Of course, Southerners aren’t known for doing things small, and this play-turned-movie written in what author Robert Harling called “a 24/7 tsunami of Southernness” had to have a big party to celebrate its release. That’s how Steel Magnolias ended up having not one premiere party, but four.
While Steel Magnolias was a Hollywood production, it was also a Southern story, set in Harling’s hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana. To celebrate the film’s opening, they had premieres in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as Atlanta and Natchitoches.
On November 5, 1989, the cast came together at the Ziegfield Theater in New York to screen the movie and then headed to the nearby Hilton Hotel for a party. “The New York premiere was amazing,” Harling told Garden & Gun. “Ray [Stark, the film’s producer] wanted the biggest premiere party since The Godfather, and he got it. It was at the Hilton. They re-created the wedding set from the movie. I remember watching my dad in deep conversation with people like Walter Cronkite…I pinched myself a lot those days.”
WATCH: Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine Play Word Association with Steel Magnolias Cast
Since the film opened at the tail end of the 1980s the fashion was wild and the hair big. Dolly Parton, not known for understated style, wore head to toe rhinestones and gloriously big hair, which is exactly what we picture Truvy wearing to such an event. Sally Field wore a surprisingly simple black dress with a string of pearls, Daryl Hannah looked nothing like sweet, shy Annelle, hitting the red carpet in a tiny white slip dress paired with a sweeping, large updo, and multiple strings of pearls. Shirley MacLaine paired a smart black sheath dress with a sequined, patterned blazer (with shoulder pads, of course). Julia Roberts, who hadn’t been nominated for her Oscar-worthy work as Shelby yet, hit the red carpet in a pantsuit with decorative beading.
The photos of the event show the cast laughing with each other at the party. They were all fans of each other as proven by Dolly Parton, speaking to the press "I relate with women well," Parton told Entertainment Tonight about working with her incredible co-stars. "I love men but they cause me more trouble than the women."
They were also thrilled to be involved with the movie they had just made and hoped that audiences would love it as much as they did. "To say it’s a women's film I don’t think that’s correct," Shirley MacLaine told ET. "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."
The fun wasn’t over, though. The next day, they flew to Atlanta for yet another party,
The opening extravaganza continued on Nov. 9, 1989, with a screening at the Cineplex Odeon Cinema in Los Angeles. The grand finale, though, was saved for author Harling’s hometown of Natchitoches, where the film was set and made.
Parton, Hannah and Harling flew in from Hollywood to attend two black-tie screenings of the movie which starred a lot of the locals as extras. The production then took over the university's basketball pavilion, giving some $40,000 for scholarships to the university for their trouble, and throwing one of the biggest parties Natchitoches has ever seen.
It’s only fitting that one of the most-celebrated films ever would be so literally celebrated.