Thirty years ago, the seminal southern play Steel Magnolias opened Off-Broadway. Two years later, the film version introduced Truvy, Ouiser, M’Lynn and the whole gang to the entire nation. Suddenly every southern lady decided her wedding colors should be “blush and bashful” and the phrase, “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me,” hit close to home among patrons of every beauty shop beneath the Mason-Dixon line. The play and film are widely beloved but nowhere is Steel Magnolias more prevalent than in Natchitoches, La.
Thirty Minutes of Wonderful
In 1988, a film crew rolled into the small town of Natchitoches and changed it forever. Along with the cameras came stars Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and more. Soon, town residents were rubbing elbows with Dolly as she dined at the local cafe. Historic neighborhood homes became the onscreen digs of M’Lynn and Truvy. A Natchitoches resident even made the famously unappealing armadillo-shaped red velvet cake featured in the movie’s wedding reception scene.
Natchitoches was transformed into the fictional Chinquipin parish for the film version of Steel Magnolias. Not only was quaint, beautiful Natchitoches the perfect setting for the southern saga, it was Steel Magnolias playwright and screenwriter Robert Harling’s hometown.
Harling wrote the play to honor his sister Susan, who passed away in 1985 from diabetic complications. He based the characters on the real women who gossiped and bonded at the local Natchitoches beauty shop. The movie’s message about the strength and power of female friendship in the wake of tragedy continues to resonate with audiences.
‘Smile, It Increases Your Face Value’
Thankfully, you can still live out Steel Magnolias — all the joyful parts, anyway — in the place that inspired it all. After the filming wrapped, Natchitoches was left with a booming tourism industry. Visitors flock to the Louisiana parish for guided tours of filming locations. The tour takes visitors to the instantly recognizable Steel Magnolias house, where M’Lynn and Drum lived in the film, and the church where Shelby and Jackson were married.
You can even stay at the famous home, which is now the Steel Magnolias Bed and Breakfast. The 5,900-square foot home provides plenty of space for you and all your friends.
Before you leave, pick up some Steel Magnolias-inspired souvenirs , along with tons of other southern goodies, at Georgia’s Gift Shop.
So tease your hair, throw on something pink (it’s your signature color, after all), gather all your gal friends and live by the words of Shelby: “I’d rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”
The Natchitoches tourism website has a complete list of Steel Magnolias filming sites.