Over 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 on the big screen. 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, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts. 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, but it was also 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-life 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 to this day.
'Smile, It Increases Your Face Value'
Thankfully, you can still live out Steel Magnolias -- all the joyful parts of southern living anyway -- in the place that inspired it all. After the filming wrapped, Natchitoches was left with booming tourism. 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 Eatenton lived in the film as well as the church where Shelby and Jackson were married.
You can even stay at the famous home and get a taste of southern hospitality, which is now the Steel Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast. The 5,900-square foot bed & breakfast provides plenty of space for you and all your friends to visit the iconic home on Jefferson Street. You can even stay in the "Shelby Room" if you like.
Before you leave, pick up some Steel Magnolias-inspired memorabilia, 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.
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