On Mrs. America, revenge is as sweet as pie. The FX on Hulu historical drama looks at second-wave feminism through the lens of its infamous opponent, Phyllis Schlafly — the housewife turned conservative agitator who stopped the Equal Rights Movement in the 1970s — but in this week’s episode, “Bella,” Schlafly is momentarily brought to a halt when she’s pied in the face by a radical-left activist.
The pie incident, like many other scenes in the series, is based on a true story from Schlafly’s life. From the 1970s to the ’90s, a man named Aron Kay pied public figures whom he considered detestable, from right-wing journalists to CIA chiefs, anti-abortion protesters, and Andy Warhol. Kay was part of the Youth International Party, a.k.a. the “Yippies,” a group of stoner antiwar activists that John Waters once described as “smart-ass, late 1960s, fake revolutionaries who think riots are a good place to get lucky for sex.”
Kay, who pied the real Schlafly on April 16, 1977, is still alive and well at 70. “When I saw that segment, I started laughing,” he said from his home in Brooklyn. “But there were a lot of differences in how the show has it.” For starters, as Kay recalled it, he didn’t yell before he pied Schlafly — and the pie he used was apple, not banana cream.
The actual incident went down at the Women’s National Republican Club Luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. Kay got in with a fake press pass under the pseudonym “David Simon,” in reference to the nursery rhyme “Simple Simon met a pieman.” He wore a borrowed suit to slide into a sea of “Republican slime.” He nevertheless stuck out, because unlike his Mrs. America counterpart, he had an unkempt mustache and collar-length hair, unlike the clean-cut crowd. And he had a paparazzi photographer by his side.
“We all go to the grand ballroom, I played along with the dance,” said Kay. “We saw these two security dicks at the entrance of the ballroom, I had to wait for them to leave so I could do the pie and make a clean getaway.”
When Kay’s friend Nancy Borman, then-editor of the feminist newspaper the Majority Report, approached Schlafly, he pulled out the pie from his briefcase. (He got the pie at a Greenwich Village bakery.) “I walked up to Phyllis and placed it on her face,” Kay said. “I said, ‘That’s for the ERA, you bitch!’ and walked right out.”
Kay’s photographer sold the shots to the Associated Press, which were published widely. “It looked like something out of a Charlie Chaplin film, these sequential photos,” Kay recalled.
Though he didn’t see Schlafly’s response because he immediately bolted out the door, luncheon guests recalled her supposed retort, which Blanchett also delivers in the Mrs. America episode: “Thank goodness it wasn’t a cherry pie, because it would have ruined my dress.”
Kay said he chose an apple pie because it’s a classic American staple, but he does have one regret all these years later. “I wish it was a cherry, raspberry, or blueberry pie to add some color to it,” he said. “I was being too nice with apple pie.”