Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias is a 1989 American comedy-drama film directed by Herbert Ross. It is a film adaptation of Robert Harling's 1987 play of the same name. The play and film are about the bond a group of women share in a small-town Southern community, and how they cope with the death of one of their own.

Steel Magnolias
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHerbert Ross
Produced byRay Stark
Andrew Stone
Victoria White
Screenplay byRobert Harling
Based onSteel Magnolias
by Robert Harling
Music byGeorges Delerue
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Edited byPaul Hirsch
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • November 15, 1989 (1989-11-15)
Running time
117 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[2]
Box office$96.8 million[3]

The story is based on Robert Harling's real life experience of the death of his sister, Susan Harling Robinson, in 1985 due to complications from Type 1 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.[4]


Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah), a reserved beauty school graduate, moves to a northwestern Louisiana town and is hired by Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton) to work in her home-based beauty salon.

In another part of the neighborhood, M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field) and her daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts), are preparing for Shelby's wedding later that day. Along with Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), the cheerful widow of the former mayor, they arrive at Truvy's to have their hair done. Suddenly, Shelby, who has type 1 diabetes, falls into a hypoglycemic state, but recovers quickly with the help of the other women. M'Lynn reveals that Shelby has been told by her doctor that she should not have children, and this was the point of an argument Shelby had with her fiancé the night before, with Shelby wanting to back out of the marriage so as not to deprive her fiancé of the chance to have children.

Later that afternoon, short-tempered, grouchy, and sarcastic Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux (Shirley McLaine) arrives in the salon and questions Annelle about where she has moved from, forcing Annelle to reveal that her husband Bunkie has recently left her while fleeing the police, taking all their money and their car. Moved by Annelle's emotional confession, Shelby invites her to the wedding, where she meets bartender Sammy DeSoto, and she soon becomes one of the gang.

Several months pass and Shelby returns to town to celebrate Christmas. During the festivities, she announces that she and her husband, Jackson (Dylan McDermott), are expecting their first child. Everyone except M’Lynn is thrilled, and she explains to her friends that the doctors had warned that Shelby's illness means that pregnancy would be very unwise. Shelby knows this but says she is unwilling to go on without having children. Unable to give her any words of wisdom, Truvy suggests they try to focus on the joy of the situation instead.

Shelby successfully delivers a baby boy, Jackson Jr., but soon shows signs of kidney failure and starts dialysis. She celebrates July Fourth, around the time Jackson Jr. turns one, by successfully receiving a donated kidney from M'Lynn, allowing Shelby to seemingly resume a normal life. Four months later, on Halloween, Ouiser, Clairee, Truvy, and M'Lynn throw Annelle a surprise wedding shower, as she is now engaged to Sammy. Shelby is unable to attend due to a conflicting schedule with her nursing job, which, along with her medical condition, is causing her great stress and fatigue.

Shelby collapses at home while dressing Jackson Jr. in his Halloween costume. Unable to call for help, she is found unconscious by Jackson. She is rushed to the hospital, where it is determined that Shelby has contracted an infection in her central nervous system due to the suppressive therapy given to keep her body from rejecting the kidney. The doctors inform the family that Shelby is likely to remain irreversibly comatose, and they jointly decide to take her off life support.

After the funeral, M'Lynn breaks down in hysterics but is comforted by the other women. Later, at the wake, M'Lynn begins to accept her daughter's decision to end her life in return for a few special years of motherhood. Annelle, now married and pregnant, asks M'Lynn if she could name her own baby after Shelby, since Shelby was the reason she and Sammy met. M'Lynn gives her blessing and assures Annelle that Shelby would have loved it, accepting that "life goes on."

On Easter morning at the town Easter Egg Hunt Annelle goes into labor and is rushed to the hospital by Truvy and son, and another life begins.


Actor Character Character Description
Sally Field 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 gossip
Shirley MacLaine Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux Clairee Belcher's best friend and confidant; Eatenton Family's next-door neighbor; town curmudgeon, and Drum Eatenton's nemesis
Daryl Hannah Annelle Dupuy-DeSoto Newcomer to town; Apprentice Beautician hired by Truvy Jones; first married to Bunkie Dupuy; later marries 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 of Ouiser Boudreaux; friend of the Eatentons and Joneses
Julia Roberts Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie Eldest child and only daughter of Drum and M'Lynn Eatenton; sister to Jonathan and Tommy; marries Jackson Latcherie and gives birth to Jack Latcherie Jr.; suffers from type one diabetes
Tom Skerritt Drum Eatenton Husband of M'Lynn Eatenton, Father to Shelby, Jonathan and Tommy; Jackson Latcherie's father-in-law; Jack Jr.'s maternal grandfather
Sam Shepard Spud Jones Sporadically employed 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 eventual 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; her specialty is baking 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 grandson; Jonathan and Tommy Eatenton's nephew
Daniel Camp Jackson Latcherie Jr. (3 years old)
Norman Fletcher Mr. Latcherie Sr Husband of Mrs. Latcherie Sr, father of Jackson Latcherie Sr, father-in-law of Shelby, and paternal grandfather of Jack Jr.


The original play dramatized experiences of the family and friends of the play's author following the 1985 death of his sister from diabetic complications after the birth of his namesake nephew and the failure of a family member's 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 then later to get an understanding of the deceased mother. It evolved in ten days into the play.[5][6]


Released by TriStar Pictures in the United States on November 15, 1989, it 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 (which had taken place entirely in Truvy's beauty salon) 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 original, all-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[7] with historian Robert DeBlieux, a former Natchitoches mayor, as the local advisor.[8] The house where much of the film was shot is now a six-suite B&B, available for rent.[9]


It received generally positive reviews from critics and has a score of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes from 30 reviews.[10] An example of a less enthusiastic critic was Hal Hinson of The Washington Post, who said that it felt, "more Hollywood than the South."[11] More enthusiastic 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."[12][13]

The movie received a limited release on November 15, 1989: entered the U.S. box office at No. 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.[14]

Home media

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.[15][16] 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, 2012it has since gone out of print. A 30th anniversary Blu-ray was released on May 28, 2019.

Awards and nominations

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

Failed TV sequel pilot

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 included Cindy Williams as M'Lynn, Sally Kirkland as Truvy, Elaine Stritch as Ouiser, Polly Bergen as Clairee and Sheila McCarthy as Annelle.


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] with black actors in the lead roles: Queen Latifah (M'Lynn), Jill Scott (Truvy), Alfre Woodard (Ouiser), Phylicia Rashād (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 schmaltz or less attentive than the 1989 film.[20]

See also


  1. Lechuguilla (November 22, 1989). "Steel Magnolias (1989)". IMDb.
  2. "Steel Magnolias - Production and Contact Info". IMDb. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  3. "Steel Magnolias at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  4. Scanlon, J. (2007) "If My Husband Calls I'm Not Here: The Beauty Parlor as Real and Representational Female Space". Feminist Studies, 33 (2)
  5. People Archives: Vol. 29, No. 3 (January 25, 1988), "Robert Harling, Author of a Hit Comedy Based on a Family Tragedy" by Kim Hubbard.
  6. "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
  7. Lechuguilla (November 22, 1989). "Steel Magnolias (1989)". IMDb.
  8. "Steel Magnolias". Bay St. Louis Little Theatre. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  9. Horbelt, Stephan (February 22, 2019). "The Perfect Gaycation: A Weekend at the 'Steel Magnolias' House in Louisiana, Now a B&B". Hornet. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  10. "Steel Magnolias - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes".
  11. Hinson, Hal (November 17, 1989). "'Steel Magnolias' (PG)". The Washington Post. 1989 The Washington Post Company. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  12. Ebert, Roger (November 17, 1989). "Review of Steel Magnolias". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  13. "Steel Magnolias (1989)". Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  14. "Steel Magnolias (1989) - Box Office Mojo".
  15. Hunt, Dennis (August 2, 1990). "VIDEO RENTALS : 'Internal Affairs' Has Appeal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  16. "Steel Magnolias (1989) - Financial Information". Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  17. Hilton, Perez. "Steel Magnolias To Be Remade With All-Black Cast". Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  18. "Queen Latifah, Jill Scott for New Take on 'Steel Magnolias'". Smooth Jazz Network. May 7, 2012. Archived from the original on February 8, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  20. Hale, Mike (October 5, 2012). "'Steel Magnolias' on Lifetime, With Queen Latifah". The New York Times.
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