Black Moses, Willy Wonka and Mel Stuart

I will confess: I do like reading obituaries. Not out of morbid curiosity but I just find them as little biographies that often contain fascinating nuggets of information.

This week, among the posthumous tributes to prominent composer Marvin Hamlisch and legendary critics Robert Hughes and Judith Crist, I read about the passing of Mel Stuart. The name was somewhat familiar to me. I knew he was a film director but I wouldn’t have guessed what films he might have directed. Stuart wasn’t a big name director. He wasn’t in critic Andrew Sarris’ (who also passed away earlier this summer) pantheon of movie directors. However, by reading his obituary, I learned that he directed two very important films: the original Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and the music documentary Wattstax.


Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka

It’s hard to believe that the man who put the Oompa Loompa on screen was also behind the seminal (and Golden Globe winning) documentary about the Stax Records showcase concert at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.


Isaac Hayes in Wattstax

Stuart, however, had one of those split careers where he directed light comedies like If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium on one hand and serious documentaries such as The Making of the President 1960, 1964, and 1968 on the other. He deserves to be recognized for, at the very least, brought to life the wonderfully whimsical musical fantasy, Willy Wonka, as well as the gritty film portrait of the landmark Wattstax concert (a documentary that he also co-produced).


Mel Stuart with the Oompa Loompas

So thanks, Mel for your contributions to popular culture.

Mel Stuart passed away on August 9, 2012 at the age of 83.

About Michael Berick

I am a longtime writer, and lover, of music and pop culture. I have written for Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Cleveland Scene and more places (that I wouldn't take up more of your time mentioning now).
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