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23 Facts About Steel Magnolias

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They came. They cried. They conquered. Director Herbert Ross (he of The Goodbye Girl and Footloose fame) assembled an all-star female cast of a half-dozen of Hollywood’s most popular leading ladies—including one newcomer named Julia Roberts—to adapt Robert Harling’s play, Steel Magnolias, into one of the top-grossing films of 1989. Here are 23 things you might not know about the late-’80s weepie.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Writer Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias as a way of coping with the passing of his sister, Susan, who died from complications related to diabetes in 1985. In the play, Susan became Shelby.

2. IT TOOK JUST 10 DAYS TO WRITE.

“The events that inspired it were so powerful that, after I found the story arena, it just poured out into my typewriter in a 24/7 tsunami of Southernness,” Harling told Garden & Gun in 2013 about the lightning-fast writing process. “I had no idea what I’d written. I asked the first person I gave it to if it even looked like a play. I wasn’t really sure. All I knew was that I felt it portrayed my sister’s life and spirit accurately, and that was enough for me.” 

3. THE PLAY WAS AN INSTANT HIT.

Harling’s original Off-Broadway play opened on March 28, 1987 at the WPA Theatre in New York City. It closed on February 25, 1990 after 1126 performances. 

4. THE MOVIE DEAL HAPPENED RATHER QUICKLY.

The play’s immediate success led to some fast and furious interest in purchasing the movie rights. “It happened so quickly,” Harling told Garden & Gun. “With the buzz around the play in New York, there was a constant stream from Hollywood coming to check it out. Ray Stark bought the rights and promised me he’d film it in my hometown of Natchitoches, which really clinched the deal.”

5. BETTE DAVIS WANTED A PIECE OF STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

Bette Davis saw the play in New York and immediately began a push to be cast in the film as Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine’s part). She also thought that Katharine Hepburn could make a fantastic Clairee and Elizabeth Taylor would be a perfect Truvy. In 1989, Harling told The Morning Call how Davis had invited him to tea to lobby for the part. As he left, Davis told him, “You may give the role of Ouiser to someone else. But you and they will hear from Bette Davis.”

6. NICOLE KIDMAN PLAYED SHELBY IN SYDNEY.

One of Nicole Kidman’s earliest roles was playing Shelby in a Sydney stage version of the play. 

7. BEFORE SHE WAS SALLY, MEG RYAN WAS SHELBY.

Meg Ryan was briefly attached to the film to star as Shelby, but dropped out in order to take the lead in When Harry Met Sally… 

8. WINONA RYDER WAS ALSO A CONTENDER TO PLAY SHELBY.

Though the producers and director loved Ryder for the part of Shelby, she was ultimately deemed too young (she would have been just 16 when the movie began filming). Laura Dern was in the running, too, but the casting director insisted that the producers audition Julia Roberts, who was filming Mystic Pizza at the time.

9. AS SOON AS JULIA ROBERTS WALKED IN, HARLING KNEW SHE WAS IT.

“She walked into the room and that smile lit everything up and I said ‘That’s my sister,’” Harling told the Daily Mail. “So she joined the party and she was magnificent.” 

10. DARYL HANNAH WAS TOO ATTRACTIVE TO PLAY ANNELLE.

But she really, really wanted the part. When she showed up to audition, she was barely recognizable. "For Daryl, who had never played a character role up unto this point, it was a real departure and she sought out the role and convinced me and Ray Stark that she could handle the role," director Herbert Ross recalled

11. HERBERT ROSS WAS NOTORIOUSLY HARD ON HIS ACTRESSES.

“Herb Ross was basically a choreographer,” MacLaine said at a 2013 screening of the film. “That means he could be sometimes very stern and sometimes very harsh. My deepest memories of the film were how we bonded together after he told one of us or all of us we couldn't act.”

12. ROSS TOLD DOLLY PARTON TO TAKE SOME ACTING LESSONS.

At the same screening, MacLaine and Sally Field recalled how Ross once suggested that Dolly Parton take acting lessons. “You don't say that to Dolly Parton,” said Field. “Dolly Parton is absolutely the funniest, wittiest and filthiest, and she will cut you to ribbons.”

13. ROSS WAS PARTICULARLY HARD ON JULIA ROBERTS.

“He went after Julia with a vengeance,” Field recalled of the director. “This was pretty much her first big film.” MacLaine added that Roberts “would come to my house every night and say, ‘I think I'm terrible. What am I doing?’ and she really was in tears.” 

14. THE FILM EARNED JULIA ROBERTS HER FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION.

Despite a gaggle of A-list co-stars, Julia Roberts’ Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod was the only nomination the film received, though she lost to Brenda Fricker for My Left Foot. It would take Roberts another two nominations and 11 years to actually bring home the golden statue (she won her first and so far only Oscar in 2001 for Erin Brockovich). 

15. THE FILM WAS CRITICIZED FOR THE MALE ROLES’ LACK OF SUBSTANCE.

But the guys are lucky there were any roles for them in the film at all. Though the men are often talked about in the stage play, no men appeared on the stage at any time. In his review of the film for The New York Times, Vincent Canby noted that “The men in their lives are played by Sam Shepard, Tom Skerritt and Dylan McDermott, among others, but the male characters are no more substantial now than when they were invisible.” 

16. ROBERTS AND MCDERMOTT’S ON-SCREEN CHEMISTRY WAS REAL.

When filming began on Steel Magnolias, Roberts was dating Liam Neeson, her co-star in Satisfaction. She allegedly broke up with Neeson to begin dating McDermott, and the couple eventually became engaged before breaking up in 1990.

17. THE FILM PUT NATCHITOCHES ON THE MAP.

It was important to Harling that the film be shot in his hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana, and its impact is still being felt today. "“For everyone who has seen the movie outside of Natchitoches it is synonymous with the movie," Arlene Gould, executive director of the Natchitoches Convention and Tourism Bureau, told The Shreveport Times. "It had a tremendous impact on the tourism trade and on our community.” 

18. STEEL MAGNOLIA TOURS ARE STILL BIG BUSINESS.

Visitors to Natchitoches who want to visit some of the film’s main locations can take an official tour

19. YOU CAN EVEN SLEEP IN M’LYNN’S HOUSE.

The bulk of the images of M’Lynn’s home are of the town’s Cook-Taylor House, which was built in the 1840s. A residential home at the time, the family who occupied the Natchitoches landmark relocated to an apartment during filming so as not to disturb the filmmakers. In 2003, the property was turned into a bed and breakfast and renamed The Steel Magnolia House

20. THE DOCTORS AND NURSES IN THE HOSPITAL SCENES ARE NOT ACTORS.

Intent on filming the story in as realistic a way as possible, Ross hired the actual doctors and nurses who looked after Susan Harling in her final days to do the same for Shelby on the set. The nurse who turns off Shelby’s life support in the film did the same for Susan in real life.

21. A TELEVISION SERIES BASED ON THE MOVIE DIDN’T TAKE OFF.

Though the series was not picked up for a full season run, CBS did air the Steel Magnolias series pilot in August 1990. 

22. A 2012 LIFETIME MOVIE PROVED MUCH MORE POPULAR.

In 2012, Lifetime remade Steel Magnolias with Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Adepero Oduyem, and Condola Rashad, which ended up becoming the channel’s third most watched original telecast of all time. But Harling was not a fan; though he was impressed by the remake’s caliber of actors, he didn’t appreciate that the story needed to be cut up in order to make room for commercial breaks.

23. SHIRLEY MACLAINE DOESN’T CONSIDER STEEL MAGNOLIAS A CHICK FLICK.

“To say it’s a women's film I don’t think that’s correct,” MacLaine told Entertainment Tonight. “If you've got women in your life bring them to see this film and you'll know much more about them when you go home.”

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10 Unforgettable Facts About The Notebook
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New Line Cinema

In 1996, Nicholas Sparks published his first book, The Notebook. He would go on to write several more romance novels, many of which would be adapted into films. But 2004’s film adaption of The Notebook remains the highest-grossing Sparks adaptation, making $115 million worldwide against a $25 million budget. It was Rachel McAdams' breakout lead role (it was released just a few months after Mean Girls); it solidified Ryan Gosling as a “hey girl” heartthrob; and it swept all eight categories it was nominated for at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, winning in categories like Choice Movie Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock.

The book and movie follow a young couple named Noah (Gosling) and Allie (Adams) in 1940s North Carolina (the movie was filmed in South Carolina). Despite some obstacles, the couple fall in love, marry, and spend the next 60 years together. In present day, it’s revealed that Allie, now an old woman (played by Gena Rowlands), has Alzheimer’s, and her doting husband (James Garner, as an elderly Noah) helps her remember their storied past. In 2003, Sparks published a loose sequel called The Wedding, featuring the characters Allie and Noah. Here are 10 facts about the beloved romance.

1. IT WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Nicholas Sparks’s book was based on his then-wife Cathy's grandparents, who spent more than 60 years together. Cathy was close to her grandparents, and visited them frequently. The grandparents were too ill to attend their wedding, in 1989, so the newly-married couple brought the wedding to them. They dressed up in their wedding clothes and surprised them at their house. Cathy's grandparents told the Sparks how they met and fell in love, decades ago.

“But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other,” Sparks wrote on his website. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they’d given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever.”

Unfortunately for Nicholas and Cathy, their love didn’t last forever—they divorced in 2015

2. NICHOLAS SPARKS THINKS THE BOOK WAS SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE IT WAS RELATABLE.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

“It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a ‘Noah and Allie’ in their own life,” Sparks wrote on his website. He also said the book was short enough (224 pages) for people to read it quickly. “I think that readers also appreciate that the novel didn’t include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what’s found in many other novels,” he said. “These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.”

3. THE SCREENWRITER HAD TO WORK HARD TO MAKE THE CHARACTERS SEEM REAL.

The Notebook screenwriter Jeremy Leven had the daunting task of adapting Sparks's book into a script. “The problem with the book is that it’s melodramatic and sweet, and you have to find a way to appeal to an audience that is apprehensive about yet another sweet movie,” Leven told The Harvard Crimson. “So you have to give it an edge, make it real, and make the choices the characters face real.” That “edge” probably includes the love scene in the rain.

4. RACHEL MCADAMS AND RYAN GOSLING DIDN’T GET ALONG—AT FIRST.

Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Even though they played lovers in the movie and then began dating in real life, the couple clashed during production. Director Nick Cassavetes told MTV a story about an incident when Gosling and McAdams weren’t getting along on the set one day: “Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, ‘Nick come here,’” Cassavetes shared. “And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other ... The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.”

5. MCADAMS AND GOSLING’S ON-SCREEN CHEMISTRY PROBABLY WASN’T REAL.

“[Our later relationship] certainly wasn’t something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience,” McAdams said, “which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each other.” She said it was attributed to the acting. “As an actor you don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to feel anything. Just imagine it.”

6. JESSICA BIEL WAS BUMMED SHE DIDN’T GET TO PLAY ALLIE.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Unlike Gosling, McAdams had to audition for the role of Allie, and so did Jessica Biel. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood,” Biel told Elle. “That’s one that I wanted so badly. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”

7. MCADAMS FELT A LOT OF PRESSURE TO DELIVER A GOOD PERFORMANCE.

The actress told Film Monthly she knew she had to be good in the movie, because she had to carry it. “At first I put way too much pressure on myself and realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said. “I was just a ball of stress, and eventually the character kicked in where she’s sort of free-spirited, doesn’t care what people think, and chases down those things she wants.” She eventually found the right balance.

8. JAMES MARSDEN THOUGHT THE MOVIE WAS GOING TO BE “SCHMALTZY.”

Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

James Marsden played Allie’s fiancé—and Noah’s rival—Lon Hammond Jr. The actor told Out Magazine how he tries not to make a bad movie, but they sometimes turn out that way. “Then there are some movies that I’ve been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge,” he said. “I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!”

9. NICK CASSAVETES WAS THE FOURTH CHOICE TO DIRECT THE MOVIE.

New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Sparks's novel in 1995, before the book was even published. In 1998, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the film. Jim Sheridan was also interested, but he decided to direct In America instead. In 2001, The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye director Martin Campbell almost signed on, but in 2002 New Line brought Cassavetes aboard.

10. JAMES GARNER RUINED HIS FIRST TAKE SHOOTING WITH GENA ROWLANDS.

Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Nick Cassavetes—son of legendary director John Cassavetes—cast his mother, the great Gena Rowlands, as the elderly Allie. Garner recalled the first day he and Gena filmed together. “She's going to come out and I’m sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick say, ‘Okay, mom. Action.’ Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here’s a professional actress who’s one of the best ever, and she’s listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.”

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13 Spooky Facts About The Monster Squad
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One part The Goonies, one part Ghostbusters, and one part Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, after being overlooked in its initial release, The Monster Squad has been reanimated as a cult classic. On the 30th anniversary of its release, let's take a look back at some of its behind-the-scenes trivia.

1. DIRECTOR FRED DEKKER WAS REJECTED BY TWO FILM SCHOOLS.

As a teenager, Fred Dekker applied to become a film student at both USC and UCLA. However, those universities both had other ideas. “Both film schools rejected me,” said Dekker on The Monster Squad’s 20th anniversary DVD, “but both accepted me in their curriculum, so I just couldn’t necessarily be in the film department.” The aspiring director enrolled at USC, where he reluctantly pursued a bachelor’s degree in English. “The fact that I was an English major was just kind of a nuisance. What I really wanted to do was just hang with my friends and make movies.”

2. THE FLICK GOT A BRIEF SHOUT-OUT IN NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

When he received the greenlight for The Monster Squad (which he’d co-written with Shane Black), Dekker was busy shooting 1986’s Night of the Creeps. The cult classic involves alien parasites that enter their victims’ mouths and turn them into walking, braindead corpses. Pause the above trailer at the 29-second mark and, in a shameless plug, you’ll notice the words “Go Monster Squad!” conspicuously graffitied onto the bathroom wall.

3. THE CREATURE DESIGNERS WORKED HARD TO AVOID LEGAL PROBLEMS WITH UNIVERSAL.

First and foremost, The Monster Squad is an affectionate tribute to Universal’s iconic horror movies of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Nevertheless, the studio passed on producing the film, which was ultimately picked up by TriStar. This forced The Monster Squad’s visual effects team to get creative.

“Although we were doing a movie that was a takeoff on the Universal classics,” said legendary monster creator Stan Winston, “… none of our designs infringed on the original designs of the Universal characters. There were subtle changes; we had to be sure that nothing about them could be considered a copyright infringement of a design.” Which is why Dracula has no Lugosi-esque widow’s peak, Frankenstein monster’s neck bolts have migrated to his temples, and Wolfman has pointy ears and a face that Dekker describes as “more lupine” than what Universal had come up with.

4. CASTING THE MUMMY INVOLVED A BIZARRE WANT AD.

Mummies aren’t usually noted for their girth. “I’ve always been super skinny,” says actor Michael Reid MacKay. One fateful day, a friend pointed out an unusual casting advertisement in Variety. “It said, ‘Looking for an extremely thin actor on the verge of anorexia,” MacKay recalled. He headed straight for the studio and, after showing off some creepy gestures, won the part of the Mummy.

5. ASHLEY BANK TURNED DOWN A ROLE IN FATAL ATTRACTION TO PLAY FIVE-YEAR-OLD PHOEBE.

Lionsgate Home Entertainment

“Monster made me an offer first,” remembers Ashley Bank. “Had Fatal Attraction been shot in Los Angeles, I probably would have done both, but it was in New York, so I had to do The Monster Squad. My parents wanted me to have more fun. It was a bigger part, and it would be a kids’ movie that I could actually see … I never regretted it at all.”

6. AN EARLY DRAFT OF THE SCRIPT INVOLVED VAN HELSING FIGHTING DRACULA WITH MACHINE GUNS.

The Monster Squad co-writer Shane Black initially wanted a far more overblown—and expensive—opening scene. In the 2007 DVD documentary Monster Squad Forever, Dekker recalled that Black envisioned Van Helsing laying siege to Dracula’s castle “on a zeppelin with machine guns.” Racing out to meet him would be “40 vampire brides riding horses.” Dekker quickly burst Black’s bubble. “‘I said, ‘We can’t make this. This is the first five minutes of the movie and [we’d have] already spent … $100 million!’”

7. THE MONSTER SQUAD’S TREEHOUSE IS LITTERED WITH HORROR EASTER EGGS.

You’ve got to hand it to these kids: they know how to decorate. Wallpapering their arboreal hangout spot are posters and stills from movies that span the history of horror, including fan favorites like This Island Earth (1955), Vampire Circus (1972), and The Being (1983).

8. DUNCAN REGEHR BEAT OUT LIAM NEESON FOR THE ROLE OF DRACULA.

In 1986, Liam Neeson was still a relative unknown and, like many struggling actors, decided to try out for a horror movie. Apparently, he nailed his audition with a superb take on the Count. “We thought for sure we [were] going to hire this guy,” producer Jonathan Zimbert revealed in Monster Squad Forever. “Then Duncan came in and was not only as brilliant, but he was terrifying also.” Twenty years later, Wizard magazine named Regehr the “greatest Dracula of all time” for his chilling performance in The Monster Squad.

9. GILLMAN KO’D A STUNT MAN DURING THE FILM'S CLIMAX.

Creature builder Tom Woodruff, Jr. had always wanted to climb into a monster suit and wreak havoc in a major motion picture. With The Monster Squad, he smelled a golden opportunity. Late in the pre-production phase, nobody had yet been cast as Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature from the Black Lagoon). So Woodruff, who was working on Wolfman’s animatronics, asked to be considered for the job.

His wish was granted, but the gig wasn’t all fun and games. The Monster Squad’s final battle sees a few sherriff’s deputies clubbing the fishy humanoid. Though these prop weapons were soft on the outside, they had hard interiors. As sculptor Matt Rose notes 25 minutes into the clip below, Woodruff winced with every strike.

“They were wailing on him,” Rose recalled. “They’d stop and Tom would just say through the Gill mask ‘Hey guys, do you mind just taking it easy a little bit?” Alas, these pleas fell on deaf ears. After a few tiring takes, Rose remembers that, “One of the bigger guys was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Since Woodruff’s vision was limited by the suit, he didn’t see the stunt man and accidentally slugged him right in the face.

“[He] fell like a sack of potatoes, straight on his a**,” said Rose. For a few unsettling moments, the stunt man just laid there with a glazed look in his eyes. Evidently, there was a pair of badly-placed rivets on the inside of his helmet. The blow drove these into his forehead and, once the hat was removed, two streams of blood spurted forth. Thankfully, he wasn’t seriously hurt.

10. DRACULA AND FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER NEVER BROKE CHARACTER IN FRONT OF THE KIDS.

Tom Noonan (Frankenstein’s Monster) made it a point to never greet the young stars with anything more than a grunt, and he never let them see him without his monstrous makeup. “The first time that I met Tom, I was 25,” Ashley Bank quipped. “I never met Tom [on the set]. I only met Frankenstein.”

Regehr, too, always stayed in costume around the children. Yet, he did make one minor adjustment whenever Bank walked by: Near the end of the picture, the script calls for Dracula to lift up Phoebe by the chin; as he clutches her, his teeth sharpen, his eyes redden, and he lets loose a mighty hiss. To really get a good scare out of her, Regehr made sure that Bank never saw him wearing his fangs or crimson contact lenses. When the time came to shoot the moment in question, he put them on when she wasn’t looking.

Dekker—who knew all about Regher’s plan—told Bank “You’re gonna have to scream in this scene.” “When?” she asked. “Oh, you’ll know,” he replied. And sure enough, she did. Bank’s terrified cry was, in her own words, “100 percent real.”

11. WHILE DELIVERING THE FINAL LINE, ANDRE GOWER WAS TOLD TO IMITATE CLINT EASTWOOD.

Moments before the credits roll, a victorious Sean (Andre Gower) looks squarely at the camera lens and says “We’re The Monster Squad.” Wanting the line to sound cool without getting campy, Dekker instructed Gower to “do it like Clint.”

12. THE MOVIE SPENT JUST TWO WEEKS IN THEATERS.

Released on August 14, 1987, The Monster Squad was both a commercial and critical flop. Vincent Camby of The New York Times called it “a silly attempt to cross breed an Our Gang comedy with a classic horror film, which usually means that both genres have reached the end of the line.” After a two-week theatrical run, the movie was pulled. However, it slowly built a following via video rentals and cable broadcasts.

Today, The Monster Squad commands a dedicated fan base. When the cast and crew reunited for a special two-night showing at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in 2006, both screenings sold out. As Dekker once put it, “It took 20 years for the movie to find its audience.”

13. TRAGICALLY, BRENT CHALEM (“HORACE”) DIED OF PNEUMONIA AT AGE 22.

He’ll always be remembered for his talent, his warmth, and the immortal line “Wolfman’s got nards!”

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