Steel Magnolias, the Movie
I fell in love with these lively characters the first time I saw Steel Magnolias (the movie) on the big screen, some thirty years ago. Really? Has it been that long?
The camaraderie among the tight-knit circle of friends inspires me to look for the same qualities in my own friends. Everyone needs a wise, devoted, and tight-mouthed M’Lynn (Sally Field) in their life; Shelby’s (Julia Roberts) independence and youth to keep us young, Truvy’s (Dolly Parton) bubbly personality to see the bright side of every situation, Annelle’s (Daryl Hannah) shyness and how she grows stronger with age, Clairee’s (Olympia Dukakis) wit, mixed with dry humor, and last but not least, Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), with a heart of gold encased in grouchiness served with a side of sarcasm. What’s not to love about these Steel Magnolias?
What is a Steel Magnolia?
A Steel Magnolia doesn’t refer to being made of steel, but signifies you’re tough, strong, and can handle anything life throws at you. It’s a woman who is beautiful, inside and out. A steel magnolia is an attitude, a way of life, a personality all its own. It’s being strong, but graceful in the face of adversity. An aspiration of my heart.
Natchitoches was established in 1714 so it remains the oldest permanent settlement of the Louisiana Purchase. The French Outpost on the Red River provided sprawling cotton plantations easy trade with downstream New Orleans. Then the Red River shifted and bypassed its lucrative connection with the Mississippi River. A thirty-three-mile oxbow, the Cane River Lake, was formed.
Due to the decline in the agricultural population brought about by transportation and mechanization, the number of workers decreased. Business dwindled, and buildings were boarded up.
The Quest to Attract Tourists
The city believed attracting tourists to its historic assets was the answer to the revenue conundrum. In 1984, the mile-long area of downtown, which lies along Cane Lake, was designated as a National Historic District with more than 200 French colonial structures.
On Front Street, overlooking the Cane River Lake, is the oldest operating general store in Louisiana, the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, founded in 1863. It has been featured in several reality shows such as Duck Dynasty. “If you can’t find it anywhere else, you can probably find it at Kaffie-Fredrick.”
As a side note for those of us who remember “Bad Bad LeRoy Brown,” Natchitoches was the site of the 1973 plane crash that claimed the life of singer-songwriter Jim Croce. Croce had performed a concert on campus for Northwestern State University students but was killed less than an hour later in a plane headed to Texas.
A Community of Steel Magnolias
Since learning, Steel Magnolias, the movie, was filmed solely in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the destination landed at the top of my bucket list. Last fall, I had the pleasure to fulfill that dream. By the way, it’s pronounced, Nack-a-tish; learn that before you go or you will be corrected with each mispronunciation.
We began to plot our Steel Magnolias the Movie Tour camped on a hill, nestled amongst magnolia trees. Then a waitress from the family-owned Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen greeted us and secured a promise that we’d stop by for a famous meat pie. The delicious cuisine didn’t disappoint!
Tour Natchitoches with Barbara
Not wanting to miss a thing, I called “Tour Natchitoches with Barbara” and booked an excursion for the following day. A welcoming Barbara met us at the mercantile, pride in her community evident as she provided tidbits of information for each site. Then we strolled through the grounds of the Beau Jardin to overlook the picturesque view of the Cane Lake waterfront (where the Easter Egg Hunt took place). Her eyes lit up then she pointed to activity across the lake. Workers were erecting 100+ pieces to twinkle with 300,000 lights beginning at dusk, the Saturday before Thanksgiving through January 6th. The Christmas Festival is a real event, not just Hollywood make believe. Unfortunately, we were two months early but now had an excuse to return.
The Steel Magnolias House
Barbara asked questions to get a feel for our expectations then hopped in our car for an affordable private tour of the area. The first thing I learned socked me in the stomach because the play was based on a true story. I had no idea. We then headed to the corner of Poete and Jefferson, the Steel Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast. My neck strained as we parked in back. The anticipation of visiting the house where Steel Magnolias the movie was filmed had me bursting at the seams.
Like a proper southern woman, Barbara then visited with the caretakers. These pleasantries were almost too much for my heart to handle. I was in the Steel Magnolia house for goodness sake! Then the time came to start the tour. We scooted to the dining room where Shelby’s wedding gifts were stored, so my camera clicked away. There was the front door where the happy couple departed for their honeymoon so I clicked some more. I was captivated by the elaborate crystal chandeliers sparkling in each room. With a chuckle, Barbara gently reminded me we were paying her by the hour. Click! Click! Just a few more pictures.
We ascended the grand staircase where Shelby shared concerns about the color of her fingernail polish. And twirled in Shelby’s signature pink bedroom before sitting in the pink-tiled tub previously occupied by Julia Roberts. Curtains remain the same in the Jackson suite, where he got ready for the wedding. I descended the back staircase, as a result, found myself in the kitchen where Shelby told M’Lynn of her pregnancy, the pantry M’Lynn busied herself in, and the bedroom where she retreated. Steel Magnolias, the movie came to life with the help of photos scattered throughout the home but my vivid imagination helped.
Steel Magnolias House Grounds
The garage where Ouiser cut the armadillo’s butt for Drum remains but the cake is long gone. The mid-day sun glistened off the pool, no longer reflecting the noisy bird tree because it was destroyed by lightning. I stooped to pick up a magnolia seed pod with hope of growing my own. We sauntered to Ouiser’s backyard to pause at the fountain and reenact Ouiser scooting Clairee off the bench. A hundred pictures later, a smile plastered on my face, we were ready to see more filming sites.
More Steel Magnolias Filming Sites
New to the private tour adventure, we looked to Barbara for guidance and received the total Steel Magnolias the movie experience. Next up, the opening scene where Annelle walked towards her future, a towering canopy of oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. We saw Aunt Fern’s house where M’Lynn picked up Shelby’s son. We drove down Harling Lane, the street so named after the playwright, Robert Harling (he played the minister who married Shelby and Jackson). Barbara shared Robert was in town because his father (Drum, in the movie) had passed away a few weeks earlier. My heart wanted to find his house, knock on his door, and hug the man responsible for sharing the story. But thankfully, my brain was able to control the impulse.
Barbara pointed out the actual beauty shop depicted in the play and led us to the more familiar, “Truvy’s.” With prior permission, we climbed the steps to the iconic screen door leading to the beauty shop where so much of this story happened. I held my breath expecting one of the girls to exit.
Driving amongst stately homes, we arrived at the American Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase. Crooked headstones and moss covered tombs lined the dirt road. We stopped at the site of M’Lynn’s breakdown after burying her firstborn, a heartfelt scene that brings me to tears every time. They filmed the scene in one take so no one offered to let me “take a whack at Ouiser.”
Susan Harling Robinson Memorial
The Susan Harling Robinson Memorial Park brought the story together for an unforgettable tribute. Massive trees shaded the centerpiece fountain. Marble stones, engraved with each actress’s name, lined the walkway leading to Susan’s story. Then we saw real-life pictures of Susan (Shelby), mother Margaret (M’Lynn), dad Robert (Drum), husband Patrick (Jackson), her son (Jack Jr.).
Robert Shares His Love & Talent
Due to his grief, Robert Harling, Susan’s brother, wrote the play based on her life. Diagnosed with diabetes at age twelve, she refused to let the disease slow her down. A beautiful dedication tells of her courageous struggle and a family’s love, strength, and laughter fostered by the community’s kindness and compassion.
This peaceful memorial, for a sister made immortal by a brother’s love, is a must see.
With a hug of appreciation for a job well done, we then said goodbye to our new friend, Barbara. As a result of her dedication, we managed everything on our must-do list.
We headed to the Historic District to spend more time amongst the immaculate lawns and colonial structures of the area. Colorful lobelia trailed from baskets hung on every post.
History Comes Alive
We stepped back in time to roam the worn aisles of the mercantile, which houses everything you can imagine. A tranquil stroll along the shoreline of the lake reflected a beautiful countryside in the middle of town. Visiting the magnificent Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, we stood in awe before the stained glass windows. We trailed on hallowed ground to thank those honored at the Veterans and Memorial Park. Back in the car, we then gawked at the mansions of Andrew Morris, Samuel Gay, and the Prudhomme Roquier house.
I checked Natchitoches off my bucket list and realized it was home of much more than the Steel Magnolias. I silently thanked Robert Harling for leading me to his hometown.
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Steel Magnolias the Movie Quotes
Though these are Robert Harling’s quotes, can you name which character made them famous in Steel Magnolias the movie?
- “Honey, there is so much static electricity in here, I pick up everything but boys and money.”
- “I realize as a woman how lucky I am.”
- “The only thing that separates us from animals is our ability to accessorize.”
- “I like the idea of growing old with somebody.”
- “The only reason people are nice to me is that I have more money than God.”
- “I will not let my personal tragedy interfere with my ability to do good hair.”
- “An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.”
- “If you can achieve puberty, then you can achieve a past.”
- “I wanna know how that baby will ever know how wonderful his mother was.”
- “I should have realized Louie had problems when his imaginary playmates wouldn’t play with him.”
- “Things can’t get any worse.”
“Of course they can.”
- “Smile! It increases your face value.”
- “I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”
- “You know I love you more than my luggage.”
- “The nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelt correctly.”
- “He’s a real gentleman. I bet he takes the dishes out of the sink before he pisses in it.”
- “That’s what my mind says, I wish someone would explain it to my heart.”
- “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for the past forty years.”
- “If you can’t say anything nice about anyone, then come sit by me.”
- “My colors are Blush and Bashful.”
- “You’re almost chipper today. Did you run over a small child or something?”
- “I don’t go to the theatre because I can nap for free at home.”
- “You are playing hard to get.”
“At her age, she should be playing beat the clock.”
- “I’m too colorful for words.”
- “A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Steel Magnolias the Movie Quote Answers
- Annelle & Ouiser
- Shelby & Clairee