Friday, March 21, 2008

Hollywood, Hype, Reality

Many of you are probably familiar with the Jessica Tandy movie Fried Green Tomatoes, based on the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café by Fannie Flagg. Returning home from vacation on I-75 near Macon, Georgia, Wendy and I decided to take a ten-mile sidetrip to Juliette, Georgia where some scenes from the movie were filmed.

Most notable among those filming locations was the Whistlestop Café itself. It still stands, serving locals and tourists alike. So Wendy and I stopped in there to sample the fried green tomatoes for ourselves (very tart).

Now the diner looked old inside and out, much like a place that had catered to the village back in the early twentieth century, the period where much of the movie took place. A picture at the cash register celebrated the moment when the diner finally accepted credit cards (they still don’t take Discover). Another sign boasted that it had been run by the same family for three generations. Wow.

Although the restaurant could definitely benefit from an expansion and renovation with all the tourist traffic now in Juliette, it has obviously stayed in character throughout the years: one bathroom, two long counters that form a U at the cash register, an old shoe shine station taking up space amongst the modest number of tables, and an expansive front porch.

It was easy to see how this little corner kitchen of southern cuisine had inspired a now famous book and movie.

Or did it?

Doing my internet research later, I discovered that Fannie Flagg did not even visit Juliette, Georgia. She was an Alabama gal and the Irondale Café near Birmingham was the inspiration for the Whistlestop Café in her book. In fact, the Whistlestop Café in Juliette did not even come into existence until Hollywood came calling, scouting for movie locations.

Only after movie crews had turned an old store into a movie set for the diner did some entrepreneur decide to keep the set, make the diner for real, and benefit from the tourist trade (we waited over an hour for a table for lunch). Now all the businesses in town benefit, with tourists shopping here and there for Fried Green Tomato souvenirs.

This makes me wonder. While waiting for our table I strolled around the tiny village. A lawman sat in a rocking chair watching his “prisoner,” a young man prominently wearing prison stripes, painting a tiny building with a sign that read “county courthouse.” This sheriff kept up a lively patter with passersby, mostly tourists. I took a (poor) picture where you can see what I’m talking about, if you look right and squint a bit.

Now I wonder. Was this really a prisoner? He WAS really painting. But sometimes the lawman would stroll down the street, even disappearing from view, usually to talk to more tourists and leaving his prisoner. So was this tourist hype, or reality? I don’t know.

BTW, I’m still working on putting together a couple BETTER pictures of my trip. But I’m more comfortable writing than photographing. You can tell that from the picture my wife took of me below, on vacation, writing in my trip journal.


Blogger Matty said...

The fried green tomato's were tart...but were they good? Did you get the recipe?
Did you get a pic of the Whistlestop Cafe? I really enjoyed the movie. Hope you had a great time.
At least you had no snow there.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Carine said...

I have the same question as Matty Dave! Tart gives us no indication as to whether you liked them or not. Sounds as if you had a pretty nice vacation all in all. Hubby and I are due to leave in a few weeks on ours-aren't vacations wonderful? I wish they didn't fly by so darn fast.

7:40 PM  
Blogger jan said...

The fried green tomatoes could not have been authentically prepared. I grew up in Indiana where it is a dish fit for royalty. It is our pate de foie gras. (with that little roof thing over the e)

7:55 PM  
Blogger Babette said...

GREEN tomatoes are tops!

Happy belated Black History Month, by the way:

10:08 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

MATTY--Wendy liked the fried green tomatoes, I didn't. I think you had to buy a book to get the recipe. We didn't. Will try to post a (mediocre) picture of the cafe some time. I have a hard time with pictures and my blog here for some reason.

CARINE--I thought the fried green tomatoes TOO tart. I was expecting something like a deep fried pickle. But as I told Matty, Wendy thought they were fine.

JAN--I don't think that much effort went into preparing these fried green tomatoes. They did come with a couple dipping sauces.

BABETTE--Your Spartans looked a little green in their first-round NCAA game. Hopefully they'll do better tonight against Pitt. My Spartan son says that MSU doesn't handle adversity well. Then I remember all those adverse moments when you asked for a book of matches, and I figure he's right.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Betty said...

Oh, boy, I remember how upset I was after seeing that movie when it came out. One of the characters died of pancreatic cancer, and that's what my mother died of. Now that I think about it, that piece of information may only have been exposed in the book, which I read before seeing the movie.....In the movie, I don't think we were informed as to what exactly she was dying from.

But I was a lot younger then, and I think I'll rent the movie. I was so upset that I've blocked it out, and it'll be like seeing it for the 1st time.


4:10 PM  
Blogger Kacey said...

I wish I could get my other half to stop at interesting places along the way. I-75 is beginning to bore me after about eighty-five trips back and forth.
I feel like a literary midget, but I just discovered why Fannie Flagg was on all those quiz shows back in the
70's and 80's. Last summer, I discovered her books and became an immediate fan --- loved her finely drawn characters and descriptions of places.
I can't believe that you did your journaling with a pencil and paper --- you don't take a laptop with you? My handy-dandy Dell goes everywhere with me. It's not that I have anything to say --- I just love my computer and my computer friends!

5:30 PM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

I love fried green tomatoes, and the tartness is the reason I do! I like foods with distinctive, interesting flavors. I've been known to eat a whole platter-full (but don't tell anyone!). Too bad they weren't to your taste.

Now my mouth is watering for them, and I have no idea where to buy green tomatoes this time of year. thanks.


11:13 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

The question is: Did you eat ribs? I too loved that movie and I have always wanted to try fried green tomatoes. TF and I planted tomatoes just last week so I will have to fry up a couple and give them a whirl...It doesn't hurt to try!

I was intrigued with the small town depicted in the movie, the names, the places. I suppose that shows a good writer. I'm glad that you and Wendy got a chance to stop and check it out. When TF gets into "going home mood" we don't stop for nothing.

Happy Easter, talk to ya later.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Spider63 said...

You are setting the standard way too high for the rest of us men.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Ruth Sykes said...

Hey from Macon, Georgia, Y'all!
Yep, the Whistle Stop Cafe was created for the movie, but the town of Juliette is real, built around a real mill, owned by my great-great-uncle. It employeed most of the town, and when it closed, basically so did the town. The man who owned the shop-turned-cafe was smart. He purchased most of the props from the cafe (probably including the "third-generation" sign), partnered with a chef, and opened for business. Local entrepreneurs opened shops in the other buildings, some of which had been only facades for the movie set and required construction of actual buildings behind. Learn about it here: The folks of Juliette have created a cottage industry out of their role in the movie, with the filmmakers' blessings. It's a symbiotic relationship between tourism in Juliette and sales of the book and DVD. Since the film was released and the cafe opened, visitors from every state and dozens of other countries and stopped in for a taste of fried green tomatoes and true Southern hospitality.
Y'all come,

7:45 AM  
Anonymous cassie-b said...

I'd like to see pictures of both diners. Don and I go to as many diners (usually for breakfast) as we can. We take pictures of all these diners. There's a couple of famous ones in the area where we live. But we find more diners in New England than anywhere else.

It's kind of a fun hobby. And very inexpensive.

I'll be waiting to see some more pictures of your trip.

Have a nice week.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BETTY--My memories of that movie are very vague. But we have the video at home so I'll have to watch it. I just remember Kathy Bates running her car into another car that just stole her parking spot.

KACEY--We bought a book on traveling I-75, which mentions historical stops as well as good restaurants you pass on the way. That's how we found this place.

LYNILU--As far as I know, you can't get fried green tomatoes up north. Fried pickles maybe.

LUCY--I had a steak and my wife had a barbecued pork sandwich, which was delicious. I should have ordered the fried chicken . . . or the ribs.

SPIDEY--Not true. I just don't tell all.

RUTH--Thanks for the info. No comment on the sheriff and his prisoner, though. Darn.

CASSIE--I'll try to find a picture on-line of that Irondale Cafe to go with the picture I took.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Dave, I love fried chicken...yumm. If you had ordered the ribs, just remember that "the secret is in the sauce."

9:04 PM  
Blogger Nankin said...

So do you know whether the sheriff was real? Maybe he was it a fake sheriff guarding a fake prisoner.

1:59 PM  
Blogger simply me said...

Hi Dave just caught up on 5 of your entries...the winter has been miserable and busy. You always manage to make me smile. I am ready to hit the warm weather as well, sick of the cold. Though, not big on Florida I'd take a few days myself.
I did love the movie Fried Green Tomatoes...always did want to try them.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the movie! I would love to see more pictures. I have never tried fried green tomatoes but I am sure anything fried is great with a little salt and pepper! I never liked mushrooms until I tried them fried. Hope to see you for Vic's Birthday!

9:08 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

LUCY--"The secret is in the sauce." I know that's a tagline for the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, but when we were waiting to be called there at the cafe, I went exploring and saw that quote inscribed on a cement slab back of the cafe. Not sure why that was.

NANKIN--Nope, never found out.

SIMPLY ME--Thanks for stopping by again. I always thought I had "made it" as a blogger when I had fans from the Big Apple area.

MELISSA--The Big 3-0, eh. Sure, we'll be there.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting info. I didn't know that...that her inspiration was actually Birmingham. Guess Hollywood can do anything they want when it comes to locales.
I love fried green tomatoes....I may be a "Yankee girl" but after 21 years in the south, I really resonate with much of what is southern.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:41 PM  

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