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Susan left behind her husband Dr Pat Robinson and their two-year-old son Robert after years of battling diabetes, and amid the waves of his grief, Robert, then an actor, put pen to paper at the urging of close friends and wrote all about the town of Natchitoches, where his mother Margaret ruled the roost and the women ‘spoke in bumper stickers’.
Steel Magnolias has been his way, he says, of keeping Susan alive for her son, now 31, about to marry for a second time this summer and living in Texas.’There will be people now who watch the film now who don’t know it was based on a true story’, muses Robert: ‘It’s really interesting and emotional and a nice journey to go back and revisit - 25 years is a long time.
In an exclusive interview with Mail Online, Robert reveals: ‘Susan died in the fall of 1985.
Pat, my ex-brother-in-law, he remarried five or six months after her death and the first time I heard my nephew call this other woman ‘mama’ was when I said ‘No – Susan can’t disappear’.
‘I guess I started writing the play about six months later, it came out very, very fast.
An unknown Julia Roberts - pictured here with her on-screen son - played the character of Shelby, based on Susan 'Stubborn and wonderful': Robert Harling said he wrote all the qualities his sister Susan Robinson - on the left on her wedding day - possessed into the character of Shelby, played by newcomer Julia Roberts, then just 19His off-Broadway play became a hit and was then turned into a Hollywood blockbuster in 1989 starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley Maclaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis - and a young and unknown Julia Roberts, then just 19, who played Shelby, the character based on Susan.