11/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
>Connie May Fowler
WINFREY REMEMBERS THE day last March when author and first-time screenwriter Connie May Fowler walked onto the Ojai, Calif., set of Before Women Had Wings. The TV movie (airing Nov. 2 on ABC and costarring Winfrey and Ellen Barkin) is based on Fowler's 1996 autobiographical novel. "She started to weep," Winfrey says, "because it was like stepping back into a part of her life she thought she'd let go." Not unlike 9-year-old Bird in the book and film (played by Tina Majorino), the now-39-year-old Fowler had grown up in a string of fleabag Florida motels with her older sister Deidre and their widowed, alcoholic and abusive mother, who died in 1979. And for a time, Fowler, like Bird, had a black woman friend as her sole source of love and support—fictionalized as Miss Zora and played by Oprah
, whom Fowler calls "one of the most genuinely honest people I've ever met."
"This film has been life-changing. It's helped me walk through the door to my past and then close it," says Fowler, who these days lives with her husband, Mika, 42, a photographer, in Lloyd, Fla. They plan to watch the telecast with sister Deidre, now 45 and a first-grade teacher. "A part of her is really scared" to view it, says Fowler. "I'm going to keep my arm around her."