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Novelist and actress Fannie Flagg

High hurdles didn't stop Fannie Flagg

Web posted on: Tuesday, January 12, 1999 3:08:40 PM

From Correspondent Gloria Hillard

MONTECITO, California (CNN) -- Long before Fannie Flagg was a best-selling novelist with a highly anticipated new book on shelves, fans will remember she was a successful actress on the Broadway stage and big screen.

But making the jump from that medium to the printed page was delayed by another challenge she had to overcome.

"I was, am, severely dyslexic and couldn't spell, still can't spell," says Flagg, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama. "So I was discouraged from writing and embarrassed."

And it was extremely difficult for her to come to grips with her problem, since writing was what she wanted to do most.

"From the time I was 6 years old I longed to be a writer, always wanted to be a writer," says Flagg.

Flagg, right, appearing on "Candid Camera"

The road to writing

Flagg started her television career as a news anchor, and later a co-host for the original "Candid Camera." She then began writing comedy sketches for "Candid Camera," which she would memorize, but never show to another person, fearing they would discover that she couldn't spell.

Her blossoming show business career led her to appear in movies like "Five Easy Pieces" (1970) and "Grease" (1978), and in television shows like "The New Dick Van Dyke Show."

Flagg was in her late 30s before she would pursue her first dream. She attended a writer's conference after penning a short story.

Read an excerpt of Flagg's new book "Welcome to the World, Baby Girl"

"I wrote it in longhand as an 11-year-old girl and so all my misspelled words, they'll think I did it on purpose," Flagg recalls.

She won first prize for that story, stopped performing, and started a writing career that would lead to "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe," the best-seller that became an Oscar-nominated movie.

Jessica Tandy in Flagg's "Fried Green Tomatoes"

Happy times

"I have been through very bad times and very good times and I can remember when I was writing 'Fried Green Tomatoes,' I stopped acting and I went through a bad financial period and I almost lost a house and I was living very close to the bone," Flagg remembers. "And yet I found out I was happier than I'd ever been because my priorities were straight and I was doing something i loved."

And now, seven years later, Flagg has emerged with "Welcome to the World, Baby Girl." The main character of her new novel is a TV anchorwoman.

"I based it on a lot of gals I knew," she says, admitting that as a Southern storyteller, friends and family are inspirations for her characters.

Looking back, Flagg says she has finally reached a point where all her dreams are coming true.

"I am the happiest I've ever been in my life," she says.

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