Sam Shepard left his mark on Natchitoches

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Sam Shepard played the role of Spud in Steel Magnolias that was filmed in Natchitoches.

By Carolyn Roy

The literary and movie worlds are mourning the passing of actor and playwright Sam Shepard who died Monday. He has an extensive list of honors including a coveted Pulitzer prize for his play, “Buried Child” and nominations for two more. He was a popular actor in addition to his literary career.

But many Natchitoches folks will remember him for playing Spud Jones, the husband of Truvy Jones, (Dolly Parton) in the movie “Steel Magnolias.”

But his tributes don’t mention his musical talent which was overshadowed by his literary and film careers.

When the movie was being filmed here, the actors found little in the way of entertainment and were often seen at the popular night spot, Bodacious, on the Bypass. I was there one evening with other celebrity stalkers and Shepard was on the stage with the band, drumming away. JT remembers his long-sleeved white shirt soaked with perspiration after a set.

He was friendly and moved among the crowd greeting folks and posing for pictures. I was a fan long before his role in “Steel Magnolias,” and was for sure after that night.

Natchitoches resident Gwen Stacy has fond memories of Shepard during the “Steel Magnolias” era. Stacy was an assistant accountant for the movie and met him on the set when scenes were being filmed on the NSU campus. Gwen says he was getting a hotdog from the caterer when they struck up a conversation.

Stacy reminded Shepard that he had met her son, Don Bowden, and the conversation took off from there. Shepard then approached Stacy at her office to see if she would retrieve his faxes and other messages from his then partner, Jessica Lange.

She recounted one humorous incident in which she and husband, James, were spending an evening at The Cove and were dancing. Shepard was at another table with her son, Don, and said, pointing to Gwen, “That’s my friend.” A startled Don said, “That’s my mother!”

The friendship blossomed after that. Shepard spent a lot of time with her son and her and James eating at The Cove at the Mariner’s. He often talked about hunting with James and Don and had property in West Texas not far from the Stacy’s property there.

“He was a down-to-earth, simple country boy,” Stacy recalls. While intentions were good, Stacy says they lost contact with Shepard as he left Natchitoches when filming wrapped. He was gone but the memories of his graciousness have lingered with Stacy. “He was most kind. He was absolutely so kind.”