Where Did Paul Thomas Anderson Get the Title 'Licorice Pizza' From?

Why is Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie called 'Licorice Pizza'? What exactly does that mean or refer to, and what is its significance in the film?


Dec. 29 2021, Published 6:41 a.m. ET

'licorice pizza' still
Source: MGM

Director Paul Thomas Anderson takes a trip back to California's San Fernando Valley in the 1970s for his new movie, Licorice Pizza. Five out of Paul’s nine films have been set in the Valley, where the director has lived most of his life, and Licorice Pizza brings him back to the neighborhood he grew up in.

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Licorice Pizza feels like one of Paul’s most personal creations, but where did he come up with such a unique title? What does it even mean?

licorice pizza phone
Source: MGM
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Why is Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie called 'Licorice Pizza'?

Licorice Pizza follows a precocious teenager named Gary Valentine who falls for Alana Kane, a woman 10 years older than him. Gary pulls Alana into his world and together, they start a waterbed company, explore local politics, and audition for movies in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley.

But there’s nothing in the entire film that alludes to its title or explains why the movie is called Licorice Pizza. There is no licorice or pizza consumed over the course of its two-hour-and-13-minute run time.

Licorice Pizza is actually named after a famous SoCal record store that existed in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, according to Thrillist. The term is also slang for vinyl records, which have the appearance of shiny, black licorice and are the size of a small pizza.

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The store doesn’t make an appearance in the film either, but for the director, its name captured the spirit of the story. After months of thinking about it, Paul decided “that these two words shoved together reminded me the most of my childhood.”

licorice pizza audition
Source: MGM
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Licorice Pizza, the store, was founded in 1969 by James Greenwood. Its first location was in Long Beach and at the height of its popularity, the franchise had 34 branches. The store was an integral part of the Los Angeles music scene and even employees who worked there enjoyed spending their days off in the store.

“It was a great vibe, and it was a total hangout,” Kurt Peterson, who worked as a sales associate and later a singles buyer, told Thrillist. "We'd hang out and talk music and argue who was better.”

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What other landmarks from the Valley made it into the movie?

Aside from the now-extinct music store that inspired the movie’s title, there are a couple of other famous locations from the Valley that appear in Licorice Pizza.

The Tail o' the Cock, which is Gary’s hangout spot in the film, was an upscale restaurant in Studio City that used to serve the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Robert Kennedy. The restaurant closed in 1987 and today, has been replaced with a shopping center.

licorice pizza

Scenes were also shot at The Mikado Restaurant, the first Japanese restaurant in the Valley that offered American diners their first taste of Japanese cuisine. The hotel to which the restaurant is connected is still in operation, but the restaurant itself is now listed as permanently closed.

One key moment also happens in front of the El Portal movie theater, which is one of the few landmarks still in existence today. The theater opened in 1926 and is now a performing arts center.

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