Steel Magnolias

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Steel Magnolias
Steel magnolias poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Herbert Ross
Produced by Ray Stark
Andrew Stone
Victoria White
Written by Robert Harling
Starring Sally Field
Dolly Parton
Shirley MacLaine
Daryl Hannah
Olympia Dukakis
Julia Roberts
Music by Georges Delerue
Studio Rastar
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • November 15, 1989 (1989-11-15)
Running time 117 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $95,904,091[2]

Steel Magnolias is a 1989 American comedy-drama directed by Herbert Ross. It is the film adaptation of Robert Harling's 1987 play of the same name about the bond a group of women share surrounding the family experience during the death of the playwright's sister, Susan Harling Robinson in 1985. The title suggests the main female characters can be both as delicate as the magnolia, and as tough as steel.[3]


Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah), a recent beauty school graduate, is hired by Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton) to work in her home-based beauty salon. M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field), a good friend of Truvy's, and her daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts), arrive at Truvy's to prepare for Shelby's wedding which is taking place later that day. Also arriving at the salon are Ouiser (pronounced "Weezer" or "Weeza") Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), a grouchy, two-time widow (who claims that she is not crazy, she's just been in a very bad mood for 40 years), and Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), also a widow, who is cheerful and enjoys taking cracks at Ouiser whenever possible. Even so, Clairee loves Ouiser "more than her luggage." While having her hair done, Shelby, who has type one diabetes, falls into a hypoglycemic state but recovers quickly after having some orange juice provided by her mother and the other women.

Also, upon Ouiser's arrival, she gives the third degree to Annelle, forcing her to reveal that her husband, Bunkie, might be a dangerous criminal as the police have interviewed her many times looking for him. Truvy says that she wishes Annelle had mentioned this before, but Annelle says she was too scared to, fearing that Truvy might not have given her the job if she had known her husband was a drug dealer. Annelle swears that her personal tragedy will never be able to interfere with her ability to do good hair. Shelby then agrees that Annelle will come to her wedding "and have some bleedin' armadillo grooms cake," referring to the armadillo shaped cake baked by Shelby's fiance Jackson's Aunt Fern Thornton (Ann Wedgeworth). Annelle comes to the wedding, borrowing one of Shelby's dresses.

Several months pass and Shelby announces that she and her husband Jackson Latcherie (Dylan McDermott) are expecting their first child. The family is thrilled, but M'Lynn is far too worried that Shelby's body may not be able to withstand childbirth to think anything positive about it. Truvy, Annelle, and Clairee had originally thought that Shelby couldn't have children, but on the night of the big announcement, M'Lynn clarified for them that the doctors said Shelby shouldn't have children because of her chronic kidney condition, and that there is a very big difference. Ouiser then says that "this baby is not exactly great news," meaning Shelby could actually die in childbirth because of her diabetes. Unable to give her any words of wisdom, Truvy suggests they focus on the joy of the situation: Jackson and Shelby's first child, as well as Drum and M'Lynn's first grandchild, as well as their boys, Jonathan and Tommy's first nephew. M'Lynn agrees, saying that nothing pleases Shelby more than proving her wrong.

Shelby successfully delivers a baby boy, Jackson Jr. However, several months later, Shelby begins showing signs of kidney failure and starts dialysis. M'Lynn offers to donate a kidney and Shelby receives the transplant one day after Jackson Jr's first birthday. Clairee and Ouiser offer to make sure that M'Lynn's husband, Drum (Tom Skerritt) and their sons, Jonathan (Jonathan Ward) and Tommy (Knowl Johnson), have enough food to last until M'Lynn returns home after the transplant. While grocery shopping for the family, Ouiser, having said she'd be better off when her body wears out, realizes she shouldn't have said that in front of Shelby and thinks of herself as a terrible person. Clairee dismisses this immediately, saying Ouiser isn't a terrible person because she knows Ouiser would even give her dog, Rhett, a kidney if he ever needed one. Ouiser responds by saying "yes."

The surgery is initially successful, and Shelby seemingly resumes a normal life. Later, on Halloween, Ouiser, Clairee, Truvy, and M'Lynn throw Annelle a surprise wedding shower, "with a monster motif." Shelby is unavailable to attend, due to a conflicting schedule with her nursing job, but M'Lynn gives Annelle a present from Shelby in her stead. Later that night, Shelby picks up Jack Jr. but immediately sets him back down, telling him she needs to call his father. Her painful grimace and the need to call is the first indication of a problem since the surgery. Jackson arrives home to find pots on the stove boiling over and Jack Jr. crying hysterically. Jack Jr. directs his father toward the back porch, where Shelby is unconscious with the telephone receiver in her hand.

Shelby is rushed to the hospital, where it's determined that her body rejected the new kidney, sending her into a coma. The doctors inform the family that Shelby is likely to remain comatose indefinitely, and her family and husband jointly decide to take her off life support. At the funeral, after the other mourners have left, M'Lynn breaks down in hysterics in front of Ouiser, Clairee, Truvy, and Annelle stating that she was supposed to "go first," for which she was always ready. She also wonders if Jack Jr. will ever know just how wonderful his mother was and if he'll ever know what she went through just to bring him into the world. She wants to hit someone until they feel just as bad as she does, but soon, the other women (mostly Clairee) give support to M'Lynn through both humor and love. Clairee suggests M'Lynn hit Ouiser to get rid of her anger, angering Ouiser at first, but she and Clairee quickly make up. Clairee also says by not hitting Ouiser, that M'Lynn has also missed the chance of a lifetime, as she believes "half of Chinquapin Parish'd give their eye teeth to take a whack at Ouiser!"

Later, at the wake, M'Lynn begins to accept her daughter's death and focuses her energy on helping Jackson raise Jack Jr, as do Drum, Jonathan, and Tommy. Annelle, who is now married and pregnant, asks M'Lynn if she could name her own baby after Shelby, since Shelby was the reason Annelle and her new husband, Sammy (Kevin J. O'Connor), met. M'Lynn agrees, and assures Annelle that Shelby would love that, saying she would be "tickled pink," reminding her of her daughter's favorite color. Months later, on Easter morning, Annelle goes into labor during an Easter egg hunt, is rushed to the hospital by Truvy and her husband Spud (Sam Shepard), and another life begins. Just prior to that, Jack Jr., after hearing a pretend story from Clairee, hits Ouiser, under the impression that, as Clairee described her in a story, she is an evil, horrible witch.


Sally Field Mary Lynn "M'Lynn" Eatenton Jonathan, Tommy, and Shelby's mother; Drum's wife, Jackson's mother-in-law and Jack Jr's maternal grandmother
Dolly Parton Truvy Jones Beautician; Spud's wife, and Louie's mother
Shirley MacLaine Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux Neighborhood friend/"Grouch"
Daryl Hannah Annelle Dupuy-Desoto Newcomer; Beautician, wife of Sammy
Olympia Dukakis Clairee Belcher Neighbor friend; former first lady, sister of Drew Marmillion, sister-in-law of Belle Marmillion, and aunt of Marshall and Nancy Beth Marmillion.
Julia Roberts Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie Drum and M'Lynn's daughter, Jonathan and Tommy's sister, Jackson's wife, and Jack Jr's mother.
Tom Skerritt Drum Eatenton M'Lynn's husband, Shelby, Jonathan & Tommy's father, Jackson's father-in-law, and Jack Jr's maternal grandfather.
Sam Shepard Spud Jones Truvy's husband and Louie's father.
Dylan McDermott Jackson Latcherie Shelby's husband, Jack Jr.'s father, Drum and M'Lynn's son-in-law, and Jonathan and Tommy's brother-in-law.
Kevin J. O'Connor Sammy Desoto Annelle's Husband
Bill McCutcheon Owen Jenkins Ouiser's former boyfriend
Ann Wedgeworth Aunt Fern Thornton Jackson's aunt
Knowl Johnson Tommy Eatenton Drum and M'Lynn's son, Jonathan and Shelby's brother, Jackson's brother-in-law and Jack Jr's maternal uncle.
Jonathan Ward Jonathan Eatenton Drum and M'Lynn's son, Tommy and Shelby's brother, Jackson's brother-in-law and Jack Jr's maternal uncle.
Ronald Young Drew Marmillion Clairee's brother, husband to Belle, and father of Marshall and Nancy Beth
Bibi Besch Belle Marmillion Drew's wife, mother of Marshall and Nancy Beth, and Clairee's sister-in-law
Janine Turner Nancy-Beth Marmillion Drew and Belle's daughter; Clairee's niece, Marshall's sister
James Wlcek Marshall Marmillion Drew and Belle's son; Clairee's nephew, and Nancy Beth's brother
Tom Hodges Louie Jones Truvy and Spud's son
C. Houser Jackson Latcherie, Jr. (1 year old) Jackson and Shelby's son, Drum and M'Lynn's maternal grandson, and Jonathan and Tommy's maternal nephew.
Daniel Camp Jackson Latcherie, Jr. (3 years old) Jackson and Shelby's son, Drum and M'Lynn's maternal grandson, and Jonathan and Tommy's maternal nephew.


The original play described the experience of the family and friends of the play author Harling following the 1985 death of his sister from diabetic complications after the birth of his namesake nephew and failure of a family member donated kidney. A writer friend continuously encouraged him to write it down in order to come to terms with the experience. He did but originally as a short story for his nephew the latter to get an understanding of the deceased mother. It eventually evolved in ten days to the play.[4]


Released by Tri-Star Pictures in the United States on November 15, 1989 and grossed more than $83.7 million at the box office. Harling's first produced screenplay, he adapted the original film script which was then heavily rewritten beyond the on-stage one set scenario of the stage production: the scenes increased and the sequence was more tightly linked with major holidays than the play; the increased characters beyond the all original female play cast caused dialogue changes between on-screen characters (among them, Harling playing the preacher and Truvy has one son instead of two). Natchitoches, Louisiana served as both the 1989 film location and scenario location[5] with Historian Robert DeBlieux, a former Natchitoches mayor, as the local advisor.[6]


It received mixed-to-positive reviews and has 65% on Rotten Tomatoes."[7] An example of a less enthusiastic critic was Hal Hinson of The Washington Post, who said that it felt "more Hollywood than the South."[8] An example of a more enthusiastic critic was Roger Ebert, who said that the film was "willing to sacrifice its over-all impact for individual moments of humor, and while that leaves us without much to take home, you've got to hand it to them: The moments work."[9]

The movie received a limited release on November 15, 1989: entered the U.S. box office at #4 with an opening weekend gross of $5,425,440; by the time of wider release two days later it grossed $15,643,935; stayed in the top 10 for 16 weeks, gross $83,759,091 domestically with a further $12,145,000 with foreign markets giving a worldwide gross of $95,904,091.[10]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS on June 19, 1990 and on DVD July 25, 2000, allowing the film to gross a further $40 million.[11] The movie's overall gross was $135,904,091. The film was released on Blu-ray through the boutique label, Twilight Time, on September 11, 2012.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1990 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Julia Roberts Nominated
1990 American Comedy Awards Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Olympia Dukakis Nominated
1990 American Comedy Awards Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Shirley MacLaine Nominated
1990 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Shirley MacLaine Nominated
1990 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Sally Field Nominated
1990 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Julia Roberts Won
1990 People's Choice Awards Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture Steel Magnolias Won
1991 BAFTA Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Shirley MacLaine Nominated

Julia Roberts' first ever AMPAS nomination (Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) losing to Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot).[12]

Adaptation - Television[edit]

CBS broadcast on August 17, 1990 a two hour television pilot sitcom sans Shelby's character as the story line was post death. The cast: Cindy Williams as M’Lynn, Sally Kirkland as Truvy, Elaine Stritch as Ouiser, Polly Bergen as Clairee and Sheila McCarthy as Annelle. CBS cancelled further broadcast.[13]

Remake 2012[edit]

Lifetime Television Network announced (October 10, 2011) a planned remake under the direction of Kenny Leon, director of the ABC movie A Raisin in the Sun (2008), set in Louisiana[14] featuring lead role black actors: Queen Latifah (M'Lynn), Jill Scott (Truvy), Alfre Woodard (Ouiser), Phylicia Rashād (Clairee), Adepero Oduye (Annelle) and Condola Rashād (Shelby).[15] The New York Times had mixed reactions: applauded it on some points and on others either schmaltz or less attentive than the 1989 film.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steel Magnolias on IMDb
  2. ^ "Steel Magnolias at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  3. ^ Scanlon, J. (2007) "If My Husband Calls I’m Not Here: The Beauty Parlor as Real and Representational Female Space". Feminist Studies, 33 (2)
  4. ^ People Archives: Vol. 29, No. 3 (January 25, 1988), "Robert Harling, Author of a Hit Comedy Based on a Family Tragedy," By Kim Hubbard. cite web|url=,,20098146,00.html; "What’s Up, Robert Harling? Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Steel Magnolias, Kristin Chenoweth in a Soapdish Musical & More." Interviews By Kathy Henderson November 28, 2012:
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Hinson, Hal (November 17, 1989). "'Steel Magnolias' (PG)". The Washington Post (© 1989 The Washington Post Company). Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 17, 1989). "Review of Steel Magnolias". Chicago Sun-Times ( Retrieved May 29, 2013. ;
  10. ^
  11. ^ Hunt, Dennis (August 2, 1990). "VIDEO RENTALS : 'Internal Affairs' Has Appeal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-13.  ;
  12. ^ "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Hilton, Perez. "Steel Magnolias To Be Remade With All-Black Cast". Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  15. ^ ;
  16. ^ Hale, Mike (October 5, 2012). "‘Steel Magnolias' on Lifetime, With Queen Latifah". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]