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Peter Gardner Ostrum (/ˈstrəm/;[1] born November 1, 1957) is an American veterinarian and former child actor whose only film role was as Charlie Bucket in the 1971 motion picture Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Peter Ostrum

A three-quarters bust portrait photo shows a middle-aged Caucasoid man looking to the photographer's right; he is wearing a blue-plaid collared shirt and a lanyard.
Ostrum in November 2017
Peter Gardner Ostrum

(1957-11-01) November 1, 1957 (age 62)
ResidenceLowville, New York, US
EducationDoctorate of Veterinary Medicine
Alma materCornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (1984)
  • Actor (1971)
  • Veterinarian (1984–present)
  • Countryside Veterinary Clinic
  • Dairy Health & Mgmt. Services
Known forActing in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Home townCleveland, Ohio, US
Spouse(s)Loretta M. Lepkowski

Ostrum was 12 years old when selected by talent agents for Willy Wonka. Though he enjoyed the experience of shooting the film, he opted not to sign a three-film contract when it was over. After eschewing a career in film and theatre, Ostrum became reluctant to speak about his one starring role. In 1990, he began an annual tradition of speaking to schoolchildren about the film, and he became a subject of interest again when the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released to theaters.

Ostrum became interested in horses when he returned from shooting Willy Wonka, and was particularly influenced by the veterinarian that tended to them. Receiving his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1984, as of 2005 Ostrum practiced and lived in Lowville, New York with his wife Loretta (née Lepkowski), and two children: son, Leif, and daughter, Helenka.

Personal lifeEdit

Peter Gardner[2] Ostrum was born in Dallas[3][4] on November 1, 1957 to Dean Gardner Ostrum (1922–2014) and Sarepta Mabel née Pierpont (born 1922). He is the youngest of four children.[5] Ostrum was living in Cleveland at age twelve, a city of which he was described as a native by MSNBC.[3]

Ostrum married Loretta M. Lepkowski in 1987 or 1988. The couple has two children, Helenka and Leif, with the latter following his father onto stage as the leading actor in several South Lewis Central School musicals.[6] The Ostrums lived in Lowville, New York as recently as 2005.[3]

Willy WonkaEdit

Ostrum was in the sixth grade and performing at the Cleveland Play House children's theatre, when he was noticed by talent 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, then returned to New York. Two months later Ostrum was called to New York for a screen test where he sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee",[2] and a month after that he was contacted and given ten days to prepare to leave for filming.[7] Ostrum left for Munich on August 10, 1970.[5]

Peter was a child who acted—he wasn't a child actor. He had none of the obvious technique, tricks, or affectations of the kind that TV kid actors had, and continue to have. He was genuine, and his sincerity as a person shines through in his performance. He was an extremely intelligent kid, who was both self-aware and skilled at what he was doing.

Frawley Becker, Willy Wonka dialogue coach[5]

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, for the 1972 Summer Olympics, and working with Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson.[1][7] As Ostrum had not worked in film before, Wilder took it upon himself to instruct the young actor in the business. Ostrum would later describe Wilder as a quirky yet gentle gentleman who "treated people with respect and dignity." The bond that developed between the two actors was such that, even though they never saw each other after filming Wonka, Ostrum described Wilder's 2016 death as "like losing a parent".[8]

Ostrum was tutored on-set for three hours a day, though sometimes only for 30–60 minutes at a time.[6] 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.[1] In a 2011 interview, Ostrum told the story of how director Mel Stuart gave him a clapperboard from the film, and later on asked him how he got it because he had forgotten that he had done so; it is Ostrum's only souvenir from the set.[9]

After he finished shooting Willy Wonka, the then 13-year-old Ostrum[7] declined David L. Wolper's offer of a three-film contract. The teenager confided in Frawley Becker, his Willy Wonka dialogue coach, that he turned down the contract to retain "the freedom to choose what he played, and in what picture." (Ostrum and Becker remained friends through at least 1996.)[5] In January 2018, Ostrum said he sometimes misses acting—though not its hurry-up-and-wait nature—but feels he dodged having to make the transition from child- to adult-actor.[6]

As of January 2018, Ostrum still received US$8–9 of royalty payments about every three months.[6]

Lasting effectEdit

Ostrum (second from left) in 2011 with the Willy Wonka child cast

In his senior year, 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[10] (including for Alan Strang[5] in Equus on Broadway), Ostrum decided not to pursue it further.[10] After putting his short film career behind him, Ostrum declined reporters and interviews, preferring not to speak on the subject;[7] "I wanted people to judge me on who I was, not what I’d done".[11] For some time, Ostrum even lied and told people that his brother, and not he, had starred in the film.[3] It took Ostrum years after moving to Lowville before he told anybody there about his one-time stardom; even his wife Loretta did not know about his role until he warned her about it just before she met his mother.[1]

Since 1990, Ostrum has since spoken to students at Lowville Academy once a year—on the last day of school, as a special treat—about his experience in Willy Wonka as well as his work in veterinary medicine.[3] The students chiefly ask about the film's 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."[1] Ostrum also accepted an invitation to appear at the 2018 Snowtown Film Festival in Watertown, New York, answering audience questions after a screening of the film; "it’s in my backyard — it's become a popular event in January and I like to support local events." Ostrum said of the 2018 event that he enjoyed re-watching the film, and that people ask him "great questions."[6] Ostrum has been called "the most famous man in Lowville", where the local video rental shop has twice worn out its VHS copy of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.[3]

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" (at 78th).[3] On the new film, Ostrum quoted fellow Wonka actor Julie Dawn Cole, saying that "It's sort of like going back to a house that you once lived in and it's been redecorated." Ultimately, the media attention was so pervasive that Ostrum stopped answering his phone, and requested "please, no more interviews."[1]

In January 2009, Ostrum teamed up with Dunkin' Donuts to hand out free rides on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) at South Station in Boston; 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.[12]

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.[7] 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.[13]

Veterinary careerEdit

I can remember the veterinarian coming out and taking care of the horses, and it made a huge impression on me, [...] This person really enjoyed what he did for a living. My father was a lawyer, and I really didn't have a clue what he did all day. But I knew exactly what the veterinarian did. Someone making a living from something he enjoyed so much really sparked my interest.

2000 interview with Peter Ostrum[7]

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.[7]

As of August 2019, Ostrum worked in Lowville, New York both as a veterinarian with the Countryside Veterinary Clinic (working mainly with horses and cows),[14][15] and a managing partner with Dairy Health & Management Services.[16] Ostrum also took part in Veterinarians on Call, a Pfizer-funded video series that highlighted the work of large animal veterinarians.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Baker, Jesse (2005-07-17). "Original Charlie Revisits 'The Chocolate Factory'". New York City, U.S.: NPR. Archived from the original (streaming audio) on 2010-11-07. Retrieved 2009-10-11.
  2. ^ a b Cole, Julie Dawn; Esslinger, Michael (2011). "Munich". I Want It Now! (First ed.). Duncan, Oklahoma: BearManor Media. pp. 52–54. ISBN 978-1-59393-074-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Original Charlie Bucket keeps low profile". Today. Lowville, New York: MSNBC. 2005-07-18. Archived from the original on 2012-11-24. Retrieved 2018-10-30. Peter Ostrum turned down three-picture deal after original 'Wonka'
  4. ^ Cavazos, Norma (2006-01-03). "Television Q&A". The Dallas Morning News. ISSN 1553-846X.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kurtti, Jeff (1996). "Chapter Six: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". The Great Movie Musical Trivia Book. New York City: Applause Books. pp. 103–120. ISBN 1-55783-222-6.
  6. ^ a b c d e Avallone, Elaine M. (2018-01-28). "Dr. Ostrum relates to being Charlie Bucket following showing of film". Watertown Daily Times. Watertown, New York. Archived from the original on 2018-03-09. Retrieved 2018-03-10.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Dr. Ostrum and the chocolate factory". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Schaumburg, Illinois, U.S.: American Veterinary Medical Association. 2000-11-01. Archived from the original on 2012-05-24. Retrieved 2009-10-11.
  8. ^ Lang, Brent (2016-08-30). "Actor Who Played Charlie in 'Willy Wonka' on Gene Wilder Death: 'It's Like Losing a Parent'". Variety. ISSN 0042-2738. OCLC 810134503. Archived from the original on 2019-02-03. Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  9. ^ Ostrum, Peter; Cole, Julie Dawn (2011-10-18). "Peter Ostrum and Julie Dawn Cole interview Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". Chuck the Movieguy's Celebrity Interviews (Interview). Interviewed by Chuck Thomas. Retrieved 2011-10-30 – via YouTube.
  10. ^ a b Ostrum, Peter. "'Never Wanted to Be an Actor'". New York City, U.S.: NPR. Retrieved 2009-10-11.
  11. ^ Grant, Bridgit. "Whatever Happened to Willy Wonka's Children?". Daily Express. London, UK: Northern & Shell. Archived from the original on 2012-10-05. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  12. ^ Ostrum, Peter; McCall Gosselin (2009-01-23). Wonka's Charlie Bucket says to Boston commuters, "You Kin' Do It!". Canton, Massachusetts, U.S.: Dunkin' Donuts. Archived from the original (YouTube) on 2016-05-11. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  13. ^ Potempa, Phil (2010-09-28). "'Willy Wonka' child actress feeling better-than-blue about future film reunion". The Times of Northwest Indiana. Munster, Indiana, U.S.: Lee Enterprises. Archived from the original on 2012-09-27. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
  14. ^ a b Stephanie Fellenstein (1 Jan 2012). "Vets take the stage in new reality series". DVM360 Magazine. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014.
  15. ^ "Our Doctors". Lowville, New York: Countryside Veterinary Clinic, LLP. Archived from the original on 2017-08-07. Retrieved 2019-08-19.
  16. ^ "Our Team". Dairy Health & Management Services. Archived from the original on 2019-08-19. Retrieved 2019-08-19.

External linksEdit