FANNIE FLAGG, Author and actress b. September 21, 1943 Age inside: 33
I have never discussed this with anybody, but I have been struggling with this all my life, because I have never had a clear picture of how old I was. I would say that I am about 33. I am past being adolescent and much more of an adult, but I am not old. I am an adult, and I’m responsible. For years I was told: ‘She is an old soul. She is not a child. She is a grown up in a child’s body.’ And I did feel very old in some areas.
Then, when I got to be 17, 18, and 19, I felt very babyish. I was emotionally retarded. Oh, that’s not the right word. I didn’t feel that I was as mature as a lot of my other friends in certain areas. They seemed to be able to handle things in life much better than I did. I could have conversations with anybody; I was very adult out in the world. I was working at a very early age. I had my own television show when I was like 17 or 18. But emotionally I had a hard time relating to people, particularly my peers, because I just never was the right age.
My father was a motion picture machine operator, so when I was young, I probably thought a grown up was something in the movies. I thought that a grown up would be some woman in a movie smoking – all the fabulous ones smoked — sitting in a lovely cocktail dress, with some smashing looking martini and, oh, I was even more exotic, honey, I thought I should have a black cigarette holder. Just tragic! I wrote a play when I was in the fifth grade, full of martinis, and that was my idea of being sophisticated. I had the characters living in an apartment above the Copacabana night club. To me that was very sophisticated. So that was my idea of grown up.
It’s only in hindsight that I realise 33 was my age. I think I have only been genuinely content in the past oh, 15 years. It took me a long time, because I was very at the beck of my emotions. Within five minutes I could have fifteen different emotions and I felt like I was in a wind tunnel all day long. Just horrible. But for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how old I was inside of me, I was totally confused about it. I did a Broadway show called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when I was around 38. I took the lead part, the role of a madam, and I was talking to my friend and said, ‘This is a great part, but I don’t know how to play this woman.’ And he said, ‘Well, just play your age.’ And I thought, Oh! I am that age! Because in the theatre I had, for so many years, played characters that were older than myself, so all of a sudden someone actually said, well that’s your age, so just play who you are. I thought Oh, oh my god!
In looking back at my parents, that particular generation were much more little men and little women. My father was in the Second World War and they were expected to be men at 17 and 18. Now the kids today at that age are babies. They don’t have responsibilities. My mother seemed very mature, always. My father was always 12. Hilarious! You know, most alcoholics are highly entertaining, and he was highly entertaining and had a very youthful mind, so he was around 12. I think my father never felt his age, but I think my mother may have felt even older than what she was, because her father was an alcoholic, too, and she was never light of heart.
I live very close to Hollywood, and I wonder if all of this plastic surgery isn’t because people are just hysterical about looking in the mirror and seeing that what they look like and it doesn’t match how they feel inside. And now they’re able to do something about it. I’d love to look younger, but I want to look like myself. But something that will scare the hell out of you is when you’re walking down the street and you look in the window and go, ‘Oh my god, I’m looking more like my mother!’ And then wait until you walk down the street and start to go, ‘Oh Christ, I look like my grandmother!’ [My 2010 interview with Fannie is still accessible via Scotsman.com, though mysteriously my laptop refused to import the URL here. If you’re a fan of hers, you’ll find it!]