Some of the big screen's most iconic female characters — ''Steel Magnolias''' Shelby, ''Sister Act's'' Mother Superior — share a creator: Robert Harling. Now that the writer-producer has turned his razor-sharp pen to ABC's Southern-fried indulgence GCB (Sundays at 10 p.m.), EW enlisted Harling to look back at a few of his favorite creations

Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor)
Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth)
GCB, 2012
”Carlene’s based on a very, very fascinating, fabulous, complicated woman that I know. Some of her more outrageous lines — ‘Cleavage makes your cross hang straight’ — are actually almost verbatim. But I worship Cricket. I just worship her. That character is completely created out of cloth. The kernel of that character comes from the fact that I know a lot of couples in [the South] where the husband is gay, the wife is not. They have probably the best marriage in their whole circle of friends. I’ve always wondered: What is that? What is that relationship?”

Elise Elliot Atchison (Goldie Hawn)
The First Wives Club, 1996
”I was writing with Goldie in my head before she was cast. The great thing about Goldie is she has a great handle on what her character needs to be. I wish I could take credit for everything, but she came up with the line ‘This is a Golden Globe! It’s sacred! It’s trademarked!’ And Goldie and Bette [Midler] were instrumental in including the song ‘You Don’t Own Me’ — that wasn’t in the script, but they said, ‘Hey, we can sing, let’s sing!”’

Mother Superior (Maggie Smith)
Sister Act, 1992
”It was the first time I’d ever done it, but I was called in to doctor and rewrite the script for Sister Act, which was in production. I walked onto the set, and Maggie — dressed as Mother Superior — walks up to me and says, ‘Hello. You must be the young man who’s bringing me my character.’ And I went, ‘Yes, ma’am, that’s what I’m here to do.’ And I thought, ‘I have to go write Maggie Smith a character!”’

Celeste Talbert (Sally Field)
Soapdish, 1991
”One night while shooting Steel Magnolias, Sally said, ‘Just once, I’d like to play somebody who isn’t noble. I’d like to play a bitch who wears nice clothes.’ That stuck in my head and I kept thinking about it, so I came up with Celeste Talbert, who was a soap opera star and America’s sweetheart but was really a bitch with teeth underneath it and had ruined her life and the lives of everyone around her.”

Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Julia Roberts)
Steel Magnolias, 1989
”Shelby is the most special character to me because she’s based on my sister, and I wrote the play [that later became the movie] about her. Julia walked in and, being from the South, she flashed that smile, and the world instantly became a better place. I said, ‘You know, this is her. This is the one to carry the spirit of my sister.’ And I look back, and it’s ironic that it took the biggest star in the world to create the most special person I’ve ever known.”

The First Wives Club
  • Movie
  • Hugh Wilson