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Revisiting Magnolias of the Steel Variety

Several years ago, I was excited to go to a party in California that was to be attended by Ben Mankiewicz. He is one of my nerdy hot crushes, doing for movies what Steve Kornacki does for politics and Chuck Rosenberg does for the law. After we met, I told Ben that I was pleased to have spelled his name correctly on my first try when I googled him before the party.

Somewhat taken aback, he asked why I had done the search, and I explained that I wanted to be sure I knew his correct place in Hollywood’s distinguished Mankiewicz family. He chuckled about that. You see, Ben’s grandfather, Herman, won an Oscar for the screenplay of Citizen Kane, which he co-wrote with Orson Welles. Herman is also credited, though not in the movie itself, with having written the treatment for “the Kansas sequence” in The Wizard of Oz, and instructed that it be filmed in black and white. Ben’s great uncle, Joseph, wrote and directed All About Eve, and won four Academy Awards during his career.

Quite a pedigree, wouldn’t you say?

Last weekend, Turner Classic Movies hosted 30th anniversary screenings of Steel Magnolias in select theaters. And there was Ben in a filmed introduction to the movie saying how it was filmed on location in Nacogdoches, Louisiana. Uh, no, but at least he seemed to pronounce the Texas town correctly.

In the segment after the movies, Ben took two more swipes at saying Natchitoches, but they came out something like a hybrid of the correct pronunciations of the two cities.

Now, not pronouncing Alexandria or Lafayette like the locals do is understandable. But anyone can see “Natchitoches” on a piece of paper and know that help is needed to pronounce it correctly. Someone named Mankiewicz (how do you pronounce that? “Monkey Wrench”’?) might be particularly sensitive to getting it right.

Oh, Ben, you know I still love you more than my luggage.

Back to the movie. For a generation, many women and a whole lot of gay boys have found themselves identifying with one of the six archetypal Southern women of Steel Magnolias. Not so many pick Shelby (she dies) or Annelle (she’s Annelle). Those of us who are inclined to do so pick between M’Lynn and Truvy, or Clairee and Ouiser. As the years go by, the one we project ourselves onto may go back and forth based on what’s going on in our own lives.

So what happened to this group of beloved characters? The actresses who played them are all still with us, so we could assume that they’re living in Chinquapin, feisty as ever in their 70s and 80s. (Only Annelle would be on the green side of 60.)

But are they all still friends, or did the election of 2016 pull them apart the way it did so many relationships, even familial ones?

Well, the state of Louisiana went 58% for Trump, while Natchitoches parish voted 54% for him. (You know Chinquapin is fictional, right?) Statistically speaking, that would make a 3 to 2 split of the five surviving magnolias. But wait. Voter turnout in Louisiana was 68%, so that means only three of them voted. So maybe it was 2 to 1 in favor of Trump.

What else happened to these women that may have influenced how, or even if, they voted? Maybe Jack, Jr. come out as gay, or maybe he just brought someone home who didn’t look like she was carved out of cream cheese. Clairee’s nephew Marshall was gay, and presumably so was Ouiser’s grandson Steve. Would that have inclined them one way or the other?

If they did get political, would it have been based on a litmus test issue, like abortion? Would health care or immigration have been a factor? How about that Access Hollywood tape? Would that have been decisive?

It’s common for us to wonder what happened to our favorite movie characters after the final fade out. Did Scarlett get Rhett back? Did Harry and Sally really live happily ever after following their famous meeting? And who did any of them vote for?

Speculating about the current politics of a group of fictional characters from the ‘80s is admittedly a parlor game.

But I will hazard one guess: I’m pretty sure Ouiser Boudreaux was a big Hillary Clinton supporter, if for no other reason than it would have pissed off more people in Chinquapin than being for Trump.

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