20 Things You Might Not Have Realised About The 1991 Film Fried Green Tomatoes
Telling parallel stories of relationships between two young women in the 1930s and between a housewife and an elderly woman in the 1980s, the brilliant Fried Green Tomatoes was directed by Jon Avnet and starred the knockout cast of Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson.
Below are 20 things you might not have known about this touching comedy-drama.
20. Its title was shortened from the 1987 novel it’s based on
Fried Green Tomatoes is based on the 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay along with Carol Sobieski.
In some territories, including the United Kingdom, the film was released with this full title, but it was abbreviated to Fried Green Tomatoes in the US.
It was the second novel written by Fannie Flagg, who had previously enjoyed a long career as a comedian, script writer and actress.
The book was on the New York Times best sellers list for an impressive 36 weeks.
It even garnered a recommendation from To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, who described it as having a “richly comic, poignant narrative.”
Flagg has gone on to write a further seven novels, the most recent being 2016’s The Whole Town’s Talking.
19. It was originally written as a musical
Work began on a Fried Green Tomatoes movie when director and co-producer Jon Avnet was introduced to the novel by his collaborator Lisa Lindstrom.
To adapt the novel, Avnet hired Carol Sobieski, who had previously written the screen adaptation of stage musical Annie.
However, Sobieski (who died shortly before the film was released) also wrote her first draft of Fried Green Tomatoes with a view to it being a musical.
Avnet (an experienced TV and theatre director making his feature film debut) was not a fan of this approach, so Sobieski parted ways with the project.
Following Sobieski’s departure, author Fannie Flagg herself was hired to further develop the screenplay, but she found the process difficult.
Ultimately Flagg also left the project, leaving Avnet to work on the script by himself for the next few years.
18. Uma Thurman auditioned for the role of Idgie
Uma Thurman was one of the actresses who auditioned for the role of Idgie Threadgoode.
Thurman was still only a few roles into her career at the time, notably appearing in 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons.
It wouldn’t be until her casting in 1994 classic Pulp Fiction that her career really took off.
The role went instead to Mary Stuart Masterson, the more established actress at the time.
Masterson was best known at the time for the John Hughes-scripted Some Kind of Wonderful, which probably remains her best remembered role.
She went on to star in such 90s films as Benny and Joon and Radioland Murders. More recently she appeared in 2019 horror movie Daniel Isn’t Real.
17. Susan Sarandon was considered for the role of Evelyn
We find it hard to envisage anyone other than the wonderful Kathy Bates in the role of Evelyn Couch.
However, before Bates landed the role, another big name actress was under consideration for the part.
Susan Sarandon, who had risen to prominence in the 80s via such films as The Witches of Eastwick and Bull Durham, was thought of for Evelyn early on.
However, Sarandon instead took what proved to be one of her defining roles: Louise Sawyer, alongside Geena Davis in Ridley Scott’s acclaimed 1991 smash Thelma and Louise.
This proved to be a very good career move on Sarandon’s part, as the film won her rave reviews and multiple award nods, including a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Sarandon would ultimately win the Best Actress Oscar in 1995 for her performance in Dead Man Walking.
16. Joanne Woodward was the first choice for Ninny
As hard as it is to imagine Fried Green Tomatoes without Kathy Bates, it’s even harder to imagine it without Jessica Tandy.
Remarkably, the Driving Miss Daisy Oscar-winner was not the original first choice to play the key role of Ninny.
Instead, the filmmakers originally wanted to cast another seasoned elder actress, Joanne Woodward, who had not long since co-starred with Paul Newman in 1990’s Mr & Mrs Bridge.
Aged 61 at the time, Woodward was comparatively youthful next to Tandy, who shot Fried Green Tomatoes aged 82.
Whether it was down to her comparative youth, or Tandy’s higher profile in the wake of Driving Miss Daisy, Woodward missed out on the role.
However, Woodward would make some notable film appearances in the 90s with roles in The Age of Innocence and Philadelphia.
15. Joanne Whalley was a contender for the role of Ruth
When it came to casting the part of Ruth Jamison, another in-demand actress of the day was considered.
British actress Joanne Whalley was reportedly a serious contender for the role.
At the time, the actress was known as Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, as she was married to her Willow co-star Val Kilmer. They divorced in 1996.
At her peak, Whalley took leading roles in such films as Scandal, Kill Me Again and Navy SEALs.
However, Mary-Louise Parker was reportedly always first choice for the role of Ruth.
When Parker screen-tested with Mary Stuart Masterson, both the film’s producers and the actresses agreed they had great chemistry.
14. An explicitly romantic relationship between Idgie and Ruth was cut from the film
There are a number of obvious differences between the film Fried Green Tomatoes and the novel on which it was based.
Perhaps the most notable of these differences is the fact that in the book, the romance between Idgie and Ruth is laid bare.
However, the filmmakers decided to only imply a romantic relationship between the two.
Same-sex relationships were not so widely accepted in 1991 as they are today, so there were doubtless fears that portraying such a relationship would hurt the film’s performance.
Reports suggest that Mary-Louise Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson and author and screenwriter Fannie Flagg were all keen for the lesbian love story to be included in the film, but this was overridden by its producers.
As a result, the film was met with anger from some critics and gay rights activists.
13. Jessica Tandy died just three years after making the movie
The old cliche goes that once an actress is over a certain age, the work dries up.
Happily, Jessica Tandy proved an exception to this rule, enjoying an unprecedented career resurgence in her final years.
After getting her first screen credit in 1932, Tandy worked solidly right up to the end.
Tandy died in September 1994 aged 85, less than three years after Fried Green Tomatoes opened.
However, she still clocked up another three credits before passing away, making her final appearance in 1994’s Nobody’s Fool, opposite Paul Newman.
12. Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson were given nicknames on-set to avoid confusion between the two
Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker were ideally cast in Fried Green Tomatoes.
Even so, it’s not hard to see how their casting alongside one another presented a challenge on set.
Simply put, addressing either actress by their first name was more or less impossible!
To remedy this, director Jon Avnet found a simple and economical solution to the problem.
- Credit: Universal Pictures
During production, Mary Stuart Masterson became known as simply ‘Stu,’ whilst Mary-Louise Parker became ‘Lou.’
By all accounts this made things easier for the director and the rest of the cast and crew.
11. Mary Stuart Masterson really was covered by a swarm of bees
One eye-catching moment in Fried Green Tomatoes sees Idgie covered in bees while collecting honey.
These days, we might expect such a sequence to be brought to life using computer-generated effects.
And even before the use of such technology was widespread in film, you would normally see stunt doubles replacing actors.
However, in Fried Green Tomatoes that really is actress Mary Stuart Masterson being covered by a swarm of live bees.
The original plan was for Masterson to be replaced by a stunt double for the potentially dangerous sequence.
The double changed their mind at the last minute and pulled out, leaving Masterson to perform it herself.
10. It gave Chris O’Donnell a breakthrough role
Fried Green Tomatoes was the second film role for actor Chris O’Donnell, aged 21 at the time.
O’Donnell had taken his first movie role the previous year, in Men Don’t Leave.
He was then cast in the small but important role of Idgie’s brother Buddy.
In the years that followed O’Donnell’s star would quickly rise, as he was cast alongside Al Pacino in 1992 Oscar-winner Scent of a Woman.
Such hits as The Three Musketeers, Blue Sky and Circle of Friends followed, leading to the young actor being cast as Robin in 1995’s Batman Forever.
The backlash against 1997’s Batman & Robin may have damaged O’Donnell’s film career, but in more recent years he found success on TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles.
9. It won an award from a gay rights organisation
As previously mentioned, Fried Green Tomatoes drew some criticism for largely omitting the novel’s romance between Idgie and Ruth.
Instead, the film opts to portray the characters simply as friends – whilst gently implying there might be more to their relationship.
While this displeased some (including the actresses and author Fannie Flagg), the film still garnered an award from a high profile gay rights organisation.
GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) named Fried Green Tomatoes the year’s best film with lesbian content at their annual media awards.
Carton continued, “[Fried Green] Tomatoes‘ filmmakers may have wanted to tone down the lesbian content. Too bad. But we recognize these women as lesbians. And giving the award is a way for us to acknowledge that these are lesbians.”
8. The book’s author has a cameo at the start of the film
Fannie Flagg, co-screenwriter and author of original novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, has a cameo in the film.
Fittingly, given Flagg’s background in comedy, her small role is one of the film’s funnier moments.
Flagg plays the woman who asks a group of ladies to use a mirror to ‘examine themselves down below’ at the start of the film.
She then goes on to inform the same group that they can “can get that spark back into [their] marriage.”
Perhaps Flagg’s most notable work as a film actress was her role in 1970’s Jack Nicholson movie Five Easy Pieces.
She had a recurring role on The New Dick Van Dyke Show in the 70s, and also appeared in the movies Stay Hungry and Grease.
7. There are a few blatant continuity errors
As we’ve seen time and again, even the most well-made movies often have a couple of little mistakes which accidentally make the end product.
This is certainly the case in Fried Green Tomatoes. which features a couple of pretty obvious goofs.
One fairly obvious example comes when Kathy Bates’ Evelyn deliberately rams her car into another outside the grocery store.
Her husband asks her how she could accidentally hit the car six times – but anyone who pays attention will count the number of collisions as four.
- Credit: Universal Pictures
Jessica Tandy’s Ninny also seems to have unusually fast-growing hair, as it one point it’s cut short and given a purple rinse – but by her next scene, it’s back to its former length and colour.
Also, at the end of the movie Evelyn finds Ninny sitting on her suitcase – but by the end of the scene this suitcase is nowhere to be seen.
6. Paul Young recorded What Becomes of the Broken Hearted specifically for the movie
- Credit: Sven Mandel via Wikimedia Commons
Back in the early 90s, you simply couldn’t have a hit movie without also having a tie-in single break big in the pop charts.
Fried Green Tomatoes had just that in the form of a song specifically recorded for the movie by Paul Young.
The British pop superstar performed a rendition of soul classic What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted.
The song was originally recorded by Jimmy Ruffin in 1966, and Young’s rendition is just one of a great many cover versions put on record.
Other artists to have recorded the song over the years include Diana Ross and the Supremes, Boy George, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Joan Osborne, Boyzone and Westlife.
- Credit: Sony Music UK
Young’s version was released as a single in promotion of the movie in late 1991. It enjoyed chart success around the world, reaching number one in Canada.
It was featured on Fried Green Tomatoes: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, alongside new recordings from Patti LaBelle and Grayson Hugh.
5. Kathy Bates and Mary-Louise Parker have the same birthday
As we’ve remarked already, Ruth actress Mary-Louise Parker has a somewhat similar name to Idgie actress Mary Stuart Masterson.
It turns out this isn’t the only thing Parker has in common with one of her Fried Green Tomatoes co-stars.
- Credit: Flickr
Yes, as coincidence would have it, Parker shares a birthday with Evelyn actress Kathy Bates.
Both actresses were born on the 28th of June – although, as you might expect, there’s a bit of an age gap between them.
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Bates is of course the senior of the two, having come into this world on the 28th of June 1948.
Parker, meanwhile, was born exactly 16 years later on the 28th of June 1966.
4. It was a box office success
Today, worldwide box office takings of $119.4 million might not seem like a huge amount of money for a major film.
However, when you consider that Fried Green Tomatoes cost a mere $11 million to make, it’s clear the film made a significant profit.
This was enough to make it the 11th highest-earning film released that year.
The critical response to the film was mostly positive, with particular praise given to the four central actresses.
- Credit: Universal Pictures
However, some reviews also derided Fried Green Tomatoes for being too predictable and overly sentimental.
At Rotten Tomatoes, the film is rated 74% fresh by the critics, with a more positive audience score of 91%.
3. A real-life Whistle Stop Cafe opened after the film was released
- Credit: Flickr
Fried Green Tomatoes was shot in the small Georgia town of Juliette, standing in for the fictitious town of Whistle Stop.
According to director Jon Avnet, the area where the film was shot was practically deserted at the time.
The location where the film’s Whistle Stop Cafe was built had previously been a hardware and antique store.
After the film was released, Juliette suddenly became much more popular as a tourist destination.
- Credit: Thomas Gehrke/Flickr
Locals soon opened their very own Whistle Stop Cafe which was made to look exactly like the one in the film.
The filmmakers gave their blessing to this, and the cafe became a key part of local tourism.
2. It failed to win any of the numerous major awards it was nominated for
Fried Green Tomatoes was nominated for two Oscars at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992.
Jessica Tandy was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, but lost out to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King.
The film also failed to win Best Adapted Screenplay: that award went to the big winner of the night, The Silence of the Lambs.
Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy were also both nominated for BAFTA and Golden Globe awards.
Alas, both actresses once again walked home empty-handed at the end of the respective ceremonies.
Still, Tandy had won the Best Actress Oscar two years earlier for Driving Miss Daisy, whilst Bates had won the same award in 1991 for Misery.
1. Mary Stuart Masterson has recently started keeping bees at home
It’s interesting to note how film roles can often influence the lives of actors in ways you might not expect.
In the case of Mary Stuart Masterson, her experience on Fried Green Tomatoes persuaded to take up beekeeping.
Not that the actress gravitated towards that particular past time straight away.
In 2017, The New York Times reported that Masterson had started keeping bees at her family’s farm in Hudson Valley, New York.
The actress revealed that she had been keen to keep bees ever since starring as Idgie in the film, saying “ever since Fried Green Tomatoes I’ve felt like a sham.”