Monday, January 13, 2014

Other Golden Tickets

Willy Wonka, that mauve madman, endangered the lives of far more children than just the five who famously toured his factory. Everyone who had a proper childhood knows of Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Mike Teavee, Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde, but they weren’t the only children that Wonka allowed to nearly get processed into his signature products. In an effort to sort through old, unread and saved emails, I found one I’d sent myself last year — no content, just the subject line “Miranda Mary Piker.” When I finally looked her up, I learned she was a golden ticket-winner whom Roald Dahl ultimately nixed from the final version of Charlie and Chocolate Factory.

Here is the highest-res version I could find of the only illustration I could find of her. It’s by Lauren Child — not longtime Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake. I’m not sure what it was actually for, but it’s labeled as being Miranda.

And a few years ago, the Times published the omitted passage, which details how Miranda offs herself when she investigates the machine that makes Spotty Powder, a new Wonka product that makes children look as if they have the chicken pox and therefore get the day off from school. A “nasty-looking girl with a smug face and a smirk on her mouth,” Miranda objects to anything that allows children to shirk responsibilities, apparently because her schoolmaster father has brainwashed her. She and her awful father then disappear into the Spotty Powder room to smash up the machine that makes it, but the rest of the group hears screaming that suggests a bad end.

An excerpt: “You villain!” [Mrs. Piker] screamed. “I know your tricks! You're grinding them into powder! In two minutes my darling Miranda will come pouring out of one of those dreadful pipes, and so will my husband!” “Of course,” said Mr. Wonka. “That’s part of the recipe.”

Although I can’t access the Times posting of the “Spotty Powder” chapter, I did find the entire passage here. She even gets her own Oompa-Loompa eulogy. Best lyrics: “So we said, ‘Why don’t we fix her / In the Spotty-Powder mixer / Then we’re bound to like her better than we did.’”

It’s perhaps a grimmer elimination than was met by any of the children in the final version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You’ll remember that the book’s final pages tell you that the four bad kids all survive despite the seemingly fatal circumstances of their exit from the tour: Veruca emerges from the “bad nut” bin covered in garbage, Mike gets taffy-stretched to enormous proportions, Violet gets juiced (but remains purple), and Augustus gets squeezed thin by the fudge chute. Given that only Miranda’s “death” scene exists, it’s tempting to imagine that she wasn’t so lucky, though getting pulverized into Spotty Dust is maybe better than never existing at all.

At some point, Roald Dahl spared Miranda from complete obscurity, however. Outside the context of Wonka Enterprises, Inc., Miranda was fed into a peanut brittle machine:

via the illustrator, p.j. lynch
I’m not sure when this poem was first published, but it sure seems like Dahl wanted to make use of those lost Oompa-Loompa rhymes… and also fulfill a dark desire to crush mean little girls into an edible form.

Miranda is not the only Wonka victim to be blinked out of existence. The Roald Dahl Museum has posted a revision-by-revision roster of all the golden ticket-winners, their personal failings and how they “died” in their respective versions of the story. (It’s rather like a slasher film, isn’t it, with virtuous Charlie being the final girl?) The revisions offer a peek at Dahl’s creative process and his wilder visions of terrible children and the nasty fates they met.

In the first 1961 version, for example, it’s Charlie plus these nine other kids:
  • Augustus Pottle, who falls in the chocolate river
  • Miranda Grope, ditto, despite Augustus’ example
  • Wilbur Rice and Tommy Troutbeck climb in wagons running from the vanilla fudge mountain and end up the Pounding and Cutting Room
  • Violet Strabismus
  • Clarence Crump, Bertie Upside and Terence Roper who each cram a whole mouthful of warming candies and overheat
  • Elvira Entwhistle, who falls foul of the squirrels in the Nut Room
In a second 1961 version, it’s these six aside from Charlie:
  • Augustus Pottle, who falls into chocolate river, and goes to the Choc Fudge room
  • Miranda Mary Piker, ditto, but who goes to the Peanut Brittle room
  • Violet Beauregarde, turns purple after chewing gum
  • Henry Trout, climbs in a vanilla fudge wagon
  • Marvin Prune, [pages missing from draft, so we never find out what happens to him]
  • Veruca Salt, tipped down the garbage chute in the Nut Room
From a 1962 version:
  • Charlie Bucket, a nice boy
  • Augustus Gloop, a greedy boy
  • Marvin Prune, a conceited boy [we never find out what happens to him, as his exit isn’t included in this draft, and he was then dropped]
  • Herpes Trout, a television-crazy boy
  • Miranda Mary Piker, a girl who is allowed to DO anything she wants
  • Veruca Salt, a girl who is allowed to HAVE anything she wants
  • Violet Beauregarde, a girl who chews gum all day long.
Two later revisions chucked Marvin Prune and Miranda Mary Piker. I’m now more concerned with how the final five transformed over time. For example, at what point did Dahl realize that Gloop was a better name than Pottle for a pudgy German boy? How did he go from Henry Trout to Herpes Trout to Mike Teavee? And why does “vanilla fudge wagon” sound so inexplicably raunchy to me? How has popular culture not yet found a purpose for the perfectly evil-sounding Miranda Grope? Or the perfectly pitiful Violet Strabismus?

Final discussion question: Is it strange that the first movie adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory put the emphasis on someone else by titling it Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Even if the plot itself still treats Charlie as the main character?

Pop culture minutiae, previously:


  1. Interesting! But wow, "Herpes Trout"? I'm kind of afraid to even Google for that one. Seems like the kid's own name would be punishment enough, no matter his moral shortcomings.

    For what it's worth, I think the illustration of Miranda Mary Piker up there at the top is actually by Lauren Child, the illustrator of the "Charlie & Lola" picture books and TV cartoon (my wife's a children's book illustrator, so we've got piles of these things...but I also do really like her recognizable style!). Looks like it was created recently for a book curated by Quentin Blake?

    Given the backstory of how the original movie was financed, I imagine that it was Quaker Oats who insisted that the film be titled "Willy Wonka and..." instead of "Charlie and..." — they were introducing a new line of Wonka-named chocolates, after all, not a Charlie Bar!

    PS: If you've never listened to the DVD commentary track with all the now-adult kid actors, it's well worth it.

    1. Ah, so you're right. I don't know how I missed that, but it's clearly labeled as being by Child. I'll fix the post now. Thanks!

    2. Adam, thanks for pointing that out! I thought that the illustrations looked really familiar, but I just couldn't remember from where I saw those pictures.

      RE: changing Charlie to Willie Wonka, I thought that they changed the title because the Vietnam War was still fresh in everyone's mind and the term Charlie was associated with the Vietnamese soldiers. That could just be a Hollywood story, though.

    3. Also, in any other context, the idea of a guy sitting around and thinking about how children should die is a horrible image.

  2. What would I do without your blog? You find the batshit crazyiest true things that we would never ever know otherwise.

  3. Interesting that Mike Teavee's name is both the last one to be finalized and the one that relates most closely to his character flaw. I guess Herpes as a name is sort of like Veruca, as they're both skin conditions, only "Veruca" kind of sounds like a name and Herpes...not so much. I'm sure Dahl wasn't thinking of sexually transmitted herpes, but it's inevitable that a modern reader would make the connection.

    The renaming of the first movie is even odder when you consider how Tim Burton's film changed the title back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but focused more on Willy Wonka.

  4. The renaming of the first film isn't strange at all, it will just have been a studio decision based on the fact that Willy Wonka is only character in the film played by an actor, Gene Wilder, with any name recognition value in the US market.

    It's a classic "will it play in Peoria" decision.