In what has become a tradition for us at Theme Park University, the Spooky Empire convention descended on Orlando as it does every October.
Thousands of eager horror movie fans descended upon on the Hyatt Regency on International Drive. As usual, the costumes rival some of the best and most creative you’ll find at any convention in the country.
Absolutely incredible details in so many costumes this year!
While the costumes were great, the reason I bought a ticket was to see their guest line up.
Burt Reynolds, for some reason, was there signing autographs next to a replica of the Trans Am used in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Not exactly a horror film, but it was good to see Bandit out and about as his popularity was a strong as ever. The line for his meet and greet was huge!
However, the true highlight of the entire weekend for me was watching the panel from my favorite childhood movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
In attendance, from left to right: Rusty Goffe (known as the head Oompa Loompa), Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Paris Theemen (Mike Teevee), Denise Nickerson (Violet Bouregaurd), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) and Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop).
By far, the most entertaining member of the panel was Rusty Goffe. He genuinely loves talking about his days as an Oompa Loompa. “I was never officially named the head Oompa Loompa,” recalled Goffe. “But they used me more than any of the other guys. Really it comes down to the language. We had guys from all over the world and I was the only one who spoke fluent English and I ended up being in most of the shots simply because of that.”
Peter Ostrum had one professional acting gig in his entire life and that was playing Charlie Bucket. After the film wrapped, Ostrum was offered a three-picture deal with Warner Brothers, which he turned down. He is now a veterinarian to farm animals in upstate New York. His only appearances are at conventions like Spooky Empire and the occasional television interview.
Paris Theeman remarked how conventions like Spooky Empire were like Thanksgiving for the cast. “You know, every year or two we get together to see how everyone is doing and we all catch up,” he said. “Then we go our separate ways and move on.”
Theeman actually served as a Disney Imagineer from 1990 to 1991 when Euro Disney was being designed. He was in the creative lighting department and, unfortunately, most of the projects he was working on were never built.
An interesting side note, Theeman’s wife was with him at Spooky Empire. Turns out, just before the convention started, she was on “Jeopardy!” and actually was a two-time reigning champion, winning over $30,000 on the show. Many convention guests were recognizing her before they ever saw Mike Teevee!
In another piece of interesting trivia, Denise Nickerson actually appeared on “The Brady Bunch” for an episode. Her character was one of two dates Peter Brady had in one night and she told stories of fond memories of being on that set and how close everyone was, like a real family.
In one of my favorite stories that afternoon came from Rusty Goffe regarding Nickerson. “I had to roll a certain blueberry through a large door,” he said. “And it took several takes because I’d be rolling her along and just hear ‘Ow!… Ow!’ Turns out I was banging her head against the frame of the door! I couldn’t see over that damn thing!”
Michael Bollner still has a very thick German accent and currently lives in Germany where he is an accountant. He clearly loves being associated with “Willy Wonka,” but admitted to the audience that he was never too fond of chocolate.
As Julie Dawn Cole explained, even though the film was shot in Germany and the opening credits of the film were shot at the Toblerone Chocolate Factory, the chocolate everyone ate in the film was Hershey flown in from the United States.
As a matter of fact, Cole is the only child actor from the film who managed to keep (snag?) a few souvenirs from the set. Her private collection includes: a Scumdiddlyumptious Bar, a few Wonka Bars and… an actual golden ticket used in the filming of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
All in all, this panel presentation made my Halloween for 2015. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. Can’t wait for Spooky Empire next year!
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