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14 Things You Didn't Know About "Steel Magnolias" That Will Make You Laugh And Cry

It's been nearly 30 years since we all cried, laughed, then ugly cried again with the M'Lynn, Shelby, and the rest of the Chinquapin Parish women as they bonded over life, loss, love and armadillo cake in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias.

Personally, I don't think there's another movie that portrays the complex layers of strong female friendships and motherhood as well as this 80s comedy-drama did.

Steel Magnolias Cast
Today Show

It's no wonder decades later both women and men are still quoting lines from the movie, which is a staple at many sleepovers and movie nights.

Since the film's release, we've come to learn a lot about the original playwright and its all-star cast, but there's still a lot about the classic even die-hard fans don't know.

Here are some of them:

1. It's based on a true story

While the name Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie is made up, the person whose story the character is based on, Susan Harling Robinson, was very real.

Robinson was the story's author Robert Harling's sister.

He was inspired to write the play the film is based on after 33-year-old Robinson died in 1985 from complications related to diabetes and a failed kidney transplant.

Susan Harling Robinson
Robert Harling/Daily Mail

In 2014, on the 25th anniversary of the film, Harling explained that he wrote the play as a way to keep Susan's memory alive for her son.

"Susan died in the fall of 1985. Pat, my ex-brother-in-law, he remarried five or six months after her death and the first time I heard my nephew call this other woman ‘mama’ was when I said ‘No – Susan can’t disappear,’" Harling explained.

He added, "I wanted to celebrate my sister, it was a time of tumult and the way it took off, who knew. I never, in a million years, thought it would even get produced when I was writing it."

Julia Roberts as Shelby
Vanity Fair

The movie ended up being healing for the whole family. When filming Shelby's death scene, Harling wanted his mother to leave the set, but she insisted on staying, so she could watch watch Julia Roberts get up at the end.

"I said, 'I can’t believe you put yourself through that'," Harling said to his mom. "But Julia had become so special to my parents. She took some peace with that."

2. The play was written in 10 days

In addition to being inspired by his nephew, Harling was urged by his good friend and fellow writer Michael Weller to put pen to paper and tell his sister's story.

After some convincing from both Weller and his wife, Kathy, Harling only took 10 days to complete the story.

“The events that inspired it were so powerful that, after I found the story arena, it just poured out into my typewriter in a 24/7 tsunami of Southernness,” Harling told Garden & Gun in 2013. “I had no idea what I’d written. I asked the first person I gave it to if it even looked like a play. I wasn’t really sure. All I knew was that I felt it portrayed my sister’s life and spirit accurately, and that was enough for me.”
Robert Harling on the Today ShowToday.com

It was initially supposed to be a short story, but Harling changed his mind after realizing he wanted the story's Southern roots to shine.

"I was missing the sound of the wonderful vernacular," he told Today in 2014. "It became a play because I wanted to hear the dialogue. And that was it."

The original off-Broadway play was a hit. It opened on March 28, 1987 and closed on February 25, 1990 after 1126 performances.

3. Truvy's character wasn't written with Dolly Parton in mind

When Harling's play was being adapted into a script for the film, the role of the beauty shop owner, Truvy Jones, wasn't meant for Dolly Parton.

In fact, Harling had Practical magic actress Margo Matindale in mind when he was writing the role.

Margo Martindale
We Live Entertainment

The actress and the writer were good friends, and she was the one who played Truvy in the play's off-Broadway debut.

But in the end, Parton nabbed the role and did a stellar job bringing her gossip queen character to life.

Dolly Parton
Famous People

According to Shirley MacLaine and Sally Field, Herbert Ross, the film's director, told Parton to take acting lessons after she was cast.

"You don't say that to Dolly Parton," said Field. "Dolly Parton is absolutely the funniest, wittiest and filthiest, and she will cut you to ribbons."

4. It was filmed in the author's hometown

Since the story is based on Harling's family and people who lived in his hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana, it only made sense to have the movie filmed there.

Although the name was changed to Chinquapin in the fictional world, the success of the film helped put the small charming town on the map.

"For everyone who has seen the movie outside of Natchitoches it is synonymous with the movie," Arlene Gould, executive director of the Natchitoches Convention and Tourism Bureau, told The Shreveport Times. "It had a tremendous impact on the tourism trade and on our community.
Natchitoches
Atlanta Magazine

Even today, tourism is booming, and visitors can opt in for the full Steel Magnolias experience by booking a local tour to see M'Lynn's house, Truvy's Beauty Shop, St. Augustine Catholic Church, where Shelby tied the knot, and more.

5. Two other famous actresses almost played Shelby

Julia Roberts perfectly embodied the role of Shelby, but believe it or not, she was the third choice.

The producers has their sights set on Winona Ryder to play the part, but then they decided she was too young.

Next, they approached rom-com queen Meg Ryan. Ryan immediately jumped on board, but she dropped out after she was offered a role in When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias
redcutress.com

The casting team also considered Laura Dern, but their director insisted that the producers allow Roberts to audition.

Roberts was finally given the part after Harling became mesmerized by her smile, and of course, her talent.

“She walked into the room and that smile lit everything up and I said ‘That’s my sister,’” Harling told The Daily Mail. “So she joined the party and she was magnificent.”

The performance earned Roberts her first Oscar nomination, but sadly, she didn't win the coveted trophy.

For the Australian version of the play, Nicole Kidman played the role of Shelby.

6. Hollywood legends wanted to be part of the film

After watching the play in New York, Bette Davis decided she wanted to play Ouiser, a role that eventually went to Shirley MacLaine.

Davis also had some interesting ideas for the other roles. She thought Katharine Hepburn could play Clairee and Elizabeth Taylor as Truvy.

Bette Davis
Bette DavisCanyon-News.com

She even invited Harling out to tea, so she could pitch her ideas.

At the end of their interaction, she told him, "You may give the role of Ouiser to someone else. But you and they will hear from Bette Davis."

7. Julia Roberts' on-screen romance wasn't all fake

Steel Magnolias sparked a real-life romance between Roberts and her on-screen husband played by Dylan McDermott.

When filming began, Roberts was in a relationship with her Satisfaction co-star Liam Neeson, but by she allegedly broke things off to date McDermott.

Julia Roberts and Dylan McDermott
Pinterest

The pair eventually got engaged but never made it down the aisle.

She left McDermott so she could be with her Flatliners co-star Keifer Sutherland, whom she also left just days before their 1991 nuptials.

She ran away with Sutherland's friend, Jason Patric, on the day of their intended wedding.

8. The cast members weren't all actors

In order to ensure that the film contains as many authentic elements as possible, Ross hired the actual nurses and doctors who cared for Robinson during her final days.

Like Susan, Shelby's character died after suffering a diabetic coma.

Steel Magnolias hospital scene
everydayhealth.com

He wanted them to look after Shelby the same way they did for Harling's sister, so the nurse who turned off Robinson's life support also did it in the movie.

Harling later said that this "added a sense of real gravity and reality to it all."

9. The movie inspired strangers to give back

After the film was released, Harling received correspondence from many fans, but there was one that stood out from the rest.

The playwright told Today that a fan was so inspired by the film that they decided to save a life and donate their kidney to a neighbor who needed it.

Dylan McDermott in Steel Magnolias
LittleThings

At the time that Harling shared this wonderful story, the recipient of the organ was getting ready to celebrate his 35th wedding anniversary.

The fan stated in their email that they will be raising a toast to Harling.

"I wrote him back and I said, 'Save your toast to me. Toast to my sister, Susan,'" Harling said.

10. It also led to another popular film

Steel Magnolias inspired a comedy film co-written by Harling.

After long days on set, the cast would get together to chat and play games. Then one night, Harling asked the actresses if there's a role they'd most like to play.

Sally Field said she's always stuck playing “really noble, earnest women that wear crummy clothes. For once I’d like to play a b---h that gets to wear nice clothes.”

Her remark gave Harling the idea to write a character that appears to be sweet, but is actually mean-spirited. That's how the 1991 film Soapdish came to be.

Field played the role of Celeste Talbert, a soap opera star, who is a victim of a conspiracy to get her fired from her show.

11. There was drama on set

While everyone got along most of the time, there have been instances where the cast butt heads with the director.

Ross was said to have been really harsh and stern on more than one occasion.

“Herb Ross was basically a choreographer,” MacLaine said in 2003. “That means he could be sometimes very stern and sometimes very harsh. My deepest memories of the film were how we bonded together after he told one of us or all of us we couldn't act.”
Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias
Shirley MacLaine in Steel MagnoliasTelegraph.co.uk

Both MacLaine and Field also had some tidbits to share about Ross being particularly hard on Roberts.

"He went after Julia with a vengeance,” Field said.“This was pretty much her first big film.”

MacLaine added that Roberts “would come to my house every night and say, ‘I think I'm terrible. What am I doing?’ and she really was in tears.”

12. The movie has a recent remake

Lifetime remade Steel Magnolias with a twist, and it turned out to be extremely successful.

Unlike the original, the cast was predominantly made up of black actresses, including Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rasad, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Adepero Oduyem, and Condola Rashad.

Steel Magnolias Remake
Hollywood Reporter

The film became the channel's third most-watched original telecast ever with 6.5 million viewers, according to The Huffington Post.

However, this success did not come easy.

Victoria L. White, an executive producer on the 1989 version of the film, sued Lifetime Entertainment, A&E Networks and Sony Pictures Television for trying to release the remake without permission.

White asked for producing credit on the new TV movie, as well as a share of the profits, royalties, and compensation of a few thousand dollars.

13. There was also going to be a Steel Magnolias TV show

A year after the film's release, CBS aired a pilot of a Steel Magnolias television series in the summer.

Unfortunately, the show, which starred Cindy Williams, Sally Kirkland, and Elaine Stritch,  wasn't nearly as successful as the aforementioned Lifetime TV movie.

Steel Magnolias
Mental Floss

The network and the viewers weren't all that interested in the show, so it was pulled from the fall lineup.

Perhaps it is because the movie was still fresh in people's minds.

14. Fans can now stay in M'Lynn's house

The house which was used as the fictional home of the Eatentons has been turned into a bed & breakfast and aptly named The Steel Magnolia House.

Dan Dyess, the owner of the 5,900 square-foot B&B opened its doors back in 2003, and had tried to incorporate as many of the original details as possible.

The wooden flooring, crystal chandeliers, mantels, antique furniture, and even gas-lit fireplaces from the film are still in tact.

The Steel Magnolia House
Southern Living

There are six suites in the house, all of which have been named after some of the movie's characters, including Shelby, Clairee, Jackson, Ouiser, and Annelle.

The iconic home is also filled with memorabilia from the movie like behind-the-scenes photos and costume sketches, according to Southern Living.

“Mostly ladies get together and come over here with their daughters,” Dyess said of the B&B’s typical clientele. “You won’t believe the number of women who I have met who have named their daughter Shelby.”

If you're interested in seeing what the house looks like on the inside, read this: The "Steel Magnolias" House Is Now A Bed & Breakfast And You Can Take A Peek Inside.

What is your favorite thing about Steel Magnolias? Let us know in the comments!

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.