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Steel Magnolias is a 1989 American comedy-drama film 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 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 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.[3]


Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah), a reserved 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 neighborhood, M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field), and her daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts), are preparing for Shelby's wedding, which is taking place later that day. They arrive, along with Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), the cheerful widow of the former mayor, to have their hair done. Suddenly, Shelby, who has type 1 diabetes, falls into a hypoglycemic state, but recovers quickly with the help of her mother's quick thinking. Later that afternoon, short-tempered, grouchy, and sarcastic Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine) arrives in the salon and questions Annelle about where she has moved from, forcing Annelle to reveal that her husband 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 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. Truvy, Annelle, and Clairee had originally thought that Shelby couldn't have children, but on the night of the big announcement, M'Lynn clarifies for them that the doctors said Shelby shouldn't have children because of her health. It becomes clear that Shelby could actually die due to pregnancy complications related to 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 sons, Jonathan (Jonathan Ward) and Tommy's (Knowl Johnson), first niece or 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, Jonathan, and Tommy 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, as she is now engaged to Sammy. Shelby is unavailable to attend due to a conflicting schedule with her nursing job, and is later found by Jackson unconscious on the porch of her house. Shelby is rushed to the hospital, where it is determined that her body rejected the new kidney, and she is now in a coma. The doctors inform the family that Shelby is likely to remain comatose indefinitely, and they all 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 them.

Later, at the wake, M'Lynn begins to accept her daughter's death and focuses her energy on helping Jackson raise Jackson Jr. Annelle, now married and pregnant, asks M'Lynn if she could name her own baby after Shelby, since Shelby was the reason Annelle and Sammy met. M'Lynn gives her blessings and assures Annelle that Shelby would've loved 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 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 Jackson "Jack" Latcherie, Jr.; suffers from type one diabetes
Tom Skerritt Thomas Drummond "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; notorious for 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 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'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 eventually evolved in ten days to the play.[4][5]


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


It received generally positive reviews from critics and has a score of 69% 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

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–it has since gone out of print.

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

See also


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  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
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  11. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098384/externalreviews
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  14. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1989/0STLM.php

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External links

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Template:Herbert Ross

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