"Willy Wonka" director Mel Stuart dies at age 83

LOS ANGELES Fri Aug 10, 2012 4:25pm EDT

Mel Stuart,(C) director of the 1971 film ''Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory'' poses with the Oompa Loompas characters in the Chocolate room on the set of the film in this undated publicity photograph. Stuart has died at age 83 on August 9, 2012, according to family members. REUTERS/Copyright 2011, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Courtesy Warner Home Video/Handout

Mel Stuart,(C) director of the 1971 film ''Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory'' poses with the Oompa Loompas characters in the Chocolate room on the set of the film in this undated publicity photograph. Stuart has died at age 83 on August 9, 2012, according to family members.

Credit: Reuters/Copyright 2011, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Courtesy Warner Home Video/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Filmmaker Mel Stuart, director of the 1971 musical classic "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and dozens of documentaries, has died at the age of 83.

Stuart's daughter Madeline Stuart said he died of melanoma at his home in Los Angeles on Thursday night.

New York-born Stuart produced or directed more than 180 films, including documentaries ranging from politics ("The Making of the President 1960") to art ("Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde") and music such as his 1973 film "Wattstax" about African-American singers.

His prolific output for big and small screen earned him four Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and numerous prizes from festivals round the world.

But it was his film adaptation of novelist Roald Dahl's dark fantasy "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" that brought him the most fame, and it was inspired by a request from his daughter.

"It was a favorite book of mine as a child, and I came home one day and asked him if he could make a movie of it, and he did," Madeline Stuart told Reuters on Friday.

She also had a small part in a classroom scene. "There are not many kids get their wishes come true that way," the filmmaker's daughter, now an interior designer, said.

"He did so many things and we are proud of him. 'Willy Wonka' when it was released wasn't much of a hit movie. It wasn't until years later that it achieved this extraordinary cult status."

The movie, which originally starred Gene Wilder, was remade in 2005 with Johnny Depp in the lead role. But Stuart said, "All respect to director Tim Burton, but people still come up to me and say your dad made the real 'Willy Wonka.'"

Stuart's other works included the Oscar-nominated 1964 documentary about the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy "Four Days in November," the 1980 TV miniseries "The Chisholms" and the 1969 movie comedy "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium."

Stuart said her father never stopped working.

"He just finished a documentary about inner city school children in Los Angeles learning to read and recite Shakespeare. He was working literally up until the end," she said.

Stuart is survived by three children, and also by his first cousin -- Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame.

"The two of them grew up in New York and remained close to this day. They used to argue about whose characters were better, and who was more famous. Even well into their 80s they were still challenging each other, which I found rather charming," Madeline Stuart said.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant, editing by Christine Kearney, Gary Hill)

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