Friday, November 11, 2016

Fried Green Tomatoes in My Stomach, and Georgia on My Mind

If my vowels are getting broader and you hear me starting to drop final g’s, it’s because I’m newly back from Georgia, where I flew both to attend an all-day meeting and to hang out with good friends. Georgia, I learned, is today a moviemaking mecca. Notably, seven seasons of TV’s The Walking Dead have been shot in the vicinity of Atlanta. I admit I didn’t spot any members of the zombie apocalypse roaming the hip streets of Decatur, nor were they hanging out near Margaret Mitchell’s family monument in historic Oakland Cemetery. Still, the state of Georgia seems to be a place where anything is possible. For one thing, it does a great job of masquerading as a neighboring state in such Hollywood confections as Sweet Home Alabama.  

Georgia plays itself in a number of well-known movies. In 1989, the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy was shot in the city where it was set, illustrating the lifestyle of a certain well-entrenched Jewish enclave within Atlanta. The Temple, an historic congregation founded by German-Jewish immigrants in 1860, features prominently in the film. So the plot strand about the bombing of The Temple in 1958 by white supremacists was staged in and around the 1931 neo-classical building where the actual incident took place.

On a previous trip to Georgia, I’d been up to the red clay country in the northern part of the state. There I stumbled upon (though, thankfully, not into) a gorge that appeared in a major novel by the Georgia-born author, James Dickey. Deliverance, a 1972 Oscar nominee, featured Jon Voigt and Burt Reynolds as city dwellers who, on a rafting trip, try going back to nature and get more than they bargained for. (Perennial character actor Ned Beatty also got his start on this film, because he had the good fortune to be a Southerner involved in local theatre.) My spouse and I might never have seen the gorge, except for the fact that folks in the area kept assuming we’d be having lunch at the Dillard House in Rabun County. The Dillard House, a legendary restaurant since early in the 20th century, attracts customers from near and far because of its delicious (and inexpensive) down-home cooking. It truly lives up to its reputation, and a glass case in the lobby pays tribute to the shooting of Deliverance nearby. Yes, Hollywood moviemakers always appreciate a good, hearty meal.

This time around, my Georgia hosts took me to the tiny town of Juliette, which is known to Hollywood as the place where 1991’s Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed. Based on Fannie Flagg’s Southern tragicomic novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, the movie features all-stars Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates (as a frumpy Alabama housewife who learns how to remake herself), along with Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker. (My old New World Pictures buddy Stan Shaw plays Big George.) The younger actresses appear in long flashback sequences illustrating Tandy’s tumultuous but tender growing-up years. After a family tragedy they evolve into close friends who open a small-town café featuring (yup!) fried green tomatoes, along with other Southern delicacies. The building used in the film was not originally a restaurant, but -- after the film crew moved on -- someone got the bright idea of starting one. And so the Whistle Stop Café has been there ever since, attracting a crowd of folks hungry for good tomatoes, good barbecue, and good pie.

And where, would you ask, did Hollywood shoot that most cherished of Southern movies, Gone With the Wind? Would you believe Culver City, California?  

This one’s for Ken and Terri Bryson – big thanks to y’all for a delightfully down-home weekend. 

The cast with author Fannie Flagg in front of the Whistle Stop Cafe set. (That's Cicely Tyson at rear left.)


  1. And here's another one -- "Driving Miss Daisy." My shuttle driver on the way from the Atlanta airport to the attractive little suburb of Decatur kept pointing out sites used in filming the movie -- churches used as funeral homes, funeral homes used as synagogues, etc. I can still picture Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman driving along the elegant Ponce de Leon Avenue.

  2. Thanks for writing, Nancy. I wish I'd heard that particular travelogue. Do visit Movieland again soon!