Interview with Leonard Stone (1923-2011)

Leonard Stone is known best for his role as Sam Beaurgarde in 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. Leonard has worked on over 100 TV shows. Movie Mikes had a chance to travel back to the 70’s with Leonard to discuss his role in “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory”.

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Mike Gencarelli: How did you originally get the role of Mr. Sam Beaurgarde in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”?
Leonard Stone: Mel Stuart (the film’s director) called me in because I had worked with him before on another picture (1970s “I Love My Wife”) He knew me…knew my work and he said “if you want to do it we can do it.” It was that quick. I didn’t have to keep coming back. I did ask if I could bring my wife along (to Germany for the shoot) and he said “yes.” When we got there my wife found out there was a small part in the film for a woman to play my on-screen wife. Just one quick scene at the auto lot. She asked Mel if she could play it and he told her “No. You’re not right for the part!” (laughs) It’s now years later and Mel’s divorced and she and I have been together for over forty years.

Mike Gencarelli: What was your fondest memory working on “Willy Wonka” Most of the other cast members we’ve interviewed point to the unveiling of the main chocolate room.
Leonard Stone: Oh yes. It was very exciting. They didn’t allow us to see it until it was time to shoot it. So when we walk through the door and see the room for the first time, we really are seeing the room for the first time. The reactions they got on film were real….we were stunned it was so beautiful. Plus a lot of the things we did off set. We would go bowling on our off days. And the studio got us a tent at the Octoberfest which was a great time. And Gene (Wilder) my wife and I would often go out to dinner together. Gene was just getting into wines and he would “discover” one that he would loved and that is what we would have for dinner. Another thing that amused me so much was that Roald Dahl (author of the book the film is based on) didn’t like some of the things Mel was doing with the film. They were always butting heads. Now Dahl was nice and tall…very thin…he stands like the letter “S”. He’s got great British bone structure…a very handsome man, speaks with an impeccable English accent. And he would swear at Mel in that accent and it would break me up because it sounded so funny coming out of his mouth.

Mike Gencarelli: Do you still keep in touch with any of the cast or crew from the film?
Leonard Stone: No, not really. I know that Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) left acting and became a cameraman. And I just saw Denise Nickerson at a photo signing in New Jersey. But I’m here in San Diego so if they want to they can find me. (laughs)

MG: How do you feel about the 2005 remake with Johnny Depp?
LS: I liked some of the film. And I think Johnny Depp is a wonderful actor. But I didn’t like some of his choices as Wonka. I personally think he gave a lot of the story away from the get go by the way he played it. I didn’t understand some of the changes. Like why Violet had a mother and not a father. Mike Teevee had a father and not a mother. I know Roald Dahl jumped on Mel a lot because he wanted the movie to be darker. I’m sure he would have liked the new one because it’s much darker than ours. When I heard about the new version I thought it would be great to have a walk on in it, just for the hell of it. So I contacted them. I even called the over in London and said I’d be happy to do it but they said they weren’t using anybody from the other one.

MG: Besides “Wonka”, you have worked in over 100 TV shows, any favorites?
LS: One of my favorite television roles was on “Lost in Space.” I played a con man in outer space by the name of Farnum. It’s one of my favorites because the director let me create the performance. One of the associate producers didn’t like it but the director, who I’d worked with many times before, knew it was the right way to go. And that episode is one of the highest rated shows in the series. It was so popular that the network told the producers to “write another show for this guy!” I’m just an old fashioned character actor. A lot of people don’t even know my name but they know my work.

MG: Are you working on anything now?
LS: I’m hoping to have a children’s book out soon. The publishers think it will be out by the end of the year. They’re aiming for that. I’ve got a great illustrator. Joe Sable is his name. He’s worked for Disney…Hanna-Barbara…a bunch of places. We got together and he loved my story. He says he’s having so much fun doing the illustrations. It’s called “Keepy: The Kangaroo That Never Grew” He’s a kangaroo that never grew who was raised by a mouse family and thinks he’s a mouse. It has a moral in it, as will any of the follow up stories. I’ve already written a couple of them. I wrote it because I’m tired of all of the violence that kids see. The young kids see so darn much of it. Everything has to be sharp and bloody and shoot-em-up. In fact, a few of the publishers I showed it to said it was “too soft” or “too old fashioned.” And I told them I intended it to be.

Click here to purchase “Willy Wonka” merchandise
Click here to view our “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” Interview Series