Steel Magnolias’ legacy still lives in Natchitoches 30 years after the film was made.
“A lot of people say that the filming of the movie here helped jumpstart the revitalization of the downtown street area,” Kelli West, Natchitoches Area Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing and communications director said.
Steel Magnolias was completely filmed in Natchitoches with a sound stage on NSU’s campus. Fans from across the nation continue coming to Natchitoches to visit locations and enjoy the small-town charm.
One popular spot is the Steel Magnolia House where they can stay and retrace the steps of the movie characters. The Steel Magnolia House is a bed and breakfast owned by Dan and Desiree Dyess, who bought it eight years ago. Its television above the fireplace continuously plays the movie so guests can be reminded of the scenery.
“We see a lot of people now whose daughters are named Shelby after the movie,” Dan Dyess said.
Robert Harling wrote the play about his sister, Susan Harling Robinson, and his mother after Susan’s death from complications with diabetes. He named his sister’s character Shelby.
Dr. Susan Dollar, NSU history professor and Natchitoches native, knew the Harlings, especially Susan Harling Robinson, who was her babysitter and friend. Dollar said their families attended church together, and Dollar and Robinson were in the junior choir together.
Dollar’s childhood home was across from the Steel Magnolias House, but the Harlings actually lived down the street.
Harling still owns a home outside of Natchitoches, but he and his brother, John, attend church when they visit.
“The playwright, who I call Bobby, and John still come to church when they are in town,” Dollar said.
According to West, the play and the movie have left an impact on the town, especially on the downtown area.
“Before they filmed, the downtown area was kind of rundown,” West said. “There were a lot of empty buildings and things like that.”
For people who knew the Harlings, the impact will remain in their hearts and memories.
“Our two families were all in the ICU waiting room together,” Dollar said. “They brought us fruit, thinking about our family, and it just touched me even then.”