#602: Chicago, the Home of the Pie in the Face

March 2nd, 2016

The largest pie fight in cinematic history was in Laurel and Hardy’s “The Battle of the Century” from 1927. More than 3,000 pies were used.

The most famous unseen pie fight was the original ending of 1963’s “Dr. Strangelove,” in which a massive pie fight breaks out in the war room. It was scrapped because no one told the actors to play it straight, or because it was filmed shortly before Kennedy was shot and the line “Our President has been struck down in his prime!” after getting hit by a pie was a little close to home, depending on which version of the story you believe.

But the very first cinematic pie in the face in history was right here in Chicago.

It’s from the 1909 film “Mr. Flip,” a four-minute silent comedy of actor Ben Turpin walking around trying to molest women and getting punished by them.

He goes into a general store, grabs the counter girl and gets hauled off in a dolly.

He goes to get a manicure and grabs the manicurist, who gets her friend to stab him with a pair of scissors.

He gets zapped by a telephone operator cranking her manual generator, sprayed with shaving cream by lady barbers, sprayed with seltzer at a bar and, when he tries to get similarly rapey with a woman at a restaurant, gets hit in the face with the very first pie-as-weapon in cinematic history.

Correcting for the time, and given that it would be hard to illustrate “cheeky flirt” in a silent movie without going broad, it’s pretty funny.

It was produced by Essanay Studios, a short-lived silent movie studio located in Uptown. Turpin, who also worked as a janitor and carpenter for the fledgling studio, became its first star in 1907 with “An Awful Skate; or, the Hobo on Rollers.”

The most famous Essanay star would be Charlie Chaplin, who worked there for a year and grew to hate the place. Chaplin only filmed one movie, “His New Job,” in Chicago, preferring the year-round filming conditions Essanay’s California studio offered.

Turpin left Essanay in 1916, a year after the Chaplin year, joining the Vogue-Mutual company. He joined with Mack Sennett the year after, finally becoming a star.

He retired in the 1920s to take care of his ailing wife. She died in 1925. Turpin returned to work.

Although he faced a lot of the same problems silent stars did in the talkie era — Turpin’s speaking voice was a raspy French New Orleans accent — his story has a happier ending than most. Yes, he never made the jump to talkies, but that’s because he didn’t want to.

The recipient of the world’s first comedy pie was a ridiculous looking Mexican-Irish New Orleanian with crossed eyes, a brush mustache and a penchant for the broadest of slapstick, but he was also a shrewd businessman, heavily invested in real estate.

Now let’s watch the world’s first pie in the face.

Meet the man who owned the universe

Meet a suburbanite who thought the earth was hollow

Meet the women behind the only newspaper to make deadline after the Great Chicago Fire

And, just for fun, what Rahm’s missing finger says about him

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