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
Tom Skerritt
Dylan McDermott
Kevin J. O'Connor
Sam Shepard
Music by Georges Delerue
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • November 15, 1989 (1989-11-15)
Running time
117 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $95.9 million[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. The play and film are about the bond a group of different women share in a small-town southern community, and how they cope with the death of one of their own.

The story is based on Robert Harling's real life and the death of his sister Susan Harling Robinson in 1985 due to early diabetes. He changed his sister's name in the story from Susan, to Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie.

The title suggests the main female characters can be both as delicate as the magnolia flower, and as tough as steel.[3]


Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah), a reserved and ditzy beauty school graduate, is hired by Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton) to work in her home-based beauty salon in northwestern Louisiana. At the same time in another part of the neighbourhood, M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field) and her daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts), are preparing for Shelby's wedding day, which is taking place later that day. They arrive, along with Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), the cheerful widow of the late former mayor, to have their hair done. Suddenly, Shelby, who has type one diabetes, falls into a hypoglycemic state but recovers quickly with the help of her mother's persistence and quick thinking. M'Lynn explains that Shelby was recently informed by doctors that she isn't able to have children.

Later that afternoon, short-tempered and sarcastic Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine) arrives in the salon and questions Annelle about where she has moved from, forcing Annelle to reveal that her husband is a dangerous criminal on the run from the police. Moved by Annelle's emotional confession, Shelby invites her to the wedding, where Annelle meets Sammy (Kevin J. O'Connor) who is tending bar.

Several months pass and Shelby returns to town to celebrate Christmas. During the festivities, she announces that she and her husband Jackson Latcherie (Dylan McDermott) are expecting their first child. Shelby's father Drum (Tom Skerritt) is thrilled, but M'Lynn is too worried to share in the joy. Even when Shelby confesses that she hopes the arrival of a baby might make her marriage a little easier, M'Lynn is unable to rejoice. 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 diabetes, and that there is a very big difference. It becomes clear that Shelby could actually die in childbirth because of her diabetes taking a toll. 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 sons, 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., but begins showing signs of kidney failure and starts dialysis around the time Jackson Jr turns one. M'Lynn successfully donates a kidney and Shelby seemingly resumes a normal life. Clairee and Ouiser offer to make sure that M'Lynn's husband, Drum, and their sons, Jonathan (Jonathan Ward) and Tommy (Knowl Johnson), have enough food to last until M'Lynn returns home after the transplant. Later, on Halloween, Ouiser, Clairee, Truvy, and M'Lynn throw Annelle a surprise wedding shower. Shelby is unavailable to attend, due to a conflicting schedule with her nursing job, and is later found unconscious on the porch of her house.

Shelby is rushed to the hospital, where it is 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 but is comforted by the other women.

Later, at the wake, M'Lynn begins to accept her daughter's death and focuses her energy on helping Jackson raise Jackson Jr. 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 husband, Sammy (Kevin J. O'Connor), met. M'Lynn agrees, and assures Annelle that Shelby would love it. 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.


Actor Character Relationship
Sally Field Mary Lynn "M'Lynn" Eatenton Social Worker; Wife to Drum Eatenton; Mother to Shelby, Jonathan and Tommy; Jackson's mother-in-law; Jack Jr.'s maternal grandmother
Dolly Parton Truvy Jones Beautician; Wife to Spud Jones; Mother to Louie; town gossiper
Shirley MacLaine Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux Clairee Belcher's best friend and confidant; Eatenton Family's next-door neighbor; town curmudgeon and nemesis to Drum Eatenton
Daryl Hannah Annelle Dupuy Desoto Newcomer to town; Beautician Apprentice hired by Truvy Jones; First wife to Bunkie Dupuy; Second wife to Sammy Desoto
Olympia Dukakis Clairee Belcher Former town first lady; Sister to Drew Marmillion, Sister-in-Law to Belle Marmillion; Aunt to Marshall and Nancy Beth Marmillion; Best friend and confidant to Ouiser Boudreaux; Friends of the Eatentons and Joneses
Julia Roberts Shelby Eatenton Latcherie Eldest child and only daughter to Drum and M'Lynn Eatenton; Sister to Jonathan and Tommy; Marries Jackson Latcherie and gives birth to Jackson "Jack" Latcherie, Jr.; suffers from type one diabetes
Tom Skerritt Thomas Drummond "Drum" Eatenton Husband to M'Lynn Eatenton, Father to Shelby, Jonathan and Tommy; Jackson Latcherie's father-in-law; Jack Jr.'s maternal grandfather
Sam Shepard Spud Jones Unemployed laborer; Truvy Jones's husband and Louie's father
Dylan McDermott Jackson Latcherie Lawyer; Shelby Eatenton'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 Dupuy's soon-to-be second husband who met her at Shelby and Jackson's wedding reception
Bill McCutcheon Owen Jenkins Ouiser Boudreaux's former boyfriend who has returned to town
Ann Wedgeworth Aunt Fern Thornton Jackson Latcherie's aunt; infamous for her animal-shaped cakes
Knowl Johnson Tommy Eatenton Drum and M'Lynn Eatenton's first-born son and middle child; Shelby and Jonathan's brother; Jackson's brother-in-law; Jack Jr.'s maternal uncle
Jonathan Ward Jonathan Eatenton Drum and M'Lynn Eatenton's second-born son and youngest child; Shelby and Tommy's brother; Jackson's brother-in-law; Jack Jr.'s maternal uncle
Ronald Young Drew Marmillion Clairee Belcher's brother; Husband to Belle Marmillion; Father to Marshall and Nancy Beth
Bibi Besch Belle Marmillion Drew Marmillion's wife; Mother to Marshall and Nancy Beth; Clairee Belcher's sister-in-law
Janine Turner Nancy-Beth Marmillion Drew and Belle Marmillion's daughter; Marshall's sister; Clairee Belcher's niece; town's dethroned "Miss Merry Christmas"
James Wlcek Marshall Marmillion Drew and Belle Marmillion's son; Nancy Beth's brother; Clairee Belcher's nephew; announces to his parents he is gay
Tom Hodges Louie Jones Truvy and Spud Jones's rebellious son
C. Houser Jackson Latcherie, Jr. (1 year old) Jackson and Shelby Latcherie's son; Drum and M'Lynn Eatenton's maternal grandson; Jonathan and Tommy Eatenton's maternal nephew
Daniel Camp Jackson Latcherie, Jr. (3 years old) Jackson and Shelby Latcherie's son; Drum and M'Lynn Eatenton's maternal grandson; Jonathan and Tommy Eatenton'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][5]


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[6] with historian Robert DeBlieux, a former Natchitoches mayor, as the local advisor.[7]


It received mixed-to-positive reviews and has 65% on Rotten Tomatoes."[8] An example of a less enthusiastic critic was Hal Hinson of The Washington Post, who said that it felt "more Hollywood than the South."[9] 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."[10][11]

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.[12]

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.[13][14] 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).[15]

Television adaptation[edit]

CBS broadcast on August 17, 1990, a half 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.[16]


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[17] featuring lead role black actors: Queen Latifah (M'Lynn), Jill Scott (Truvy), Alfre Woodard (Ouiser), Phylicia Rashad (Clairee), Adepero Oduye (Annelle) and Condola Rashād (Shelby).[18][19] The New York Times had mixed reactions: applauded it on some points and on others as either excessively sappy or less attentive than the 1989 film.[20]

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.
  5. ^ "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
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Steel Magnolias". Bay St. Louis Little Theatre. Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Hinson, Hal (November 17, 1989). "'Steel Magnolias' (PG)". The Washington Post (© 1989 The Washington Post Company). Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 17, 1989). "Review of Steel Magnolias". Chicago Sun-Times ( Retrieved May 29, 2013. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Hunt, Dennis (August 2, 1990). "VIDEO RENTALS : 'Internal Affairs' Has Appeal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Hilton, Perez. "Steel Magnolias To Be Remade With All-Black Cast". Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  18. ^ "Queen Latifah, Jill Scott for New Take on 'Steel Magnolias'". Smooth Jazz Network. May 7, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  19. ^[dead link]
  20. ^ Hale, Mike (October 5, 2012). "‘Steel Magnolias' on Lifetime, With Queen Latifah". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]