, Oompa Loompas, roll her out of sight. Her chagrined father follows behind, whining, “I’ve got a blueberry for a daughter.” Once Violet and her dad are out of the picture, Wonka contemplates, “Where is fancy bred? In the heart or in the head?”
It may come as no surprise that this quote, like number four above, is drawn from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2. Effectively, the line asks if our passions are logical or lustful. In the case of Violet and her gum habit, I’d wager it’s the latter.
7) “Is it my soul that calls upon my name?”
Among the many twists and turns in Wonka’s factory is a tightly enclosed glass room in which Wonka can’t seem to find the way out. As he’s feeling along the walls for the door, he, almost inaudibly among the chaos from his visitors, ruminates, “Is it my soul that calls upon my name?”
Our final snippet from the Bard comes from Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2, in which Romeo, upon hearing Juliet sigh his name from her infamous balcony, says, “It is my soul that calls upon my name / How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night / Like softest music to attending ears!” The line in Willy Wonka varies slightly but effectively to illustrate Wonka’s flippant reaction to the ensuing panic.
8) “Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.”
In another shrinking hallway (“What is this, some kind of fun house?” Mr. Salt asks. “Why?” Wonka responds. “Having fun?”), one of the children asks where the chocolate is, to which one of the parents says, “I doubt there is any.” “I doubt if any of us will get out of here alive,” adds Salt. “Oh,” says Wonka, “you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.”
Who would have ever thought this memorable bit of dialogue was taken from a poem about a microscopic creature? Hilarie Belloc’s appropriately titled “The Microbe” from the poet’s 1912 book, More Beasts for Worse Children, ends with the couplet, “Oh! let us never, never doubt / What nobody is sure about!” And if there’s a more appropriate quote to sum up Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I can’t find it.
9) “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted….He lived happily ever after.”
In the last scene of the film, Wonka declares that he’s giving his entire chocolate factory to Charlie Bucket and his family. As Charlie’s incredulity fades into gratitude, Wonka reminds him, “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.” “What?” asks Charlie. Wonka smiles, “He lived happily ever after.”
Okay, so this one doesn’t have a literary origin, but it’s one of my very favorites. It was reportedly added at the very last minute by writer David Seltzer after director Mel Stuart felt the film was unfinished. Its delivery by Gene Wilder makes it one of the best moments in the entire film because of its outright tenderness. It also effectively humanizes the eccentric Willy Wonka, particularly as it’s capped off with a loving hug between the outgoing figurehead and his incumbent chocolate protege. A pretty perfect ending to a pretty perfect movie.