couples

13 things you didn't know about 'Steel Magnolias'.

“I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood 40 years!”

Twenty-five years ago ‘Steel Magnolias’ captivated audiences with its heartbreaking and yet witty plot line based on how playwright Robert Harling lost his sister, Susan Harling Robinson.

It centres on how a small group of women in a southern town cope with such a tragic loss.

Many people can quote the movie line for line, but don’t realise how the fictionalised group of women are grounded in reality. Besides being based on the true story of his sister, Susan, the playwright Robert Harling shared 13 other things fans might not know about the movie.

13. The title was inspired by real life.

Harling said the title, Steel Magnolias, is the perfect description for the women it profiles: they’re both delicate like a flower, but also hard as steel.

12. Harling wrote the play in 10 days.

Many writers take months or years to write a play. But Harling wrote Steel Magnolias in only 10 days. “Ten days later, that’s all it took because I had lived the story.”

Julia Roberts as Shelby in Steel Magnolias

11. It was originally going to be a short story.

Harling said when he began putting his sister's story down in writing, it began as a short story. "But I was missing the sound of the wonderful vernacular," he said. "It became a play because I wanted to hear the dialogue. And that was it."

10. Harling at first thought his story was a drama.

ADVERTISEMENT

When the play was first in rehearsal, Harling says they thought it was strictly a drama, and they were performing a dark, emotional story. That all changed when an audience was brought in. "When the first preview audience came in, there was all this laughter, and we had no idea," Harling said. "We were completely thrown back because we thought we were doing a drama."

Steel Magnolias

9. Meg Ryan was originally approached to play Shelby.

Only a few days after Ryan was approached for the role, she declined the role of Shelby to star in When Harry Met Sally.

8. But Julia Roberts was perfect as soon as she walked in for her audition.

Before Steel Magnolias, the Oscar winner was only really known for her role in Mystic Pizza, but Harling said she was perfect for the role of Shelby as soon as she walked into the room. "When she walked in, somebody just turned the lights on in the room," he said. "She flashed that smile and ... that was my sister."

7. And it pays to have your mum played by Julia Roberts.

Harling told Erica Hill about one time when his nephew, Susan's son, had trouble with school. Harling asked his nephew if everything was OK, to which the then-teenager replied, "Oh no. Don't worry about me. Everybody likes me. They think I'm really cool."

Julia Roberts and Sally Fields
ADVERTISEMENT

The reason why everyone at school thought he was cool: His mum was played by Julia Roberts. "That hit me like a tonne of bricks," Harling said. "He doesn't remember his mother, but he does know as a teenager that his mother was so cool, it took the biggest star in the world to play her."

6. The play draws talent.

This is a fun one for trivia buffs: One of Nicole Kidman's first movies on stage was playing Shelby in a Sydney, Australia, production.

5. The movie has inspired others to give back.

Harling said that he was particularly touched by one email from a fan of the movie, who was inspired to donate his kidney to a neighbor in need. The recipient of that kidney will be celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary this fall, and the donor wrote Harling to say that he will be raising a toast in the writer's honour. "I wrote him back and I said, 'Save your toast to me. Toast to my sister, Susan,'" Harling said.

4. Susan helped Harling write the "hit me" scene.

In one famous scene, as Sally Field's character, M'Lynn, mourns the death of her daughter, the character of Clairee — played by Olympia Dukakis — offers another friend of the group for M'Lynn to hit. "Here, hit this!" Clairee says.

Harling said he wrote the scene by channeling his sister after a bout of writer's block. "I said, 'What would Susan do?' and what Susan would do would be outrageous," he said. "She would do something completely inappropriate and totally out of the box."

Steel Magnolias
ADVERTISEMENT

3. The Christmas festival in Natchitoches is real, and Susan loved it.

"She loved the Christmas festival which was the first weekend in every December," Harling said. "She never missed it."

2. And it was a Christmas in August for the film.

The Christmas festival scene was shot during the summer, with everyone wearing sweaters, fur and ski parkas in 100-degree heat. "I remember Shirley [McLaine] turning to me during one of those scenes and saying 'ya know, I think this could be important,'" Harling said. "And, you know, Shirley’s never wrong."

1. Although everyone in the movie is now gone, they're not really gone.

An upcoming Atlanta production of the play will be the first time that Harling sees the play since he's lost all those who inspired the play and movie. But Harling said one of the film's stars, McLaine, helped him realise that no one's really gone. "She said, 'They're still with you and they're on stage somewhere in the world every night,'" Harling said.

What was your favourite part of Steel Magnolias?

This was originally published here and is republished with full permission.

Click through this gallery to see our favourite Steel Magnolia quotes:

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Did you like this story? Try:

17 things you didn't know about '10 things I hate about you'. 

How often do you sit down and try to work out how happy you are?

Follow iVillage on Facebook

When you become a parent, you don't leave your brain in the delivery suite. That's why mothers with kids of all ages come to themotherish.com; because they're still interested in news about entertainment, health, current affairs and food along with an inspiring and useful stream of parenting advice and support.

Most importantly, they come because they want to hear personal stories of parenting directly from other mothers, without fear of judgement.

[iv-signup-form]

00:00 / ???