I recently published Marie Rudisill’s memoir, Ask Me Anything, which I wrote with her in the last year of her life. It’s been on my mind, so I hope you’ll forgive me as a move away from my usual blog themes to blog about this book.
Marie had been called many things: irreverent, sassy, brash, even rude, and, certainly, too old to be crude. You get the idea, if you didn’t know her as “The Fruitcake Lady” from The Tonight Show. With host Jay Leno and special guests including Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, she made fruitcakes, mixing up the batter with plenty of fast talk and worldly advice. Well into her nineties, she became a television celebrity, going mouth to mouth with anyone who asked her a question or sought help with a problem. She always had an answer on the tip of her tongue.
But Marie was more than a pop culture phenomenon. She had seen a lot and accomplished even more when she passed away at 95 years old. She was Southern to the core, yet she took on the Big Apple. When she settled in the Carolinas, she undertook one venture after another – writing cookbooks, selling antiques, and operating a restaurant or two.
Family, too, was a big part of Marie’s life. She was close to her nephew Truman Capote, and their falling out over some paperweights hurt her deeply. She retired to Florida with her husband to be near their son, yet yearned to return to her sweet Alabama hometown.
Ask Me Anything covers a lot of ground, telling Marie’s story from the beginning to the end. She also had much to say about various topics – talking to teenagers, surviving a hurricane, and, of course, baking a perfect fruitcake, and I was only too happy to go along with whatever was on her mind. Here’s how we got started.
How I Hooked Up with “The Fruitcake Lady.”
From the Introduction to Ask Me Anything.
Marie always made me laugh. She was feisty and funny, and like her television character, “The Fruitcake Lady” from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she gave as good as she got. For an old lady, and at ninety-five years of age she was getting up there, she never took guff from anyone, always speaking her mind, telling it like it is.
I only got to know Marie the last year of her life although my husband, Jim Simmons, had known her for over twenty-five years. He was her collaborator on the two books she had written on the background and upbringing of her nephew, Truman Capote. In late fall of 2005 she asked him if he would be interested in working with her on another book, possibly about her sister Lillie Mae, who was Truman’s mother. Jim was in the middle of a couple of projects and didn’t think he had the time to devote to something new. Besides, she had always given him a difficult time when they were working together. Who needs that? But he didn’t say “no,” it was hard to say “no” to Marie, and they stayed in touch.
In December of that same year we were watching Marie on what would be her last appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. We were laughing along with everyone else as she did her “Ask the Fruitcake Lady” shtick, bullying and berating members of the audience for their silly questions and ridiculous complaints. Suddenly it occurred to me that Marie herself would be a terrific subject for a book. Jim thought I was onto something, as long as it was my undertaking, not his, which I must confess was not my original intent. Still, I agreed. When Jim broached the subject with Marie, she didn’t think twice about it. Just like that, I had a new book in the works.
Ask Me Anything, ISBN 978-0-578-14318-7, is a 195-page quality paperback book consisting of nine chapters. Topics cover growing up, family ties, and family feuds, as well as becoming a celebrity on The Tonight Show. An ebook is also available.