As part of the ongoing Movie Wedding series, in this post I will discuss the memorable pink wedding in the 1989 film “Steel Magnolias”. (If you are looking for ideas and suggestions for a Pink Wedding please click on the link). I will also discuss the story behind the play written by Robert Harling that was the inspiration for the very successful movie directed by Herbert Ross and starring Sally Fields as the mother and Julia Roberts as the daughter. Then, to finish this post, I will take a quick tour of the town of Natchitoches, Louisiana where numerous scenes, such as the movie’s wedding ceremony and reception, were filmed.
“A Blush and Bashful Wedding”
One of the highlights In the “Steel Magnolia” movie is the wedding of the characters of Shelby Eastenton and Jackson Latcherie. In the movie, the ceremony takes place in the local church and then a smaller reception is held at the home of Shelby’s parents. In the days leading up to the event, Shelby is asked by one of the ladies in Truby’s Beauty Salon what are her wedding colors and she answers “blush and bashful”.
In the movie, the interior of the church is decorated with yards and yards of pink fabric hanging from the rafters, draped across the altar and from pew to pew down the main aisle. The church is also decorated with an abundance of white and pink floral arrangements at the altar and at the end of each of the pews; also several pink wedding bells are strung at the front of the church. Special note: Many of the extras sitting in the church during the wedding ceremony scene were people that lived in Natchitoches and had originally attended the wedding of Susan Harling Robinson, the inspiration for both the play and the movie.
Shelby, played by Julia Roberts, is escorted down the church aisle by her father, played by Tom Skerritt. She is wearing an elaborate wedding dress featuring an off the shoulder neckline with full skirt and decorated with a multitude of bows and fabric roses. She wears a long veil with a pouf at the back and her curled hair is worn pulled back in a bouffant style with a crown of small artificial flowers placed at the top of her head.
The groom, played by Dylan McDermott, is wearing a classic morning coat with a grey striped tie and a white rose boutonniere on his lapel. Standing with him at the altar are the eight ushers wearing matching morning coats and eight bridesmaids wearing long pink dresses with a round neckline and large puffy sleeves, they are also wearing large brimmed hats.
Special note: Robert Harling, the writer of the “Steel Magnolias” play and screenwriter of the movie, plays the minister in the film.
After the church ceremony, the bridal party and invited guests go back to the home of the bride’s parents for an outdoor reception. Typical of most Southern wedding, in the “Steel Magnolias” movie there is both a traditional multi-tiered wedding cake and a rather whimsical groom’s cake. The popular idea of a groom’s cake is usually something that the groom will choose and will often reference his college sports team or mascot, a favorite hobby like fishing or hunting and sometimes an animal like the family dog. The cake that Jackson (the groom in the movie) chooses is an armadillo red velvet cake. Special note: The memorable cake in the movie was actually made by a local Natchitoches resident.
The story behind “Steel Magnolias”
In 1987 Robert Harling was a Tulane University Law School graduate who had changed his career path and relocated to New York City to find work as an actor. His sister, Susan Harling Robinson, had died two years earlier from diabetes complications leaving behind her husband and a young son. Originally Robert intended to write about the life of his sister so that his nephew would understand her wonderful life that she had lived in a small southern town and also explain her struggles with diabetes that sadly ended with her tragic death from kidney failure.
Although Robert focused the story on the life and death of his sister, it also includes a group of strong women that surrounded his sister with love and support. First is the mother who had such great compassion for her daughter’s struggles with her illness and a group of friends that offered their support to both the daughter and the mother. For this reason the title of Robert’s eventual play became “Steel Magnolias” which by definition means a southern woman who has the strength of steel but yet the beauty of a magnolia bloom.
The story was quickly made into an off-Broadway play that opened at the WPA Theatre in New York on March 28, 1987. With the instant success of the play, in a very short time the story was adapted and made into a 1989 blockbuster movie, Robert wrote the screenplay for the film and expanded the story to include additional characters. The film was directed by Herbert Ross, Sally Fields played the mother M’Lynn, Julia Robert played the daughter Shelby (she received an Academy Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the film), Shirley MacLaine played the cranky neighbor Ouiser, Olympia Dukakis played Clairee who was another family friend, Dolly Parton played Truby the beautician and Daryl Hannah played the shy and mysterious Annelle who recently started working at the beauty parlor.
Robert Harling grew up in Natchitoches, Louisiana (although he was born in Dothan, Alabama in 1951). When it came time to film the movie “Steel Magnolias” it was decided that many of the scenes would be filmed on location in Natchitoches, although the town is known as Chinquapin in the movie.
From July to September 1988 a film production crew and the movie’s principal actors stayed in Natchitoches, including the movie director Herbert Ross, the producer Ray Stark and actors Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Tom Skerritt and Dylan McDermott.
Since the “Steel Magnolias” movie was released in 1989, Natchitoches quickly became a tourist destination for people that loved the movie. In fact, every fall there is a special event known as the “Blush and Bashful” Weekend which normally includes a showing of the film at the Parkway Cinema where the movie originally premiered, tours of some of the movie sites, an Armadillo Cake Bake-Off and a Character Look-Alike Contest.
The Steel Magnolias House – This location was used for exterior scenes as the home of Drum and M’Lynn Eatenton, the parents of Shelby, in the film. The real-life house was built before the Civil War and is situated along the Cane River. It was a Bed & Breakfast Inn popular with tourist and fans of the movie that came to visit the town; it was recently put on the market for sale. For more information on the Steel Magnolias house, please check out an excellent post at https://hookedonhouses.net/2012/05/29/the-steel-magnolias-house-for-sale-in-louisiana/
St. Augustine Church and Cemetery – St. Augustine is a historic Catholic church located in Natchitoches was established in 1829 and is now part of the Cane River National Heritage Area, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The original structure was burned down in 1864 by Union Forces during the Civil War. A second church was built but it also did not survive and the current church building was completed in 1917. It is known as the first church in Louisiana to be built for free people of African descent and has become a cultural center of the historic Cane River Creoles community.
As a writer, producer and director Robert Harling currently divides his time between New York and Louisiana. After the success of both the “Steel Magnolias” play and movie he was able to purchase the Oaklawn Plantation in Natchitoches, it was a place he always wanted to own since his childhood. The quintessential Southern three story house was built in the French creole style in 1830 and currently sits on 4 acres. The house survived the Civil War and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. At this time the house and surrounding grounds remain a private residence but will occasionally open to public tours during special events.
For information about other “Steel Magnolias” movie sites, please click on the link https://www.natchitoches.com/listing/steel-magnolias-tour-filming-sites )