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Steel Magnolias is a 1989 comedy-drama film about the bond among a group of Southern women in northwest Louisianamarker. The movie is based on a 1987 off-Broadway play by Robert Harling and on the author's experience with the death of his sister. The title suggests the female characters are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel.


The action centers on Truvy's beauty parlour and some women who regularly gather there. The drama begins on the morning of Shelby's wedding to Jackson and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby's decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. We also get a glimpse of the unlikely friendship between Clairee and Ouiser; Annelle's transformation from a shy, anxious newcomer in town to a partying woman and then to a religious fundamentalist; and Truvy's relationships with the men in her family. Although the main storyline involves Shelby, her mother and Shelby's medical battles, the underlying group-friendship among all six women is prominent throughout the drama.


As noted in the Special Features on the Steel Magnolias DVD, the story of Steel Magnolias is based on the death of Robert Harling's younger sister, Susan Harling Robinson, a diabetic. As her best friend and closest sibling, Harling found it very difficult to cope with her death. He was advised by many of his friends to write about his feelings as a coping method. It began as a short story and evolved into a full length play due to the complexity of the relationships and emotions that existed within the characters. Harling felt it important to include the way the characters utilized humor and light hearted conversations to assist them in coping with the seriousness of the underlying situations. Harling wanted the moviegoers to have a true experience of what his family endured during his sister's hospitalization. One of the ways he did this was by employing the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff that worked with his sister as characters in the movie portraying their real life roles. Because of the true to life situation, this movie is received by viewers in many different ways.

The setting for the movie is the fictional small town of Chinquapin, Louisiana which is located in the (also fictional) parish of Chinquapin. The movie was actually filmed in Natchitoches, Louisianamarker which is located in Natchitoches Parish.

Stage play

The stage play, written by Robert Harling, is still popular today and has frequent productions mounted throughout the United Statesmarker. It was originally staged Off-Broadway. All of the action of the play takes place solely on one set — Truvy's beauty salon, which is part of her house. There are only six characters (all female) that appear on stage. There is the voice of a DJ on the radio that is heard during the play. All the other characters (like the male characters) that appear in the film version are only referred to in the dialog. The original stage production opened at the WPA Theatre, in New York Citymarker, on 28 March 1987. It was directed by Pamela Berlin and featured Margo Martindale as Truvy, Constance Shulman as Annelle, Kate Wilkinson as Clairee, Mary Fogarty as Ouiser, Blanche Baker as Shelby and Rosemary Prinz as M'Lynn. The production moved to the Lucille Lortel Theatre on 19 June 1987, with Betsy Aidem taking over the role of Shelby.

The premiere London production was produced in 1989 at the Lyric Theatre. It was directed by Julia McKenzie and featured Rosemary Harris as M’Lynn, Jean Boht as Ouiser Janine Duvitsky as Annelle, Stephanie Cole as Clairee, Maggie Steed as Truvy and Joely Richardson as Shelby.

In the spring of 2005, the play made its Broadwaymarker debut at the Lyceum Theatre. Previews of the production began March 15, 2005 and officially opened on April 4. The cast included Delta Burke as Truvy, Christine Ebersole as M'Lynn, Rebecca Gayheart as Shelby, Marsha Mason as Ouiser, Lily Rabe as Annelle and Frances Sternhagen as Clairee. At the close of its run, the staging had played 23 previews and 136 regular performances. A touring production of Steel Magnolias was expected for the 2007-08 season. Many regional theaters also perform the play each year.

There have been a number of Japanese language productions of the play. The most recent was staged by the Haiyuza Theatre Company from 14 November to 25 November 2007, in Tokyo. The production featured Mayuko Aoyama in the role of Truvy, Kaoru Inoue as Annelle, Mayumi Katayama as Clairee, Midori Ando as Shelby, Atsuko Kawaguchi as M'Lynn and Minae as Ouiser. The play was translated and directed by Hajime Mori.

A Swedish production premiered 16 November 2008 at Vasateatern in Stockholmmarker in presence of Robert Harling. The cast included Cecilia Nilsson as Truvy, Pernilla August as M'Lynn, Melinda Kinnaman as Shelby, Suzanne Reuter as Ouiser, Linda Ulvaeus as Annelle and Gunilla Nyroos as Clairee. The play, called Blommor av Stål in Swedish, was directed by Emma Bucht and translated by Klas Östergren and Edward af Sillén.


The film was released by Tri-Star Pictures in the United Statesmarker on November 15, 1989 and grossed more than US$83.7 million at the box office. Robert Harling adapted his own play, which was heavily rewritten to incorporate many more characters. It was his first produced screenplay and he also appears in the film as the preacher. The film was directed by Herbert Ross.

The film starred Dolly Parton (Truvy Jones), Olympia Dukakis (Clairee Belcher), Shirley MacLaine (Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux), Sally Field (M'Lynn Eatenton), Julia Roberts (Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie) and Daryl Hannah (Annelle Dupuy-Desoto). Julia Roberts received her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress. The location for the filming was Natchitoches, Louisianamarker. Historian Robert DeBlieux, a former mayor of Natchitoches, was the local advisor on the film.

The casting and sets of the film go far beyond the modest means of the original play to include male characters, ensembles and outdoor scenes. The sequence of the action as well was more tightly linked with major holidays in the film than in the play. Much dialog was added and several lines in the play were cut or assigned to other characters than originally intended. In addition, Truvy is given only one son instead of two.

Among the men added to the cast for the movie were Tom Skerritt as Drum Eatenton (M'Lynn's husband), Dylan McDermott as Jackson Latcherie (Shelby's husband) and Sam Shepard as Spud Jones (Truvy's husband).

Film cast


CBS commissioned a television pilot in 1990 in hopes of continuing the story as a weekly half-hour sitcom. The story picked up where the film left off and therefore the character of Shelby was not included in the show. The cast featured Cindy Williams as M’Lynn, Sally Kirkland as Truvy, Elaine Stritch as Ouiser, Polly Bergen as Clairee and Sheila McCarthy as Annelle. CBS declined to pick up the series for the 1990 fall season, although the pilot was broadcast on August 17, 1990.

Diabetic awareness

The film portrays the seriousness of Type 1 diabetes and this portrayal of one woman's experience with being pregnant and having diabetes has created an awareness in diabetic women to be more cautious in regards to pregnancy. However, it is possible and quite common for women with diabetes to have a child without the deadly consequences that the film shows. Endocrinologists have expressed dismay that the film does not portray diabetes and diabetes management in an accurate light. Additional disability websites recommend Steel Magnolias as realistic portrayal of diabetes in women.


  1. (Scanlon, 2007)
  2. Harling, Robert. Steel Magnolias. New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 1988.
  3. How Hollywood Kills Diabetes Education by Jennifer Dyer, MD
  4. Films Involving Disabilities, Steel Magnolias & Diabetes

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