Even though such seemingly harmless trinkets as Kinder Surprise Eggs are banned in America because it’s unsafe to hide inedible objects within food, hiding a living woman inside of a cake seems to be okay. Granted, these days the cakes are usually not edible (most are now made out of cardboard), but the concept still remains: be it a bachelor party, birthday, or club night, if a mountainous, shoulder-height cake gets wheeled in to the room, most people are going to assume there’s a scantily clad lady hidden inside.
This weird tradition has been featured in the classic Marilyn Monroe film, Some Like It Hot, and more recently parodied in Arrested Development, among other film and television shows.
It was even a possible purchase in the original version of The Sims video game. Though decades have gone by, the idea remains the same: whether in her birthday suit or not, a woman pops out the top of a cake to entertain guests with a special, provocative dance.
Where exactly did this tradition first come from?
Well, modern civilizations weren’t the first to play with their food. Ancient Rome was known for gluttonous feasts teeming with tureens of wine and towers of lavish dishes. Catering was art as chefs would present edible arrangements: a plate of fish that made it look like the dinner was still alive, swimming in sauce.
Wealthy diners in the Middle Ages continued the tradition, often posing their dishes to make the cooked animals come alive. Some did, as cooks would stuff live animals into pies so that, upon presentation, birds would come bursting out of the middle, fluttering away to applause.
In 1454, the Duke of Burgundy held a banquet in France that was teeming with luxurious dishes, including a pie from inside which a total of 24 musicians performed for the guests! By the 17th century, the number of living beings hiding inside edibles was considerably diminished. In 1626, King Charles I and his wife were presented with a large pie from which burst forth a dwarf dressed in a suit of armor.
It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later that women became the preferred choice of pastry-dwelling surprises. In May 1895, notorious architect Stanford White held a banquet in New York that was reported on in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Cincinnati Inquirer. What made it so renown?
Held for the rich elite (attendees included Nikola Tesla and Charles Dana Gibson) the party featured a pie made of galvanized iron from which, when wheeled into the room, a sixteen-year-old beauty named Susie Johnson popped out, singing.
The affair was recreated in a sketch called “The ‘Girl in the Pie’ at the Three-Thousand Five Hundred Dollar Dinner in Artist Breese’s New York Studio” which was published in The World later that same year when Johnson, the Pie Girl, went missing. Published in the hopes of finding Johnson, the idea of the surprise cake gained the public’s attention.
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In her book Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America, Sarah Burns writes about the infamous “Pie Girl Dinner,” saying that “[the banquet] became a sign for the decadence of art and high society, fatally twinned in the pursuit of pleasurable sensation and in the ruin of innocence.” Despite these strong and condemning words, the tradition carried on.
Recent surprise cakes have contained Naomi Campbell for Usher’s birthday in 2004, and perhaps more memorably: James Franco and Seth Rogan for Jimmy Fallon’s birthday in 2014, and Bill Murray for David Letterman’s retirement in 2015.
The show isn’t much fun for the performer inside, however. In “Confessions of a Show Girl: The Truth About Being the Girl Inside the Cake,” Maren Wade tells Las Vegas Weekly the less-than-glamorous, sweaty, and stifling experience she had, crouched inside a Smart Car-sized cake for the birthday of a Fortune 500 CEO in 2014. Perhaps an ice cream cake would be the better choice.