- Published: 19 August 2018 19 August 2018
Author 2 Author: Fannie Flagg & Lisa Patton
Lisa Patton: Pinch me. I’m interviewing my mentor—comedic legend, FANNIE FLAGG! Hi Fannie.
Fannie Flagg: Hello, my precious friend.
LP: Since this September marks our 8-year friendaversary, I thought it would be fun to tell Southern readers about the day we met. I’m betting a few booksellers, like Karen and Jackie from FoxTale Bookshoppe in Atlanta, remember that eventful day in Daytona. The only thing higher than the 95-degree temperature was my hair. It looked like a seagull had used it for a roost. What was it like to have a neurotic fan stand in line for over an hour to meet you, and then see her burst out in ugly tears two minutes prior? Was that a first? Or does it happen all the time? Just so you know, I would have done the same thing to Paul McCartney.
FF: I don’t know how Paul McCartney would have reacted but I was flattered. I thought your hysteria was very endearing, sweetheart. Besides I had already read your hilarious first book, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter and I was excited to meet you, too.
"I laughed so hard I had an accident"
LP: I’ll take endearing over neurotic any day! I do tend to cry more often than I should and at the wrong time. But for goodness sakes, I had watched your funny self a million times on Candid Camera, Match Game, and Hollywood Squares. Once I started writing, and read Fried Green Tomatoes and Can’t Wait to Get To Heaven, I morphed into a super fan. I don’t think a funnier scene has ever been written than when middle-aged Evelyn, aka Towanda, greets Ed at the door wearing only a cellophane dress. I laughed so hard I had an accident. When Ed says, “What are you doing, Evelyn, I could have been the postman!” I lost it. Threw the book across the room and gasped for air. I’ve never read anything funnier in my life. You are gifted!
FF: Why thank you, sweetheart. I try my best to make people laugh, but then, like you, I think sometimes life can be pretty funny.
LP: When did you know you had the funny gene?
FF: I think it started in the fifth grade. You have a funny gene yourself! Where did yours come from?
LP: I inherited mine from my parents. And grew up with a gaggle of girlfriends who valued laughter over homework. We watched I Love Lucy reruns every day of our childhood. Have you ever thought about the fact that the other two all time great lady comedians are redheads, too—Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett? Did you ever meet Lucy? How about Carol?
FF: I did meet Lucille Ball once and it was a thrill. Believe it or not Carol Burnett lives right up the street from me and she is one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet. You did your best to meet Lucy yourself, isn’t that right? Can you share the details of that day?
LP: Do I have to?
FF: No, but I think folks will get a big kick out of it. Especially Jake Reiss (of Alabama Booksmith, in Birmingham).
LP: Okay, but only a snippet. When I was in college at the University of Alabama my best friend LeeLee and I took a spring break trip out to Hollywood to walk in Lucy and Ethel’s footsteps. When we took the Grayline Bus Tour and learned it was actually Lucy’s wall that was used in the Richard Widmark episode—when Lucy climbs over his wall for a grapefruit—LeeLee and I looked at each other and said, “Why not?” We snuck back that night, hoisted ourselves over Lucy’s wall, and, well, we never got our grapefruit. But we did meet Desi junior! I think it’s probably best to stop there. I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I’d still do something like that…least of all you!
FF: Baby, I’m just glad you didn’t get arrested for trespassing and end up in the Hollywood jail.
LP: You and me both. My daddy would have yanked me out of school! But back to you. Aside from TV, you’ve made it on the Silver Screen and on Broadway; you’ve even been nominated for an Academy Award! And won the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Most Distinguished Writer. As someone who dreamed of movie stardom, I am in awe! Is there anything left on your bucket list?
"I just want to encourage and help other Southern writers when I can. As you know at the beginning of my writing career Harper Lee was a tremendous help to me and I like to do the same"
FF: No, I just want to encourage and help other Southern writers when I can. As you know at the beginning of my writing career Harper Lee was a tremendous help to me and I like to do the same when I can. But let’s talk about your fantastic new book, RUSH. You’ve written about the most sacred of all southern rituals, sorority rush at Ole Miss. And you did an outstanding job. I’m so proud of you, honey. You captured the hysteria, hilarity and heartbreak of it all—to absolute perfection. How on earth did you know so much about it?
LP: First off, I was a sorority girl myself. But that was a long time ago and this book is set in modern day. Hours and hours of talks with sorority girls, young and old, and also house staff employees reacquainted me with the Greek system. As sacred as sorority rush is in the South, it was important to me to get it all right. A few of the people I interviewed read the book before the ARCs were printed and gave me their thumbs up. RUSH is told from the points of view of Cali, a college freshman, Wilda, a sorority mom and alum, and Miss Pearl, the sorority housekeeper. I had numerous phone conversations with a former Ole Miss housekeeper who is now, I’m happy to say, a dear friend. She shared invaluable information and helped me develop the character. Bahni Turpin narrates the voice of Miss Pearl in the audio book and I am over the moon to have her. Bahni is one of my all-time favorites.
FF: I absolutely fell in love with the book. It’s fun and funny and also has a strong message of hope and equality for all. Why was that message important for RUSH?
LP: As a young collegian, I never considered the needs of the lovely people who worked in our sorority houses. Yet they took care of all of our needs. When I learned that the house employees still struggle today to make ends meet and, in many cases, are not offered employee benefits, it broke my heart. This is true all over the South, and possibly the country. RUSH presents a viable solution for change.
FF: Do you think of RUSH as a guilty pleasure?
LP: Only if you compare it to a giant piece of caramel cake! The central theme of the book is equality and justice for all and there’s nothing guilty about reading that. Fannie, I love that I’ve been given the chance to tell those who haven’t had the pleasure of knowing you how very kind and generous you are. When I consider my writing life, your mentorship has been my greatest blessing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
FF: You are so welcome, sweetheart. And oh, don’t you forget my words…keep writing!