Every now and then my husband and I would tune in to Jay’s Leno’s Tonight Show for the opening segment. One late night, he featured a recording of an old woman dispensing sharp-tongued and rather obscene advice to callers. I asked, “Who is that woman?” I learned that she was affectionately known as the Fruitcake Lady. Later I learned her real name, Marie Faulk Rudisill, and that she was a bestselling cookbook author and maker of fruitcakes beyond compare.
Just recently, I learned that there was much more to Rudisill than that. She was the aunt to best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning author Truman Capote. Capote wrote about his “Aunt Tiny” as Marie was called and all his other older cousins, aunts and uncles that helped raise him in his beloved short story “A Christmas Memory.” The story was about family holiday traditions in a southern town, which featured – fruitcakes.
The Fruitcake Lady – the octogenarian Mary Rudisill whose quick wit and sharp tongue entertained Leno’s audiences on countless occasions, laid claim to fame to literary fame through her cookbooks: Sook’s Cookbook: Memories and Traditional Recipes from the Deep South and Fruitcake: Heirloom Recipes and Memories of Truman Capote and Cousin Sook. She was the author of eight of them. Rudisill could have been considered a star outright way before Leno’s “Fruitcake Lady.” She was the third of two authors from the same hometown. Harper Lee, also a Pulitzer Prize winner for To Kill a Mockingbir , was from the same hometown as Capote and Rudisill. Both Capote and Lee have been widely celebrated by their hometown – Monroeville, Alabama. Unlike them, Rudisill was not.
Marie Faulk Rudisill was 95 when she died in November, 2006. She had never received any recognition from her home state or hometown up until that time. It wasn’t until this year, four years after her death, that the city of Monroeville sought to lay claim to Rudisill as one of their own. How could this be? Was it Rudisill that separated herself from her hometown, or was it the other way around?
Either way, the city of Monroeville is just now getting around to recognizing and honoring Marie Faulk Rudisill during their third annual Fruitcake Festival, which was held Nov. 12. How the town that is considered Literary Capital of Alabama neglected this author and late night “star” all these years is nothing short of a mystery. One that both Truman Capote and Harper Lee would have loved to solve and write about.