As the intergalactic Winnebago, Eagle 5, floated through space on autopilot, its two-man crew was beginning a day just like any other one. While the captain, Lone Starr, was nursing a hangover, the Mawg — half man, half dog — named “Barf” was eating and jamming out to KISS. But when they answered a call over the ship’s computer, the video monitor revealed a disgusting villain named Pizza the Hutt, a notorious gangster to whom Lone Starr owed money.
Although Pizza the Hutt appears in just a single scene of the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs, his role is pretty important, as Lone Starr’s need to pay off the debt sets the film in motion. Designed and built by makeup effects artist Ken Diaz, Pizza the Hutt’s suit consisted of actual food, including real pizza toppings and pancake batter doubling for dripping cheese. The suit was so uncomfortable that when the scene had to be reshot, the original actor who wore it refused to put it back on. And so, special effects artist Rick Lazzarini took up the mozzarella mantle (his voice, though, would be dubbed by Dom DeLuise).
To this day, almost exactly 35 years since the film was first released, both Diaz and Lazzarini still can’t shake the putrid stench (and blob) of pepperoni and pancake batter that was Pizza the Hutt.
Making Pizza the Hutt
Ken Diaz, Makeup Effects Artist on Spaceballs: The script for Spaceballs called for a “half man, half pizza,” and I was told to make the character look like a dripping piece of pizza. He was also a joke on Jabba the Hutt, so that was an influence on the character. Most of all, I knew he had to be gross.
I drew up a thumbnail sketch of the head with dripping cheese and steam coming off of him. Next, special effects artist Screaming Mad George sculpted him. The final Pizza the Hutt costume was made of a fiberglass undershell with a foam-latex skin. It had a hinged jaw, and there were neutral-colored balloons attached to the head for the bubbling cheese. It also had steam jets and hoses attached to bladders so that pancake batter could ooze out of him. I knew we couldn’t use real cheese because it had to be flowing out, so pancake batter with a little yellow food coloring did the trick.
Rick Lazzarini, Actor (Pizza the Hutt and Ape #2) and Puppeteer on Spaceballs: That suit was really heavy. It must have weighed about 25 pounds. I felt like I had 15 neck braces on. The pancake batter was being fed through thick hoses going up the back. So imagine having eight or ten garden hoses going up your back attached to a bicycle helmet. Plus, you’re trying to keep your head straight while the weight of them is tugging on you.
It took about an hour and a half to two hours to put the suit on, which was basically this big pyramid of cheese and pepperoni that came down to my chest. They put a little black around my eyes and glued the lower lip of Pizza the Hutt to my chin, while I was also wearing a prosthetic tongue over my chin. Then they added real pizza toppings, like real pepperoni and olives and stuff like that.
I wasn’t the first guy to wear it though. I was originally just hired to do the animatronic ears on John Candy’s Barf character, and I also volunteered to play one of the apes in the Planet of the Apes scene in the movie. Originally, Pizza the Hutt was played by effects artist Richard Karen. I don’t know why they needed to reshoot it, but when it came time for them to do so, he said, “Fuck that! I’m out. I’m not wearing that thing again.” So they looked around for whoever they thought was a sucker, and since I’d asked to wear the ape suit, they said, “Rick, you like wearing suits, why don’t you be Pizza the Hutt?”
Diaz: They didn’t get quite the performance they wanted to out of the original footage. Richard Karen wasn’t moving around in the suit enough; so when they reshot the footage, they chose Rick to replace him. Rick had developed the bladder system on the character, so he knew it really well. Plus, he was a puppeteer and knew how to get a lot out of the suit more generally.
Pizza the Hutt Hits His Mark
Lazzarini: When Mel Brooks yelled “Action!” I delivered my lines as they pumped the pancake batter in. It would ooze into my eyes and into my mouth. Fortunately, Mel didn’t do too many takes — I think I only had to do it for about eight takes. During them, there were pans to catch the pancake batter so they could recycle it, and in between takes, they had to re-prime the pumps with batter because they’d go dry.
My eyes were set so far back in the suit I was working a bit blind. I could barely see Rudy DeLuca, who played the robot Vinnie, right next to me. Though I know he picked a piece of pepperoni off me and ate it. I think that was an improv by him, or Mel told him to do that on the day of.
In the years since, people have often asked me how it smelled being inside Pizza the Hutt. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad since the lights weren’t hot enough to cook anything. Pancake batter and pepperoni is a really strange combination though. Honestly, I’m just thankful there weren’t any anchovies.