Musical icon Dolly Parton has shown her wide range of talent on stage and the big screen. She made her film debut in 1980 in the movie “9 to 5.” In 1989, Parton was part of the cast of the critically acclaimed drama “Steel Magnolias.”
Playing alongside such Hollywood greats as Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts, Parton had her own role as beauty salon owner Truvy Jones. Although the actors became friendly, the film’s director, Herbert Ross, was unable to win anyone over.
In fact, Dolly Parton told the director of “Steel Magnolias”, “I’m not an actress”.
In their book “Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Parton recalled Ross’ gruff behavior, especially toward her and Roberts.
“In the beginning, he didn’t like me or Julia Roberts very much and was very hard on us,” Parton wrote. “Julia Roberts was not the big star she is now, and I think Herbert Ross resented having to use her. He told me I couldn’t act. That wasn’t news to me, and I told him so.”
The Queen of the Country had no problem putting the director in his place and reminding him of his own duties.
“‘I’m really not an actress, I’m Dolly Parton,'” she told Ross. “‘I’m a personality who was hired to make this movie. You’re the director. It’s your job to make me look like I’m acting.’ By the end of the movie, we had all made peace and become friends.”
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The Director of “Steel Magnolias” told several cast members that they “couldn’t act.”
MacClaine, who played the feisty, twice-widowed Ouiser, also recalled the director’s critical communication style with the cast.
“Herb Ross was basically a choreographer,” MacLaine said in 2013, according to Us Weekly. “That means he could be very stern at times and very harsh at others. My deepest memories of the movie are how we got our act together after he told one of us or all of us that we couldn’t act. … I remember the day Herb said to Dolly Parton, ‘Why don’t you take some acting lessons?'”
Field, a two-time Oscar winner, added, “You don’t say that to Dolly Parton! Dolly Parton is absolutely the funniest, funniest, dirtiest, and she will cut you to pieces.”
Cast of ‘Steel Magnolias’ had a cohesive cast
The ensemble of actors apparently pulled together during Ross’ tirades, with Parton and MacClaine often standing up to him.
“We hated him and went after him,” Field said. “The stronger ones in the group, who were just older and had been around longer, went after him. That was Shirley and Dolly.”
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Despite the turmoil Ross caused, Parton clearly has fond memories of her time with the cast. She tweeted a tribute to her former co-star Dukakis after news of her death was released May 1.
“I was so sad to hear Olympia Dukakis passed away,” Parton tweeted. “She was one of my favorite people I’ve ever known or worked with. I became really close with her and felt like we were good friends. Even though I didn’t get to see her much, I thought of her often and knew she was a very good person. She will be missed by her fans, her family and those of us who were lucky enough to know her personally.”
Ross died of heart failure in 2001. Field reflected on the film’s foundation, namely the strong relationships that developed off-camera between the cast.
“To me, it’s the story about the power of friendship,” Field said.