The pioneering film comedian Ben Turpin is generally credited with taking the first cinematic pie-in-the-face (the 1909 film short ‘Mr Flip’), it would not be until several years later that the gag would be given a fresh face, so to speak! Sometime around 1913, a young actress named Mabel Normand (American cinema’s first ‘queen of comedy’), working under contract to Mack Sennett (and soon to become his lover), became the recipient of a ‘pie-in-the-face’–delivered’ by the legendary Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. This sight gag occurs in two different Keystone shorts–‘The Ragtime Band’ and ‘A Muddy Romance’– both of which date to 1913-14. This simple gag–shockingly applied to America’s emerging comedic sweetheart (Mabel)–created a sensation throughout the new, film-going public.

Sennett was quick to capitalize, making several more shorts with similar gags, and gave Mabel a free hand in directing and writing her own shorts (most of which have been lost). She quickly realized that a cream type pie worked best for film. So associated was Mabel with this gag that she was credited with having invented ‘pie throwing’. The sudden popularity of this form of slapstick sparked much imitation, especially from Hal Roach studios. The sight gag–from a single hit to a complete “melee”–remained a common occurance in comic cinema…and continued to do so into the era of talking pictures and through the early 1930’s, when this type of humor’s popularity would begin to decline–though it would never disappear completely.

Pie-in-the-face films were recorded in the 1920’s by Mack Sennett featuring Buster Keaton, and the comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy. Columbia Pictures provided the Three Stooges with pie fights in the following films: Slippery Silks (1936), In The Sweet Pie And Pie (1941), Half Wits Holiday (1947), Pest Man Wins (1951) and Pies And Buys (1958). Soupy Sales took his first pie in the face in the 1950’s on WXEL-TV in Cleveland, Ohio and accepted 20,000 pies in his career.

Donald O’Connor recorded a song “Throwing Pies Makes Me Laugh” in 1947. James Galaway and Henry Mancini directed instrumentals of the “Pie In The Face Polka” used in the film “The Great Race” (1965) which included 2,357 pies thrown. In the modern television era, there have been many isolated pies thrown on various programs including variety shows, Love American Style, Three’s Company and more. Single pies involuntarily received include former Ohio Governor James Rhodes, columnist Anita Bryant and many others.

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s Tony Sobony, now a retired school teacher from Columbus, Ohio, had accepted with verification over 60,000 pies. Each pie consisted of, on average, five ounces of whipped cream topping on a paper plate. With “Speed Pie” he accepted 1111 pies in 92 seconds on Saturday, June 13, 2009.


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