Dolly Parton Addressed Rumors of Fights on the Set of ‘Steel Magnolias’: ‘Some Crazy Sexism’

In 1989, Dolly Parton appeared in Steel Magnolias alongside a cast of other accomplished actors. The critically acclaimed drama starred big names like Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and Shirley MacLaine. Despite the film’s success, rumors flew about bitter arguments between the cast. Parton once cleared the air on the rumors, attributing them to misogyny. 

Dolly Parton wears a white beaded dress and sits in a pink chair at the 'Steel Magnolias' premiere.
Dolly Parton at the ‘Steel Magnolias’ premiere | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Dolly Parton played a part in the 1989 film ‘Steel Magnolias’

Parton began her acting career in 1980 with her role in 9 to 5. Nine years later, she scored the part of Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias. In the film, she plays a big-hearted beautician who offers gossip and kind words to her clients. She and co-star Daryl Hannah also went to beauty school to make their characters more believable. 

In the film, Parton genuinely cut Roberts’ hair. When people learned that she’d learned to do this, others she knew came around asking for haircuts.

“Now I’m having to cut everybody’s hair. I’ve become like a beautician in my own family,” she said, per ET, adding, “Now it’s like a job, and I’m not getting paid for it.”

She addressed rumors of bickering on set

Though Parton often said that she loved working with her co-stars, many tabloids reported difficulties on set. Rumors swirled about bickering amongst the cast. Parton was quick to deny this.

“Everybody wanted to think we were a bunch of wranglin’ women just to confirm some crazy sexism, in my opinion,” she told Cineaste in 1990. “We went through the same thing making 9 to 5 with Jane [Fonda] and Lily [Tomlin] … they made up stories about us tearin’ each other’s hair out. It was all hooey.”

She said much of the gossip about the drama on set had no truth. The cast was even able to laugh about it.

“Some tabloid ran a picture of Sally Fields and Shirley saying, ‘Shirley Devastated ‘Cause Sally Says Shove It’ — funnier than a flea circus!” she said. “We heard all the local gossip and were the center of a great deal of it. Especially me. They were sayin’ that people were knockin’ on my door tryin’ to get in, and I took to the hills and rented a house in the woods. That finally I had to go to Shreveport and commute by helicopter. Such lies! I sat there in Natchitoches with my feet on my kitchen table readin’ all about it.”

Dolly Parton said the ‘Steel Magnolias’ director wasn’t her biggest fan

Any drama on set wasn’t between the actors, but there was some between Parton and the film’s director, Herbert Ross. He was reportedly particularly hard on Parton and Roberts.

“[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,” MacLaine told Us Weekly. “I remember the day Herb said to Dolly Parton, ‘Why don’t you take some acting lessons?'”

Field expressed her indignation at his behavior.

“You don’t say that to Dolly Parton!” she said. “Dolly Parton is absolutely the funniest, wittiest and filthiest, and she will cut you to ribbons.”

Evidently, she did. When Ross insulted her, Parton agreed with him, then told him to do better.

“He was very hard on me,” Parton said, per Deseret News. “He told me I couldn’t act, and I said, ‘Well, hell, I know I can’t act.’ I said, ‘That’s your job. You’re the director and you’re supposed to help me with my acting. You hired me ’cause you thought I was going to make you a lot of money — now, earn it.”

At the very least, the treatment drew the cast closer together.

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