On this day in 1990, Roald Dahl, the best-selling author of such children’s books as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, both of which were adapted for the big screen, dies at the age of 74 in Oxford, England. In addition to publishing a long list of children’s stories, Dahl wrote books for adults and penned numerous television scripts and screenplays, including the James Bond feature You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), starring Dick Van Dyke.
Dahl was born September 13, 1916, in Llandaff, South Wales, and educated in England. During World War II, he was a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force. After publishing his first children’s book, The Gremlins, in 1943, Dahl wrote James and the Giant Peach, which was published in 1961 (and in 1996, adapted by Disney into a part live-action, part stop-motion animation movie). In 1964, Dahl followed up with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which became one of the best-loved children’s books of the 20th century. The book told the story of a poor boy named Charlie Bucket, who finds a Golden Ticket in a candy wrapper that grants him a tour of the famous but secret candy factory owned by the eccentric Willy Wonka. During his adventures in the candy factory, Charlie encounters a cast of strange and fantastic characters, including fellow golden ticket-holders Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde and the diminutive orange-skinned Oompa Loompas.
Dahl penned the screenplay for his novel’s first big-screen adaptation, which was released in 1971 as Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, with Gene Wilder in the title role and Peter Ostrum as Charlie. Directed by Mel Stuart and shot primarily in Munich, Germany, the film received generally positive reviews but was a box-office disappointment. Dahl was critical of the film and opted not to sell the rights to the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which was first published in 1972. In 2005, a second film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, also based on Dahl’s book, was released and fared better at the box office. Directed by Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd), the film starred Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and Freddy Highmore as Charlie and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.
From 1953 to 1983, Roald Dahl was married to the American actress Patricia Neal, whose film credits include Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Hud (1963), for which she won a Best Actress Oscar.