How ‘Licorice Pizza’ Designer Found Waterbeds and Pinball Machines

Paul Thomas Anderson has surveyed L.A.’s San Fernando Valley from every angle in films like

Paul Thomas Anderson has surveyed L.A.’s San Fernando Valley from every angle in films like “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love.” For his latest, “Licorice Pizza,” which opens wide on Dec. 25, he went back to his early memories of the sprawling suburbs, combining them with events from the life of his childhood-friend producer Gary Goetzman, played by Cooper Hoffman. Even the film’s name references a favorite record store chain of the 1970s, although the store doesn’t appear in the film.

Production designer Florencia Martin’s vintage palette of browns, rusts and oranges manages to look lived in rather than kitschy, with plenty of period details, from the KMET billboard to beanbag chairs to Hollywood’s Teenage Fair. One pivotal location was based on the store Goetzman actually opened as an 18-year old, Fat Bernie’s Environmental Living.

Before Gary opens his own store, he’s inspired by the owner of Mr. Jack’s, a wig shop with a sideline in waterbeds. Martin found an article mentioning Goetzman in the L.A. Times archives that named some of the original waterbed companies.

Once the designer learned that some of the original waterbed manufacturers, such as American National, were still in business, she drove out to Covina and knocked on the factory door. “They looked at me like I was nuts,” Martin says, but after mentioning the article, she ended up talking to an executive who was able to help her more than she had expected.

He showed her a shoebox full of Polaroids from the heyday of the waterbed business. “There were shots of Mr. Jack’s and the custom-made bed,” says Martin, who used the photos as inspiration.

When the waterbed business sprang a leak due to the difficulty sourcing vinyl during the gas crisis, Gary pivoted — in real life and in the film — and opened Fat Bernie’s Pinball Palace. Pinball had just become legal in the city of L.A., and the astute teenager jumped on the opportunity to cash in. Martin worked with Gene Lewin at Glendale’s Vintage Arcade Superstore, where she found pinball machines that were playable. “It was an amazing feat to find pre1973 working pinball machines,” Martin says, “and create that fun environment for the end of the film.”

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Actor Cooper Hoffman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Licorice Pizza’
Melinda Sue Gordon/MGM