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Peter Ostrum

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Peter Ostrum
A middle-aged caucasoid man looking at the photographer; he is presented as a bust, wearing a yellow-plaid collared shirt under a cardigan sweater.
Peter Ostrum in 2011
Born Peter Gardner Ostrum
November 1957 (age 59)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.[1][2]
Residence Lowville, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine
Alma mater Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (1984)
Occupation Child actor
Years active 1971
Employer Countryside Veterinary Clinic
Lowville, New York, U.S.
Known for Acting in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Home town Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Spouse(s) Loretta (née Lepkowski)[3]
Children 2; Helenka and Leif

Peter Gardner[4] Ostrum (/ˈptər ˈstrəm/;[5] born November 1957[4]) 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.

A native of Cleveland,[1] 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 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released in 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, Ostrum now practices and lives in Lowville, New York,[1] with his wife Loretta (née Lepkowski), and two children: his son Leif and daughter Helenka.[5]

Acting career[edit]

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",[4] and a month after that he was contacted and given ten days to prepare to leave for filming.[6]

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, Munich, for the 1972 Summer Olympics, and working with Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson.[5][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.[5] In a 2011 interview, Ostrum told the story of how director Mel Stuart gave him a clapperboard from the film, and then forgot he had done so; it is Ostrum's only souvenir from the set.[7] After he finished shooting Willy Wonka, the then 13-year-old Ostrum declined the offer of a three-film contract, later recalling that "[e]verybody thinks that acting is such a glamorous profession, but it's a difficult profession."[6]

Lasting effect[edit]

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 (including Equus on Broadway), Ostrum decided not to pursue it further.[8] After putting his short film career behind him, Ostrum declined reporters and interviews, preferring not to speak on the subject;[6] "I wanted people to judge me on who I was, not what I’d done".[9] For some time, Ostrum even lied and told people that his brother, and not he, had starred in the film.[1] 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.[5]

In 1990, he was invited to speak to students at Lowville Academy by teacher Carol Reed, and has since spoken to students there once a year—on the last day of school, as a special treat—about his experience in the film Willy Wonka as well as his work in veterinary medicine.[1] About the film, the students chiefly ask about the 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."[5] 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.[1]

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.[6]

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" (placing 78th).[1] 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."[5]

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, Massachusetts; 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.[10]

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.[11]

Veterinary career[edit]

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[6]

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.[6]

As of November 2015, Dr. Ostrum worked out of the Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Lowville, New York, where he works mainly with horses and cows.[12][13] He has taken part in the video series Veterinarians on Call, funded by Pfizer, highlighting the work of large animal veterinarians.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Original Charlie Bucket keeps low profile". Lowville, New York, U.S.: Associated Press. 2005-07-18. Archived from the original on 2010-10-30. Retrieved 2009-10-11. Peter Ostrum turned down three-picture deal after original ‘Wonka’ 
  2. ^ Cavazos, Norma (2006-01-03). "Television Q&A". The Dallas Morning News. Dallas, Texas, U.S.: A. H. Belo. 
  3. ^ "South Lewis Central School class leaders". Watertown Daily Times. Watertown New York, U.S. 2010-04-23. Archived from the original on 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2010-04-27. 
  4. ^ a b c Cole, Julie Dawn; Michael Esslinger (2011). "Munich". I Want It Now! (First ed.). Duncan, Oklahoma, U.S.: BearManor Media. pp. 52–54. ISBN 978-1-59393-074-5. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Baker, Jesse (2005-07-17). "Original Charlie Revisits 'The Chocolate Factory'". New York City, U.S.: NPR. Archived from the original (streaming audio) on 2010-10-30. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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). Interview with Chuck Thomas. Retrieved 2011-10-30 – via YouTube. 
  8. ^ Ostrum, Peter. "'Never Wanted to Be an Actor'". New York City, U.S.: NPR. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  9. ^ Grant, Bridgit. "Whatever Happened to Willy Wonka's Children?". Daily Express. London, UK: Northern & Shell. Archived from the original on 2011-04-10. Retrieved 2011-04-10. 
  10. ^ 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 2010-10-30. Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  11. ^ 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 2011-01-14. Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  12. ^ a b Stephanie Fellenstein (1 Jan 2012). "Vets take the stage in new reality series". DVM360 Magazine. 
  13. ^ "Our Doctors: CVC Veterinary Partners". Lowville, New York, U.S.: Countryside Veterinary Clinic, LLP. Archived from the original on 2011-10-30. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 

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