NATCHITOCHES, La. - When Hollywood came to the small town of Natchitoches in 1988 everything changed. That year, the town was in an economic slump, so when 200 some cast and crew members came to town to film the movie they were welcomed with open arms.
The film left such an impact that 30 years later the town still revels in the movie, something that was seen during a weekend of fun filled events dubbed “Blush and Bashful,” a tribute to Shelby’s (played by Julia Roberts) color scheme for her wedding in the film.
Thirty years ago, Front Street looked exactly the same except for the area directly across it overlooking the Cane River. When the movie was filmed, the area was a wide open patch of grass used for an Easter egg hunt for the last few scenes in the movie. Today, the area has been converted to a site for festivals, concerts and big events that bring people from all over.
"The economic boost, just from the filming itself, many people attribute that to the jump start of the revitalization of the downtown area,” Kelli West, , marketing and communications director, said.
Capitalizing on the momentum of the weekend, Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser made Natchitoches the starting point of a new movie trail to attract tourist.
"To be here and celebrate the anniversary of Steel Magnolias and to know that we are starting our movie trail, "Lights, Cameras, Louisiana," highlighting all the great movies that are filmed all over Louisiana and right here in Natchitoches is pretty special," Nungesser said.
The City of Natchitoches also dedicated a new park to Steel Magnolias, and more importantly to the people behind the characters like Susan Harling-Robinson. She was Bobby Harling’s (the film's writer) sister who died from diabetic complications. She was Harling’s inspiration for the original play. Her character in the film is Shelby played by Julia Roberts.
Outsiders who didn’t know Susan and many of the other characters personally may not fully understand what "Steel Magnolias" meant to locals, but what made the film so great was than many women could relate.
“We can identify with so many parts of the story,” Donna Shanks said. “It is a wedding. It is chaotic and you have a blushing bride who wants everything and the mother who wants everything perfect."
Shanks got her daughters to travel from several states including California to enjoy the weekend at the "Steel Magnolias" house.
"The pink stripped wall paper brings all the memories back like you are almost in the movie,” Elizabeth Shanks said. “It does look the same. The pink is Shelby. Pink and pink were her colors."
Local Judge Desiree Dyess purchased the "Steel Magnolias" home after it had already been converted into a bed and breakfast. She says the name alone keeps guests coming all year long.
"It is amazing, all of the young girls who were named Shelby or Meline or different characters from the movie,” Dyess said. “They are in their early 30's or late 20's now and they want to come and see where they were named after and stay in the room where they were named after."
Almost all events were sold out for the Blush and Bashful weekend which included a red carpet movie viewing and armadillo cake baking contest mimicking the groom's cake straight out of the film. Among the judges was Mayo Vascocu and her niece, Brenda Riggs, the local ladies who made the original cakes for the movie.
Together, they baked 16 armadillo cakes to cover several days of filming. And, since the internet was unheard of in the late 1980’s, Vascocu had to do some serious research to create a cake that looked like the large gray rodent.
"I found one on the side of the road and picked it up," Vascocu said. "I picked it up and brought it home and sketched it out. There were a lot of things to put on there that I did not even realize."