Why Did ‘Willy Wonka’ Star Peter Ostrum Quit Hollywood?

Some child stars go on to have long careers in the entertainment, while others get a taste of fame but then leave the entertainment world and end up living a more nondescript life out of the spotlight.  Being a celebrity isn’t easy, which the young stars learn at an early age, which helps lead those who leave acting to make that decision. One actor who had a role in a very popular movie at a young age but virtually vanished from public life after that is Peter Ostrum. He played Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which was the beginning and end of his acting career.

‘Willy Wonka’ star Peter Ostrum’s background

Denise Nickerson, Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole and Paris Themmen
Denise Nickerson, Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole and Paris Themmen | Arthur Sidey/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Ostrum was born in Dallas in 1957, and got what many young actors at the time may have considered a dream role — playing Charlie in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You’ve probably seen the movie, but you may not have been able to name the actor who portrayed Charlie. That’s because, according to IMDB, that was the only acting role that Ostrum ever had. Ostrum got the role when casting agents saw him performing in a play at a children’s theater when he was in sixth grade. “They took a few Polaroid pictures and tape-recorded me reading from the book,” he says.

Despite starring in a movie that is still popular more than 50 years after its release, Ostrum decided to call it a career and leave entertainment after that one memorable role. He’s made appearances as himself on TV shows since then, but never again had a prominent acting role in Hollywood. Despite leaving the industry, Ostrum has fond memories of making the movie and working with such notable actors as Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson. He also appreciates the chance that he got to experience life abroad at such a young age, as the movie was filmed in Germany.

Why Ostrum stopped acting

Best Life reveals the reason why Ostrum stopped acting, and it is because he fell in love with another profession. He told the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that acting isn’t the “glamorous profession” that people think it is. In reality, it’s a “difficult profession.” After filming wrapped on the movie, the studio was prepared to offer the youngster a three-movie deal, but he didn’t sign the contract.

When Ostrum came home from filming the movie, he discovered that his parents had bought a horse for the family, and he enjoyed watching the veterinarian work on the animal. He recalls that “it made a huge impression” on him, and the experience ultimately led Ostrum down the path of becoming a veterinarian himself.

What Ostrum is doing now

The AVMA profiled Ostrum, a vet in New York who does mostly dairy work and, as the site says, “is now more concerned with milk production than milk chocolate.” He visits local public schools to discuss his life experiences, what it is like to be a vet, and how the decisions one makes affects his or her life. Ostrum says that “acting was fine,” but it wasn’t his passion and he wanted to find something that he loved doing — which led him into work as a veterinarian.

In the past, Ostrum didn’t like talking about Wonka, but in recent years he has started to embrace it more, including participating in cast reunions and a DVD commentary track. As his two children grew old enough to watch and enjoy his lone movie, Ostrum gained a new perspective on it because of their interest in the film that could have vaulted him into a career as an actor but instead became a one-and-done role that still ended up making the then-teenager a celebrity.

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