September 21, 1944– Fannie Flagg:
“Remember if people talk behind your back, it only means you are two steps ahead.”
Her novel Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe was the beach book in the summer of 1987. The Husband and I both really took to it and passed it around to our friends. It remained a favorite for a very long time, although that original copy has long disappeared from our bookshelves. Before this bestseller, I knew Fannie Flagg mostly as a funny fixture on game show panels in the 1970s including The Match Game (1973-82), occupying the lower right hand seat next to regular panelist Richard Dawson and with gay actor/director Charles Nelson Reilly hovering above her.
Flagg began writing and producing television specials when she was just 19-years-old. She went on to be an actor and writer in films, television and the theatre. Her acting credits include the original Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (1978) and Come Back To The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1976); and films: Some Of My Best Friends Are (1971), Five Easy Pieces (1971), Stay Hungry (1976), Grease (1978) and Crazy In Alabama (1999). During the 1960s and 1970s, Flagg did funny, smart stand-up and recorded two popular comedy albums that included parodies of Southern Ladies including fabulous Watergate figure Martha Mitchell and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. During the 1960s, Flagg hosted a morning show on WBRC TV out of Montgomery, Alabama.
Flagg wrote a screenplay based on her most popular novel which became the rather good film, Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). The film brought her an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Fried Green Tomatoes stars Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Louise Parker, and the great Cicely Tyson. I saw it in its initial run in the theatre, of course, and The Husband and I caught it on cable while channel hopping this summer. We enjoyed it as much, maybe even more, than in previous viewings. The movie really stands the test of time, even if the producers had Flagg remove a substantial portion of the lesbian content from the book Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe in order to make the film Fried Green Tomatoes more “commercially viable”. Too bad, the novel is quite gay and very heartfelt. The story makes more sense when you implicitly understand that two of the main female characters are lovers.
Flagg is now open about being a lesbian. She was once the partner of writer Rita Mae Brown, who outed her in the press after they split. As if being a lesbian wasn’t tough enough, Flagg is profoundly dyslexic, like me. Flagg:
“I am severely dyslexic and I couldn’t spell, still can’t spell. So I I was discouraged from writing and embarrassed.”
When she was 21-years-old, Flagg left Alabama and moved to NYC where she got a gig writing and acting spots in segments of Allen Funt’s Candid Camera which lead to appearances on over 500 television shows.
Her promising writing career was put on hold for much of the 1970s, but Flagg overcame her fears and her writer’s block and completed several novels and screenplays in the 1980s and beyond.
At one point in time, Flagg was linked in the press, and was in some reports said to be married, to gay actor Dick Sargent of Bewitched fame. They appeared as a couple on the 1970s game show Tattletales, which featured celebrities and their spouses. Host Bert Convy would introduce them as “Dick Sargent and his lady, Fannie Flagg”. Sargent eventually came out of the closet before his final curtain call in 1994.
Flagg’s birth name is Patricia Neal, but when she tried to use her real name, the acting unions informed her that some other bitch already had the moniker.
Nowadays, Flagg divides her time between homes in California and Alabama. Her lesbian-themed novel, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (2013) was a NY Times Bestseller. Her most recent book, The Whole Town’s Talking was published in November 2016, that fateful, frightful month. Well, at least something good came of it.
The Whole Town’s Talking reminds me of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Flagg’s own Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. It tells the story of Lordor Nordstrom, his Swedish mail-order bride Katrina, their neighbors and descendants, as they all live, love, die, and carry on in mysterious and surprising ways.
In 2012, she won the Harper Lee Distinguished Alabama Author award. Harper Lee handed her the prize in person.
By the way, I planted two tomato starts in late May, a little early for Portland growing conditions, but it was already 90 degrees. It is now only a day away from the Autumn Equinox and I have had many ripe, luscious heirloom tomatoes, with plenty of green ones, including those that are supposed to be green, like Green Zebras. We will be having some of the fruit that has not ripened, using The Husband’s Vegan Fried Green Tomatoes Recipe:
3 medium, firm green tomatoes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup oat milk
2/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs or cornmeal
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Cut unpeeled tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle slices with salt and pepper. Let tomato slices stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour, milk, eggs, and bread crumbs in separate shallow dishes.
Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Dip tomato slices in milk, then flour, then bread crumbs. In the skillet, fry half of the coated tomato slices at a time, for a few minutes on each side, or until brown. As you cook the rest of the tomatoes, add olive oil as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with some basil if you have it.
Eat. Pray. Love.