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The Story Behind the Classic Film’ Steel Magnolias’ Will Make You Cry Even More

‘Steel Magnolias’: The Heartbreaking True Story Behind the Southern Classic

It’s been a little over thirty years ever since the classic 1989 comedy-drama film, Steel Magnolias, gave us one of the greatest Southern films and the most iconic casts in movie history.

But did you know how this masterpiece came to be?

Well, Steel Magnolias is actually a true-to-life story written by American writer and film director, Robert Harling, as a tribute to his sister Susan, who lost her life from Type 1 diabetes complications.

The short story was then adapted into a play in 1987 and was very successful that it was translated into over fifteen languages. Soon enough, it caught the attention of Hollywood that it was adapted into the big screen, bringing together a star-studded cast that took over the tiny community of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Harling began writing the comedy-drama when he felt the fear that people – most especially her two sons – would forget about Susan.

Like Susan, Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie (Julia Roberts) has type 1 diabetes which means bearing a child could be life-threatening – yet both women risked their lives in exchange for a few special moments of motherhood.

However, Susan’s experience was much grimmer than what Harling portrayed in the play. Shortly after Susan gave birth to a baby boy, her kidneys, circulatory system, and metabolism started failing. With the help of dialysis and a kidney transplant from her mother, Susan survived for a little while. She died of minor surgery two years after.

Moreover, Harling also revealed that all the names from the film were real. For instance, he got Shelby’s name from his aunt while Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field), was from the name of his close friend. Even the character’s personalities were taken from people he knew from his tight-knit community in Louisiana – especially his mother’s friends.

And in case you are wondering where the metaphor of “steel magnolia” was taken from, Harling said that it’s a representation of boldness and tenderness that is fitting for every Southern woman. Harling is reminded of how his mother would often tell him to pick up magnolia blossoms with care since they quickly bruise. But despite the flower’s fragile feature, it is actually made of much tougher elements.

To this day, Steel Magnolias remains to be a tearjerker classic. Isn’t it amazing how a brother’s love has brought us one of the most beautiful films in history? “All I wanted to do was have somebody remember her,” Harling said.

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