A BRIEF HISTORY OF “PIE IN THE FACE
The first real PiePal is Canadian Thomas “Doc” Kelly who led his medicine show in 1889. He saw a cook throw a piece of pie that hit a cabin boy on his shirt and people laughed. Doc took it to the next level – Pie to the Face! He used the gag in his show and it was medicine.
The pioneering film comedian Ben Turpin is generally credited with taking the first cinematic Pie in the Face in 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’ 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 1913-1914. This simple gag created a sensation throughout the new film going public and thrust Mabel as America’s emerging comedic sweetheart. (Insert Mabel’s Photo)
Mack Sennet, who produced many of these early shorts, capitalized on the phenomenon 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. Mabel 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 occurrence 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.
The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, Three Stooges and others used the Pie in the Face “shtick.” Sweet Pie and Pie (1941) and Pies and Buys (1958) were the Stooges most notable.
Soupy Sales took his first Pie in the Face in the 1950’s on WXEL-TV in Cleveland and accepted 20,000 pies in his career. Well known celebrities would visit his “Lunch with Soupy” to take a pie such as Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra.
Donald O’Connor recorded a song “Throwing Pies Makes Me Laugh” in 1947. James Galaway and Henry Mancini directed instrumentals of “Pie in the Face Polka” used in the film “The Great Race” (1965) which included 2,357 pies thrown.
In the television era, there have been a plethora of pies thrown on sitcoms, variety programs, and talk shows.
Single pies involuntarily received include columnist Anita Bryant, Ohio Governor James Rhodes, billionaire Bill Gates, and many more.
During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Tony Sobony, now a retired school teacher from Columbus, Ohio, had accepted with verification 56,045 Pies in the Face. Each pie consisted of, on average, five ounces of whipped cream topping on a paper plate.
With the help of Boy Scout Troop #526 and many other PiePals, the Pie Party created “SpeedPie,” a designated number of pies thrown at Sobony in a short time. His best so far is 1111 pies in 92 seconds on Saturday, June 13, 2009.
On National Cancer Survivor Day, Sunday, June 6, 2021, Sobony will take 606 pies in 59 seconds.
For a detailed history of Pies in the Face that includes vintage footage of past PiePals, please view Rosie Rose’s article.