Candy Man, Candy Man, and Candyman
I recently upgraded my home TV antenna to receive more Over the Air Channels. While channel surfing, I stumbled upon a broadcast of the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I tuned in during the scene in the candy store where Bill the Candy Store Owner, played by Aubrey Woods, sings his signature song, The Candy Man.
I always enjoyed this song in the film and think that the Sammy Davis Jr. version is even better. If you are a fan of the song and the movie, you might be surprised that a lot of people were not happy with the song.
The Candy Man (Song)
The Candy Man was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley specifically for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Fans of the film might love this gem of a song as performed by Woods, but one person didn’t, the lyricist of the song Anthony Newley and the author of the book the film was based upon, Roald Dahl.
Newley found Woods’ performance to be “lacking in commerciality.” Which he thought would lower the chance of the song and movie album selling well or winning any awards. He was right, the film soundtrack, while well-received by many, didn’t receive an award nomination. Although the film’s score did get an Academy Award nomination for Walter Scharf.
Newley tried really hard to get this version of the song replaced. Offering to forego his salary to re-arrange and record the song. When that failed he tried to have a version of the song recorded to overdub Wood’s version. Wood’s contract forbade this and so his version is what we get to see today.
Roald Dahl’s issue with the song didn’t have anything to do with its commercial viability. Instead, it was part of a laundry list of issues that he had with his book’s translation to the big screen.
Newley’s thinking that The Candy Man should have been a commercial success was not wrong, because a new version of the song would soon burn up the charts. And as you might have guessed the person who recorded it, didn’t really like the song either.
The Candy Man (Sammy David Jr.)
A year after Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released, Sammy Davis Jr. recorded a version of The Candy Man for his album, Sammy Davis Jr. Now.
Sammy knocked this version out of the park and the song would spend three weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart starting on June 10, 1972. It was even nominated for a Grammy Award that year.
While the song was a hit, the only number one for Davis in his long career, he was not a fan. He thought the song was a little too saccharine. Despite his feeling for the song, it would follow him through a career that was at least partly revitalized by the song.
Sammy Davis Jr. On Charlie’s Angels
As part of his revitalized career in the Seventies, Davis would make appearances in films, television, and perform nearly non-stop in between. Famously for TV fans he appeared as himself and an impersonator of himself in a season two episode of Charlie’s Angels.
If you jump to the 8:16 second mark in the episode, you will see Sammy struggling with a Candy machine in a not-so-subtle nod to the song that would come to define him.
Charlie’s Angels had dozens of notable guest stars during its run. One of my favorite episodes of the show (an amnesia episode) had an appearance by Jonathan Frakes, who would go onto play William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
My mind turned to Star Trek for one reason, Tony Todd. Todd played a famous Klingon and several other characters in various iterations of that franchise, and more importantly would go on to play a very famous Candyman.
Candyman (the movie)
In late 1992, a friend of mine invited me to go see a movie that was not even on my radar. It was a horror film based on the Clive Barker short story, “The Forbidden,” and it was called Candyman.
The movie scared the heck out of me in the theater, and back at the video store I worked at, I became a tireless cheerleader for it.
The film did not do well at the box office, but would go on to become a cult classic. A lot of that success can be attributed to Tony Todd who played the hook-handed titular character.
The film is moody and quickly establishes a strong mythology, plus it uses bees to scare more effectively than any film I have ever seen. So many bees were used that Tony Todd was stung 26 times during filming.
Todd is magnetic in the role and would go on to play the character in several sequels, including a brand new Candyman that comes out this summer.
Can’t wait till the summer to see Candyman? Just read the title of this article out loud.