Posts Tagged Middle Grade

Interview with Johnny Whitaker, star of Family Affair, Tom Sawyer, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a real treat today!

Recently, I got a chance to speak to this week’s guest, who starred in two of my favorite shows growing up. I watched Family Affair and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters religiously, and I also really loved the movie, Tom Sawyer. But besides all those, you couldn’t watch anything during the 60’s and 70’s without seeing his face on the screen.

Please help me welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Johnny Whitaker!

JR: I was reading your bio, and couldn’t believe how young you were when you started. You were three years-old and then acted fairly regularly from then on. At any point were you aware of how different that was from what most kids experienced, or did you just think that was what everyone did?

JW: I did not know that it was anything different. You know, I didn’t know that I was getting paid. I mean, I knew what money was, but I got unemployment insurance when we were on hiatus, when we weren’t working. And at that time, you had to go into the office personally, and I had to be there with my mother and she would get the cash and I wondered why we went there on a biweekly basis and why I had to go with her and what was going on? So, I finally said, “What is this?”

She said, “Oh, this is money that we get because you are not working.”

I said, “You mean when I go to the set?”

And she goes, “Yeah.”

So, she started giving me five bucks of the money. So, I thought, oh, okay. Since it was my money anyway, I guess she figured, okay, I guess I’d better give him something to shut him up.

JR: That’s really funny. Your first movie was the very funny, The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, which had some huge Hollywood heavyweights, like Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Winters, and Brian Keith, who you would work with later in Family Affair. Did that register for you? I mean, did you go in starstruck, or were you too young and just thought of it as a job?

JW: I didn’t look at it as a job, I looked at is having fun with some adults. We traveled. They flew us to San Francisco, and I hadn’t been on a plane before. So, we got to fly to San Francisco and then took a bus to Fort Bragg, California, which was supposed to look like an Eastern Seaboard town, so sunrise was actually sunset. And sunset was actually sunrise. And, we had a good time. It was fun. If you watch the movie, I am the little boy who brings the Americans and the Russians together when I fall off the bell tower, and onto the edge with my belt. My stuntman, who is still alive today, Felix Silla, and he’s the one who played Cousin It in The Addams Family, but you hear John Philip Law, who played Alexei Kolchin, the Russian who saved me. So, when John lifts me off the edge of the church steeple, we actually are about two hundred feet up in the air. They had built a scaffolding around the steeple of the church, built especially for the shot. As he throws me on his shoulder, I slip, and you hear this bloodcurdling female scream, that is the voice of my mother.


JR: Wow! I need to watch that scene again! Are there any fun memories that you can share with us from that shoot?

JW: Well, my mother and I had a little motel room there, and we got a per diem, which is cash for each meal that you’re having because you’re not at home. So, instead of going out to dinner with the per diem, my mother bought a little hamburger press or sandwich press, and she was making me a grilled cheese sandwich, when all of a sudden there was a knock at the door, and my mother, being a good-looking, very pretty woman, comes to the door, and there is this hunk of a man, Brian Keith.  And he says, “Hello, Ms. Whitaker, is Johnny Whitaker available to play?” You know, my mother’s heart is beating because there’s this big movie star right in front of her.

I asked Brian if he wanted a grilled cheese sandwich and he said, “Grilled cheese sandwich? What are you doing eating a grilled cheese sandwich?”

My mother said that she was saving our per diem for the rest of the family for when we get home, and he said, “Well, tonight you’re going to have a steak dinner!” So he turns and calls off to someone, “Jonathan, get out here!”

And Jonathan Winters who had a few of his own children there, appears, and Brian Keith said to him, “You and I are taking Mrs. Whitaker and Johnny out to dinner!” And Jonathan, I understand, was a little surprised, since he held onto his money. Anyway, we went out, and I don’t know who paid, but we didn’t, and had a nice dinner.

JR: That’s fantastic. Following up on that, you later starred in Family Affair, which I watched all the time as a kid. I read that Brian Keith pushed for you to get the role in that. Is there any truth to that?

JW: My agent says it was her, Mary Grady, who’s still alive and is ninety-six years old. Beautiful woman, I actually just called her today. She claims that she had been fighting for me to get the role. Brian said it was him, so somewhere in between is the truth. Basically, Brian said, I want this kid to be the next door neighbor or something in the show, he’s real talented and he’s cute. The original role was for a sixteen-year old girl, a ten-year old boy, and a six-year old girl. But when they saw that Anissa and I looked so much alike . . . I was the only six-year old boy there. All the other boys were nine, ten, eleven or twelve. But, at Brian’s request, I was there for the screen test, and at that screen test, they paired me up with Pamelyn Ferdin, who I’m sure you heard of.


JR: Yes, I actually reached out to her about doing a future interview.

JW: So, she was there, another little girl was there, and Anissa was there. and I remember that there weren’t any six-year old boy lines to read, but I read the ten-year old boy lines, and I read with all of them, but when the producer saw that Anissa and I looked like brother and sister and that we could be twins, they said, “This is the magic!” Cut. Print. The ten-year old boy is now a six-year old twin, and I became the second part of the Buffy/Jody twins.

JR: There really is an incredible resemblance. What are some memories that you can share from that show?

JW: I have tons, but I remember there’s one episode Arthur, the Invisible Bear, and I had an invisible bear named, Arthur, and Mr. French and Uncle Bill were afraid that I was having some kind of nervous breakdown because I was seeing this bear, so they took me to a psychiatrist and Uncle Bill goes in to talk with the psychiatrist. So, I’m out in the waiting room, and it says in the script, Jody begins to tell Arthur the story of the three bears, then cut to—So, I said, “Arthur, have you heard the story of the three bears? Well, once upon a time there were three bears . . .” and there was the cut. Supposedly. But they made me tell the entire story, and they filmed the entire story, but I just kept in character, and I kept telling the entire story, and at the end, I got a standing ovation from the crew.

JR: That is great!

JW: Something else I remember is the first year, our director was William D. Russell and he had a stroke and one side of his body wasn’t working, but he could tie his shoes with one hand, and he taught me how to tie my shoes with one hand, but I’ve forgotten since.

But for the rest of the seasons, two through five, Charles Barton was the director. And Charles Barton had directed a lot of Abbott and Costello, and was very well renowned for that. But he was a very impish man, standing five-feet tall, at best, so we were the same size, and I remember him being a very gentle, loving, and caring person. And his face was right up next to the camera if we were doing a scene, and if it was a very sad scene, he would actually cry, and a couple of times, they had to cut the tape because they could hear him crying.

JR: So, funny. Now, I have to ask this one question, did Mrs. Beasley ever creep you out?

JW: No, I mean, but to my knowledge, most girls’ dolls then were babies, but Mrs. Beasley was a full-grown woman, and I don’t know where they got the doll, but supposedly, the original Mrs. Beasley doll was one of the producer’s daughters’ dolls, and then it became that everyone wanted a Mrs. Beasley doll.

JR: I read that!

JW: And, interestingly enough, one of the originals, is in a museum in Washington D.C.

JR: You had a starring role in Tom Sawyer, which is one of my favorite books. It also starred Celeste Holm, Warren Oates, and Jodie Foster! That looked like such a fun movie to be in, and had songs from the Sherman Brothers of Disney fame, who also wrote songs for Mary Poppins and many other films. That was really your first lead role and starring vehicle. What was that like for you? Were you nervous? Or had it become routine for you by that time?

JW: It was my first lead role starring in a motion picture, but I had done The Littlest Angel with Fred Gwynne, Connie Stevens, Cab Calloway, E.G. Marshall, and that was in 1969. So, I was used to working and carrying the load.


JR: That is one great cast as well. As far as Tom Sawyer went, were you a fan of the novel and had you read it before being cast?

JW: I was a very big fan of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain, but I hadn’t read the book before I was cast, since it was more of a junior high school novel, and I was just getting out of elementary that year. But, I did read it before we started filming and I thought that the Sherman Brothers did a pretty good job of keeping the important parts of the book, the whitewashing of the fence, Muff Potter’s drinking, and Tom Sawyer’s lying and telling fibs, and it’s funny, because to this day, I remember the first big fib that I told, because I had to do that scene around a hundred-and-fifty times! The director, Don Taylor, did not want to tell me how to do a double-take. He wanted me to kind of catch it for myself. And Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to do a double-take, and I kept on messing up. Finally, I got it, I guess, good enough to where they printed it, but it took around a hundred and some odd takes to do it. Tom Sawyer comes home from swimming with Huck, and Aunt Polly comes into Tom’s room, and Tom surprises her and says, “Oh, Aunt Polly, supper ready yet?”

And she says, “Has been for some time.”

And I said, “Well, I’m late because of the Widow Douglas.” And now, Mrs. Douglas is downstairs with the family, eating dinner.

And she says, “The Widow Douglas?”

And then all of a sudden, I say, “Yeah! Well, I was on my way home, walking past the Widow’s house, when I heard this scream and a yell for help from the top floor. What could I do? I had to run up there to see what was wrong!”

Aunt Polly: “And what was wrong?”

Me: “Well, there she was, laying stretched out on the floor, she musta fell or something. Screaming and a hollering like she’s going to die! And a bone, sticking right out of her leg!”

Aunt Polly: “Sticking right out of her leg?”

Me: “Well, I had to run clear across town to fetch Doc Robinson. He’s up there right now, sewing up the poor widow’s leg. Must’ve needed fifty stitches.”

Aunt Polly: “Fifty?”

Me: “Yeah, and that’s how come I’m late for supper. I sure worked up a big appetite doing all that running and chasing.” And that’s when I see the Widow Douglas.

And Aunt Polly says, “What a string of fibs you tell, Tom Sawyer. I oughta wash your mouth out with soap!”

Me: “That’s okay, Aunt Polly. If’n you let me put some supper in first.”

After almost fifty years, I can still remember those lines.

JR: That’s incredible. (And just so you know, I went back and watched it after, and you nailed it!) Now we have to talk about one of my absolutely favorite shows as a kid, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. I can’t even express how much I loved that show. And it comes up often when I speak to other people as a favorite childhood show. Great theme song as well by Bobby Hart of The Monkees fame. I would love to hear anything that you can share with us from that show, starting with the Krofts.

JW: Well, the Krofts and myself are still good friends, after forty plus years. Sid is still in apparently good health, but he has retired. He doesn’t really work much anymore. But, Marty still goes into the office every single day, keeps busy and is always looking at something else. Marty’s daughter has kind of picked up the reins and keeping the company going. They’re good people. Lots of fun. We filmed the first season and a half, at what is now the Oprah Winfrey studios in Hollywood. And back then, we accidentally burned down one of their studios with our cave. Afterwards, Rip Taylor was still dressed in his genie outfit, and hitching a ride out on Santa Monica Boulevard, and they saw this crazy man with a bathing suit and make-up on, and people were nonplussed.

JR: Hysterical. How was working with Billy Barty?

JW: Billy Barty was a sweet man. He had two children who were younger than me. They came to the set every once in a while. He was very sweet. We were both LDS Mormons, so we would talk about that, and other things. Good man, he was.

JR: That show looked like so much fun to work on.

JW: Oh, yeah. And then thirty-five years later, I got the chance to be the mayor of Dead Man’s Point.

JR: I was going to ask you about that.

JW: For the new series on Amazon Prime. I called up Marty and asked, “What role do you have for me?”

He said, “I don’t know.” And I said, “You better find one!”

JR: I’m so glad he did. You were very funny in that. How surreal was it for you to visit that set again, and how were you treated?

JW: I was treated like a God.

JR: I believe that.

JW: People had to pay homage to me.

JR: As well they should.

JW: It was lots of fun, we had a good time. And the young kids who were playing Johnny and Scott were really talented boys. And with this machination, they created a female cousin, and that was a difference from the original and it was very good.

JR: It also looked like a lot of fun. You starred in several productions for Disney, which seemed to be the dream for several actors. Personally, I loved Snowball Express. How was that experience, and what was it like working for the House of Mouse?

JW: Well, at the time I was working for Disney, the young people were more expendable than they are today. Whereas today Disney reveres their children and gives them all the perks. The first film I did for Disney was, The Biscuit Eater. Fortunately, they’ve learned their lesson that they need to treat their young children a little better. The next film I did for them was Napoleon and Samantha, with Jodie Foster, we were introducing Jodie, and I was a co-star, and even though the name of the film was Napoleon and Samantha, and I played Napoleon, and she played Samantha, they had it starring Michael Douglas and Vito Scotti. But that’s the way Disney had it at that time.

One thing I remember is, I made around $15,000 a picture with Disney. And I remember, it was right before Disney World was coming out, and they were making all the sets there at Disney Studios and then shipping them out to Florida.

JR: How awesome to get to see that!

JW: I was doing screening there, in between the films to bank screening hours, and I made friends with this one artist, and he was doing the sets that were in the Jungle Cruise. And he called me over and he put his thumb in the clay on the Goddess, and then he told me to put my thumbprint next to his. So, I did and now my thumbprint is there forever and ever.

JR: That is so great! I need to look for that next time I’m there!

JW: This gentleman also told me, “Hey Johnny, did you know that Disney is giving away one for one stock options?”

I didn’t know what that meant.

He told me that you get your money and then give back some money to Disney and whatever you put back, they put that same amount toward stock in Disney. That you have faith that they’ll do well, and if you do well, they do well and if they do well, you do well. So, I went to my mom and dad and said, why don’t we take half the money, $7500, that I make from one of my pictures, and put it into Disney stock, and then I’ll get $15,000 worth of Disney stock for $7500. And at the time, Disney stock was ninety-nine cents a share. Now, had I held on to those shares of $15,000 shares of Disney stock in 1971, just the stocks themselves would be worth $50 million dollars today.

JR: Oh no. I’m crying. That would keep me awake even now. I’d like to talk about what you’re presently doing. You’re involved now with an organization called, Paso por Paso.

JW: Yes, I am the founder and CEO

JR: It’s very admirable. Can you tell us about the organization and how people can become involved?

JW: I am almost twenty-three years clean and sober, and about three years into my recovery, I was going back to 1979-1981, I was a Mormon missionary in Portugal, so I speak fluent Portuguese till today. I don’t have a whole lot of Portuguese people to speak to in Los Angeles, but there are a lot of Hispanics to speak with, and the languages are around 85% similar. So, I picked up Spanish, and speak Spanish fluently. When I went to speak with addicts, a young lady there asked me if I spoke Spanish, and I said, Yes, I do. There were around five people who spoke English, but in that group, many more who spoke Spanish. I gave my little spiel, half in English and half in Spanish, and I thought, that’s not the way it should go. So, me and a couple of friends in recovery, started Paso por Paso, which is, specifically to help the monolingual Hispanics in treatment and recovery in their own language. We’re also an advocacy groups, and we support many different drug and related advocacy programs. One of which came up at the end of August, which was International Overdose Awareness Day. You can go to my website and Facebook page, and see the people we’re honoring by creating a virtual celebration of life for those who have died due to overdose.

For me, there was Anissa Jones, who was Buffy in Family Affair. She is one person who I celebrate. And then there was the daughter of my agent, Mary Grady, Lani O’Grady, who was Mary Bradford in Eight is Enough, and she was like my sister. Then we have Dana Plato from Diff’rent Strokes, and I was her manager before she passed away. Eric Douglas, Mike Douglas’s half-brother, who died of a cocaine overdose. And Michael Ansara, who was Barbara Eden’s son, who died of an overdose. And then, a very dear friend of mine, his son, just passed away last year at this time. So, on August 30th, we held a Memorial service to those who passed due to overdose.

JR: Very admirable and touching. And if people want to become involved, that information is on your website?

JW: Yes.

JR: And you had mentioned to me that September is National Recovery Month, and that should be celebrated. 

JR: When I first reached out to you, I mentioned that I had seen you in a convention, and you took a picture with my kids, which unfortunately, I can’t find after all the moves we made, but what stuck out to me was how gracious you were, not just to me, but to all the fans. Do you still get recognized now and how often do fans reach out to you?

JW: Well, if you’re over forty-five, you know who I am. Or if your mom and dad were smart enough to tell you what real television is.

JR: I agree with that! Do fans still reach out to you?

JW: Yes, I get fan mail all the time.

JR: Nobody’s doing anything now, but normally, do you still do the conventions?

JW: I don’t do them as often as I used to, but when I can, I do. I have a great time, and it’s fun to see fans, and tell them how much they appreciate you.

JR: I’m sure. To everyone around my age, you were such a fixture and staple of growing up, so I can imagine you mean a lot to a whole lot of people.

JR: Since we’re a site dedicated to children’s books, what was your favorite childhood book?

JW: My favorite was Clifford the Big Red Dog and/or The Giving Tree.


JR: And your favorite childhood movie?

JW: My favorite Childhood Movie was “The Wizard of Oz” or “Mary Poppins”.  When I got to work with the geniuses who wrote the music and lyrics to the film, the Sherman Brothers, in Tom Sawyer, it was a dream come true.  Also, when I got to meet The Wicked Witch herself, Margaret Hamilton, another dream come true.

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

JW: Twitter: @JohnWhitakerJr

Facebook Johnny Whitaker fans.


JR: Mr. Whitaker, I thank you so much for your time today. It was a real pleasure.

Reminder: September is National Recovery Month. If you or someone you know is in need, there are resources available. 

Paso Por Paso

SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration


Again, a huge thank you to Johnny Whitaker, and until next time . . .

Jonathan Rosen

Interview with Julie Dawn Cole, Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for an enormous treat today!

Whenever I interview anyone, I usually ask them what their favorite childhood movie was. Among the top answers I always receive is Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It’s among my favorites as well, and that is why this is definitely among the most excited I’ve ever been to conduct an interview. Please help me welcome one of the stars of that film, Julie Dawn Cole, who played one of the most memorable child characters ever, Veruca Salt!

                                                                                                                                     Julie Dawn Cole

JR: Hi Julie, and thanks for joining us today!

To start with, after you agreed to do the interview, I went back and watched Willy Wonka again, and it brought me right back to my childhood. It’s a movie that I watched as a kid, and loved when I got to see it again through that lens when I watched it with my children. The film has such a timeless feel. How often do you go back and rewatch it and can you distance yourself from the film and just enjoy it, or is it a more analytical and emotional experience?

JDC: I confess that I don’t go back and watch it as a whole, but if friends are around and it is on, then I might dip in. Though when I do watch it, it is like watching a scrap book for me, I remember what happened just before we did that etc etc, I remember the stuff surrounding it.

JR: I’m sure in many ways it’s like a home movie. At what point did you realize that the movie would have such tremendous staying power?

JDC: Not until the 80’s probably when it was shown on TV regularly and then gained its cult following. When It was released, it didn’t do well at the box office and came and went. In fact for many years, I hardly mentioned it, and I think for a while I left it off my resume, as it wasn’t relevant, and was a ‘kids movie’ and not a very popular one.


JR: That’s still amazing to me how it only got popular years after its release. You are my daughter’s favorite in the movie. Even though you played the perfect bratty child, you’ve picked up a big cult following, including a rock band named Veruca Salt. That’s a testament to your performance. What do you think it is about that character, which even though she was soooo bratty, kids still loved her?

JDC: I guess secretly we all have an inner dark self that we might like to let loose! Veruca does and says what we might secretly think but would never dare do, or be allowed to do.

                                                                                                                        Julie as Veruca Salt and now

JR: Have you had any interaction with the band?

JDC: Sadly no, though I think we connected via twitter.

                                                                                                                                  The band, Veruca Salt

JR: Other than Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, you were the only kid to have a song, which was a memorable one. That must’ve been a feather in your cap.

JDC: It still annoys Paris, (Mike Teevee) he was desperate to have a song, and used to walk around singing ‘where is love’ hoping they might relent and write him one!

                                                                                                                     Paris Themmen as Mike TeeVee

JR: That’s very funny. Willy Wonka was your first film. What was that like for a kid to go in filming with some established actors and big names like Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, and Roy Kinnear?

I was in awe of the woman who played my mother, Pat Coombs, and she doesn’t even get a credit! But don’t forget I was 12, and didn’t know who Gene and Jack were. I had seen Roy Kinnear on British TV, but as a kid I think you just accept things.

                                                                                                                Julie with Roy Kinnear and Pat Coombs

JR: That innocence was probably a good thing! What are your memories of Gene Wilder?

Gene was very sweet and kind, especially when he found out that I was the only kid who didn’t have a relative with them on location. 3 months in Germany away from home. I think he felt for me with that, and went out of his way to make a fuss of me. Plus probably the British accent helped!

                                                                                                                     Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka

JR: The accent certainly works on my daughter, she’s obsessed with all things British! I just read and loved your memoir, I Want it Now, which was so much fun. You included so many personal items like pictures and letters that you wrote from the time, that I felt like I was a part of the experience. There are tons of great stories that fans of yours and fans of the movie will find amazing and they’ll love being able to reminisce with you. I highly recommend everyone to go and purchase it from your website, where they can get a signed and personalized copy, but are there some fun anecdotes from the making of Willy Wonka that you can share with us here?

JDC: I think most of them are covered in the book, apart from the fact that we used to play with an Ouija board in our hotel room. ( I didn’t include that bit,)  let’s face it we were often bored and there was no cable TV.

JR: Actually, the Ouija Board sounds like an interesting evening. I was saddened to read about Denise Nickerson’s unfortunate passing. Did you have contact with her before then?

JDC: I saw Denise regularly, and we were in contact just 2 weeks before she had her stroke. Paris was staying with me on vacation and Rusty Goffe (who played one of the Oompa Loompas), had joined us for lunch, so we gave her a call. Denise and I always called each other Sis. I was incredibly sad, when she died. She had a terrible year following her stroke and never recovered. Paris and I visited her in September just after her stroke. She had recovered well, but her speech was slow, and she struggled, So we sang Willy Wonka songs, and she seemed really happy. It was one of the saddest days I have known. That was the last time I saw her, waving goodbye from her balcony window.

                                                                                                                                    Denise Nickerson

JR: I’m glad you had that time together. You’ve gotten together with the cast many times for reunions. Do you all still keep in touch?

JDC: Yes all still in touch, last time was when I saw Paris and Pete for the launch of a pinball machine! We had a lot of fun.

                                                                                                                               Peter Ostrum

JR: Okay, I have to ask, the Oompa Loompas seemed to be working day and night at the whim of Wonka, shouldn’t they have unionized?

JDC: Of course they should!!!! Wonka was exploiting them.

                                                                                                                                     Oompa Loompas

JR: Speaking of Oompa Loompas, what was your first impression at seeing the chocolate room?

JDC: It was beautiful, and such fun to run round. I used to take my lunch to the riverbank and have my own little picnic.

                                                                                                                          Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Room

JR: I don’t blame you. That set looked magnificent. And I read that you actually hated chocolate? My daughters are the same, and I question their bloodlines because of that, but how was it for someone who hated chocolate to be surrounded by it?

JDC: There wasn’t as much chocolate as most people think there was. I guess the most was in the salts salted peanut factory when they were shelling wrappers, but most of those were dummies.


JR: You have had such a lengthy and fantastic career. Out of your post-Wonka roles, which are some of your favorites and why?

JDC: Couldn’t really say, but I have certainly had fun, and got to travel lots. I worked out once that work had taken me to 40 countries!

JR: That’s amazing! You really have been fortunate to get to see so many different places and cultures. Can you share any fun anecdotes regarding some of your other roles?

JDC: I was working on a movie called ‘Camille’ with an amazing cast, including the gorgeous Colin Firth. I shared a trailer with Billie Whitelaw, and we were on location near Versaille. Relaxing after lunch there was a little knock on the door. It was Sir John Gielguid. He asked if he could join us, as he was lonely on his own! What an amazing afternoon. Another time I had to meet Katherine Hepburn, and read a script with her. (I didn’t get the part) she said in that wonderful voice, “Oh you are so much better at this than I am!”. Not true of course, but oh how magical to read with her.

                                                                                                                                   Camille (1984 film)

JR: Do you ever do conventions?

JDC: Yes, we had some planned for the 50th anniversary, but sadly all on hold.


JR: That is sad. Would love to get to see you at a convention! How are your interactions with fans?

JDC: Interesting, especially the lady who has a full sized tattoo of me on her back! (Kansas City)

JR: Now THAT’S a fan! On your Facebook page, Julie Dawn Cole – The ORIGINAL Veruca Salt, you recently posted videos of you reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was such a treat. I read the comments in the videos, and you just saw how much that meant to fans. It really was nice of you to do. Did that give you a new sense of how much of a part you played in the childhoods of so many people?

JDC: That was a fun thing to do, and early lockdown was such a scary time for us all. It was lovely to see all the comments, and I feel I know so many of the fans. It was such a thrill that people enjoyed it. When  we first did it, my kids said ‘ who is going to watch it?’ I” don’t know “I replied, ‘but I know the neighbours’ children will be watching, so that is 3.”I was stunned when we were getting thousands of hits. We are thinking of maybe doing it again for a YouTube channel. Watch this space!

JR: Will the videos be up for a while?

JDC: Hope so!

JR: Since we’re a site dedicated to children’s books, what was your favorite childhood book?

JDC: Pookie! By Ivy Wallace. I read them all as a child and have been collecting them for my Granddaughter. I loved them, they are out of print now, but I managed to find a first edition. Pookie got me through some very difficult times in my childhood.

                                                                                                                                     Pookie by Ivy Wallace

JR: With so many people saying that Wonka was their favorite childhood movie, do you have a favorite childhood movie?

JDC: In search of the Castaways, starring Hayley Mills. My childhood heroine!

                                                                                                                               In Search of the Castaways

JR: I enjoyed that one as well! You currently work in a cancer center as a psychotherapist. What made you decide to transition away from acting to pursue that field?                      

JDC: It was time to do something more meaningful.

JR: That’s very admirable. How can people follow you on social media?

JDC: My Facebook page is the best way, Julie Dawn Cole, the original Veruca Salt.

Twitter – @realverucasalt

JR: Julie, I’d like to once again thank you for joining us. This has been a real treat, and you’re welcome back anytime!

JDC: Thank you!


Again, I highly recommend checking out Julie’s memoir, I Want it Now! There were so many great behind-the-scenes stories from Willy Wonka, and Julie included perosnal letters and pictures from the time, which made you feel like you were there. 

Check it out:

Julie’s site, where you have an opportunity to have it personalized:



Using Time in Nature to Get Your School Year Off to a Terrific Start

Photo: Jo Hackl

This year presents unique challenges for educators, students, and parents. As we navigate the new normal, why not try a proven technique to reduce stress and increase overall well-being? It turns out that spending time outdoors (even for a few minutes) can help you to do just that. Here’s a summary of some of the growing body of research supporting the benefits of exposure to nature.

Below are some easy ideas to help you incorporate nature into your day. They can not only help to make your day better, but also benefit your entire family.

Photo: Jo Hackl



1. If possible, eat breakfast outside or by a sunny window. Exposure to sunlight helps you wake up and the sights and sounds of nature help set the mood for a productive, calm day.


Photo: Jo Hackl



2. Whether you’re working at home or going to school, include something from nature in your workspace. Even a simple photograph from nature pasted on the inside cover of your notebook can help you relax if you get stressed.



3. Unwind at the end of your school day by taking a walk outside. This helps you clear your mind and relax your body.


Photos: Jo Hackl


Photo: Jo Hackl



4. Consider keeping a nature journal. Your journal doesn’t need to be anything fancy. All you need is something to write on and a pen or pencil to record things that interest you in nature. You might try sitting in the same spot every day and noting how the things you see, hear, feel and touch change over the course of the seasons.



5. Plan your weekend around outdoor activities. It’s easier to maintain social distance outdoors and outdoor activities provide a fun way for your family and friends to make memories. If you’d like to take things a step farther, join me in the practice I’ve maintained for over 25 years—every Sunday I unplug from technology and spend as much time as possible outdoors. My family and I hike. We garden. We take nature photographs. We don’t think about work or school. And that one simple habit makes an enormous difference in our week.

Photo: Jo Hackl


If you can’t get outdoors, you can read books with natural settings. In addition to classics such as Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, and Island of the Blue Dolphins



Below are some other wonderful books set outdoors:


A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry takes readers on a journey with a wolf separated from his family who embarks upon a thousand-mile journey to find a new home. Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan, calls it “[r]iveting and lyrical . . . a vibrantly imagined celebration of the natural world.”





Pax by Sara Pennypacker takes readers on an adventure with Peter, who sets out to reunite with his pet fox. The San Francisco Chronicle calls it “at once a wilderness adventure about survival and a philosophical foray into big questions.”





The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence takes readers on an adventure with two boys who must survive on their own in the Alaskan wilderness. The Horn Book Review calls it “[a]n emotionally engaging and heart-pounding read.”



For more information to help you explore the natural world, check out our STEM Tuesday section. You also can find more ideas (and cites to more research supporting the benefits of time in nature) at I grew up in the country and experienced the benefits of spending time outdoors. Years ago, this convinced me to create Outdoorosity as a free resource. These recent months have demonstrated more and more the value of making time to get outdoors to refresh and recharge. And doing so is good for all the people in our lives.