Fannie Flagg's best known for the 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and its 1991 film adaptation, Fried Green Tomatoes. With a Fried Green Tomatoes print sequel (The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop) out on Oct. 27, 2020 and a TV series starring Reba McEntire in the works, it's as good a time as any for a deep-dive into Flagg's remarkable life story.
Flagg, born Patricia Neal on September 21, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, wound up in New York City by the 1960's. There, she became a writer for the television show Candid Camera. She went on to appear as a panelist on game shows, including Match Game. Other noteworthy opportunities beyond Flagg's writing included on-screen roles on The New Dick Van Dyke Show and the film Grease.
Flagg's acting career also included roles with loose ties to country music. These crossover moments included regular appearances on the television show based on the Jeannie C. Riley song Harper Valley PTA, an acting credit for the Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and a writing gig for Dolly Parton's 1987 variety show Dolly. She also made multiple appearances on The Johnny Cash Show as a comedian.
Her writing career began in 1981 with Coming Attractions, the coming-of-age story of Daisy Fay Harper. The short story turned career-launching novel was republished in 1991 under the title Flagg initially wanted to use, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe followed, as did the Flagg-penned movie script which brought us memorable roles for Memphis native Kathy Bates (Evelyn Couch) and Oscar nominee Jessica Tandy (Ninny Threadgoode). The book version stayed on the New York Times bestseller's list for 36 weeks, while Flagg's script picked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. It also earned a Writer's Guild of America Award nomination.
Flagg took a lengthy break between novels, with her only book between 1987 and 1998 being Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle-Stop Café Cookbook.
Her 1998 book Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! began a prolific run of books that double as snapshots of small town life. It was followed by Standing in the Rainbow (2002), A Redbird Christmas (2004), Can't Wait to Get to Heaven (2006) and I Still Dream About You (2010). More recently, she wrote World War II period piece The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion and Random House's 2016 release The Whole Town's Talking.
Like fellow Alabama native and To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, Flagg always depicted regular folks in believable ways while addressing equally real issues. Each richly developed character and meaningful plot point made Flagg's books age much better than the typical, modern fiction novel.
This story was originally published on May 19, 2020.