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Gals and Drawls

July 03, 1988|Pat H. Broeske

Lawdy! The arrival of a passel of stars and big-name film makers is creating a stir out Louisiana way in the picturesque city of Natchitoches (pronounced "Naki-tish"), population 23,000.

That's where producer Ray Stark films "Steel Magnolias"--starring Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts (sister of Eric)--beginning July 12 for Tri-Star. The last time Hollywood types rode into Natchitoches was for 1959's "The Horse Soldiers," with John Wayne.

"It's definitely a very big deal for us," said Eric Jensen, a reporter for the twice-weekly Natchitoches Times (circulation 8,000). Editor Steve Colwell covered this week's press conference--a full-page spread--in which Mayor Joe Sampite and Sheriff Norm Fletcher joined all the stars, plus Stark and director Herbert Ross.

Highlights? "The stars said nice things about filming in this part of the country, and there were jokes about the hot weather and about learning to talk Southern," said Jensen.

(Local nightly newscasts included a shot of Hannah mugging to the cameras, "Hi, y'all.")

Adding to the excitement: "Steel Magnolias"--about the lives/loves/joys/sorrows of a group of women--is based on a biographical play set in Natchitoches by hometown boy Robert Harling, now of NYC, who also scripted.

As such, the historical backdrops of the city--founded in 1714 and heralded as "the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase"--get big play. Interiors will be filmed in a makeshift sound stage built in a gym at the local university.

And, of course, locals will be participating as extras--one casting call brought out about 5,000 hopefuls!

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