Y'all remember Daisy Fay Harper? Won the title of Miss Mississippi in 1959? Used to do a television weather forecast in Hattiesburg for a cool $60 a week until the station manager noticed that she was forecasting pretty much the same weather all the time and ignoring such things as floods and tornadoes. Daisy Fay would have passed her 40th birthday this year, and without winning that beauty contest the odds are that today she would be married to someone who doesn't work very regularly, plays around with other women, bends the law occasionally and gets mean when he drinks -- which is most of the time. You know, one of your average also-rans in the contest to embody the idea of southern womanhood.
I can't tell you what happened to Daisy Fay after Sep. 3, 1959, when she went of to Atlantic City vowing that "I won't come back until I'm somebody." With a little luck, she may have done as well as Fannie Flagg, who went up to New York from Alabama, not Mississippi, but shares Daisy's interest ins how business and has prospered in it, with more than 500 appearances on network television, the female lead in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and the television series, "Harper Valley PTA." If "Comming Attractions" is not quite autobiographical, it undoubtedly draws on some vividly remembered experiences. As Daisy explains it in the book's epigraph: "What you are about to read . . . really did happen to me . . . or maybe it didn't . . . I'm not sure . . . but it doesn't matter . . . because it's true."
In "Comming Attractions," Fannie Flagg has provided a very thorough account of Daisy Fay's life before winning the Miss Mississippi contest, beginning on April Fool's Day in 1952, when she starts to keep a journal with the new typewriter her grandmother gave her "to pracatice typing so when I grow up, I can become a secretary."
Daisy Fay is a bright young lady, no question; but until she finds herself competing for Miss America, there is hardly an inkling that she is all that pretty. Her friends sometimes tell her that she looks like Celeste Holm, and that makes her feel good. Then, she stumbles into the Miss Mississippi title -- much to her own surprise, since she knows the contest is rigged and Margaret Poole, after several years of careful grooming, is the predestined winner. Daisy has never won much of anything in her whole life -- beginning with her name:
"Momma wanted to name me Mignon after her sister, but Daddy pitched a fit and said he didn't want his only daughter named after a steak . . . so Grandma Pettibone settled the whole thing by naming me Daisy, just because there happened to be a vase of daisies in the room. I sure would like to know who sent those rotten daisies anyway. Daddy and I hate that name because it sounds country and we are not country at all. Jackson is a big city and we live in an apartment. I prefer the name Dale or Olive, not after Olive Oyl but after the actress sister of Joan Fontaine, Olive de Haviland."
At Magnolia Springs High School, Daisy becomes a cheerleader and a member of the band (although she can't read music and the only tune she can play on her saxophone is "Lady of Spain"), but she is drummed out of the International Order of Rainbow Girls, just because she sneaked some sand crabs into their secret initiation ceremony, and she misses out on that supreme if unofficial index of social status: access to the Senior Radiator, "a special radiator they stand around at the end of the hall by the principal's office." Sophomores, to be accepted at the Senior Radiator, "have to work hare at being popular and smile at everyone in school."
This proves impossible for Daisy Fay and her friend Pickle (who is later forced by unfortunate circumstances to marry a boy nicknamed Mustard), but still she manages to have an eventful life from 11 to 18. She becomes a somewhat unwilling witness in a murder case, and for one spectacular evening she is the assistant (accomplice?) to a hotshot evangelist who is "in trouble with the law for selling autographed pictures of the Last Supper." Her story has the usual quota of violence, incest, chicanery and blackmail, as well as the social and racial tensions that one expects in a southern novel, but these are mostly thingts that happen around her rather than to her. In the intimate journal which is the text of this novel, Daisy's concerns are mostly those of the average schoolgirl growing into young womanhood in the Eisenhower years -- the bother of bras, the mystery of what a "period" is, occasional blighted romances and the perennial problems of boys, popularity and algebra.
Since it covers seven formative years, the story is largely about the transition from innocence to experince. But experience comes slowly. She is nearing her 18th birthday and engaged to be married before discovering that the "diaphragm" her prospecive mother-in-law asks about is not the one she was born with. And that fact leads logically, a short time later, to her concern about how to get an abortion in medieval (late '50s) Mississippi.
In "Comming Attractions," Fannie Flagg has evidently tried to write a modern, feminine "Tom Sawyer." Like Mark Twain, she has stretched probability in some of her episodes, but she has also created a vivid cast of characters, a bright, memorable heroine and some very funny dialogue and situations. If she fails to match the original, she has produced a highly readable novel.