Dolly Parton on Her Legendary Career, Music, Family, and ‘Steel Magnolias’

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Dolly Parton was already a legend in Nashville—as a singer and songwriter—earlier than she made a transfer into the mainstream within the late ’70s. Parton moved to Hollywood, starred within the hit comedy, 9 to 5, with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and her film profession was launched. By the top of the ’80s, she had a string of film flops and a disappointing TV present beneath her belt, however Parton was undeterred. In a dialog with Chris Chase from the October 1989 challenge of Cosmo, Parton talks about her household, profession, and the way she couldn’t wait to get on the highway together with her band once more. —Alex Belth, Hearst historian

I first met Dolly Parton in 1976. We had been doing a bit for the New York Instances Journal, and I figured showing in these pages would give me such credentials as an mental that Jean-Paul Sartre can be pestering me for a date. Dolly took the entire thing extra frivolously.


In these days, she was tooling across the South in her bus with a band filled with family, taking part in what she referred to as her git-tar and singing nation music—a lot of it written by her—at theaters and gala’s. I keep in mind one present at East Burke Excessive College, outdoors of Hickory, North Carolina. A fats man was consuming out of a bottle in a brown paper bag and shouting raunchy however enthusiastic feedback at Dolly in her yellow bell-bottoms, and he or she dealt with him so simply. “Now don’t you speak soiled,” she stated, and he sank again in his seat like a responsible schoolboy. She was married to Carl Dean then; her greatest buddy, Judy Ogle, was her secretary; and a person named Don Warden did her bookings out of Nashville.

13 years later, every thing’s modified, and nothing’s modified. Dolly’s a film star, she’s skinnier than she was, however Carl remains to be her husband, Judy remains to be her proper arm, and Don Warden remains to be determining her highway journeys. As a result of Dolly’s headed for the bus once more. “It’s six years since I took off so ailing and misplaced in my TV present and every thing,” she says. “I’ve missed getting out the place the actual nation followers are. I’m a gypsy at coronary heart.”

However first, a phrase from her sponsors. Dolly’s new film, Metal Magnolias, opens in November. Her new album, White Limozeen, is within the report shops; her new single, “Why’d You Are available in Right here Lookin’ Like That?” is all around the radio; her theme park, Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has simply loved its fourth summer time season. This 12 months, Dollywood options new rides, arts and crafts, clog dancing, cornbread and pumpkin butter, and The Kinfolk, assorted uncles and aunts and cousins performing on the Again Porch Theater, a duplicate of the two-room shack the place Dolly was born. (The Dollywood Basis offers scholarships to poor children and gives well being care in Sevier County.)

So Dolly is in New York to push the entire above, and certainly one of her first stops is the cable present of disk jockey Bobby Rivers. On the air, Rivers quotes a lyric from “Why’d You Are available in Right here” about somebody with “large concepts and slightly behind.” “I’ve recognized you since I had little concepts and a large behind,” whoops Dolly. Rivers laughs and asks how lengthy it takes to do her hair. “I don’t understand how lengthy it takes,” says Dolly. “I’m by no means there … my hair is within the subsequent room.”

Rivers needs to know what Dolly would alter if she ran the world—Gregory Peck stated he’d cease racism, Jodie Foster would cease air pollution—and Dolly thinks a second. Then: “I’d prefer to see all people with a bellyful of meals and a houseful of furnishings and a automobile.” Sensible Dolly. Let others think about the large image, her eyes is on the sparrow.

Present over, she’s out of there, on her approach to Reside at 5, an area NBC information program, the place she tells the male cohost no, she doesn’t suppose having her ABC selection present cancelled harm her profession, and sure, she’s occurring the highway once more. “I wish to be at a truck cease at three within the morning,” says the person, “if you pull up and go right into a greasy spoon.” (Males get giddy round Dolly. That very same night time, David Letterman tells her, “I’d prefer to see you sweating.”)

Later within the week, she hosts Saturday Evening Reside, performing in sketches, stomping in her high-heeled boots, selecting at her guitar, happy to be on the get together.

dolly parton at the mill run theater

Dolly Parton on the Mill Run Theater in Niles, Illinois, August 29, 1977

Paul NatkinGetty Photos

I lastly catch her alone on the Fifth Avenue condominium she rents together with her supervisor, Sandy Gallin. Since neither of them actually lives there—it’s only a place to gentle when certainly one of them is in New York—the place has an impersonal feeling. Fats white couches, an enormous espresso desk, some drained fruit. From the lounge window, you may look right down to The Plaza resort and as much as the Central Park skating rink.

Dolly is sporting a sizzling pink T-shirt and fingernails that should be an inch and a half lengthy. “I attempt to make positives out of my negatives,” she says. “If I received little brief fats palms, I put on nails so long as my fingers; little brief legs, I put on heels as tall as my legs; if the hair don’t do what I need it to, I put on the wigs. I’m very fair-skinned, so I like to put on make-up. Hey, look, what can I inform you, I’m a painted doll.” (Within the autobiographical “White Limozeen,” she describes herself as “Daisy Mae in Hollywood,” and the picture is apt. She is so guileless she will be able to sing that she’s “the toast of Hollywood” and never irritate you.)

Now, she sits on the ground and talks. She’ll speak about nearly something however politics, which incorporates the place she stands on abortion. “Don’t git me into marchin’ on Washington, and don’t even ask my opinion on it, ’trigger I don’t have one.” About every thing else, she has opinions aplenty. Constancy, as an illustration. She believes playing around can diminish a wedding. “Most individuals aren’t safe sufficient to deal with that.” Then again, she thinks flirting is dandy. “I do what I do,” she says. “I don’t at all times inform what I do, I don’t at all times deny what I do both. I see folks on a regular basis that ring my bells, and if typically a person has made me horny by flirting with me, then that’s normally all I must really feel like I’m nonetheless fairly. I’ve nonetheless received it, I’ve nonetheless moved any person. And that any person can nonetheless transfer me.

“I’m a flirt, I’m a tease. I at all times have been. I feel that’s higher than simply runnin’ off and screwin’ all people you come throughout and thinkin’ that you just’ll discover the reply in mattress. I’m positive my husband does the identical factor. He’s at all times tellin’ me about some woman—‘Oh, there’s the prettiest little woman works on the financial institution”—and I don’t thoughts that. But when any person else got here up and stated, ‘You realize, that fairly little woman on the financial institution and your husband…’ that could be a distinct story.”

Dolly met Carl Dean the day she arrived in Nashville from Sevierville, Tennessee. She got here on a bus, the morning after her commencement from highschool, as a result of “I at all times needed to be a singin’ star, and for a singin’ star, Nashville was the world.” When Carl approached her on the road—it was outdoors the Wishy-Washy Laundromat—she was cautious. “I imply, that was somethin’ we was taught.” However Carl was severe. He hung round the home the place Dolly was staying together with her uncle, Invoice Owens. He sat on the porch—“I wouldn’t let him into the home”—till he might persuade her to return meet his mother and father. “’Trigger he stated he knew proper the minute he noticed me that that’s the one he needed.”

Having been Carl’s spouse for twenty-three years, Dolly says she believes in marriage, however shies away from advising others about they must do. Although, within the age of AIDS, she thinks “folks ought to be cautious who they git with. I feel it’s good to know—in your well being—the place the particular person’s been. On my TV present, some child requested me, ‘Do you will have any recommendation for youngsters right this moment?’ and I stated, ‘Yeah, simply act prefer it’s rainin’ and put on your rubbers.’ It simply popped out earlier than I believed. I received some criticism, however that’s just about my recommendation to anyone havin’ intercourse.”

In Dolly’s view, relationships between women and men have “all received jumbled up. Society has at all times stated males can’t cry, ladies do nothin’ however. Ladies are allowed to piss and moan all day, and the person ain’t allowed to say this or that. Ladies ought to have the appropriate to do something they’ll do, they need to have equal probabilities, however I’m old school, I feel it’s romantic for a person to deal with you good, to open doorways. So if that makes me not as ladies’s-libbish as I must be, that’s not the purpose. We’re talkin’ about my opinion.”

She admits she’s been fortunate. “I’ve by no means suffered for bein’ a lady myself. Even early within the days of getting’ into the music enterprise, I feel bein’ feminine helped me. I by no means had been harassed except I’ve just about requested for it, and even after I was harassed, I had the type of character that would get out of it fairly simple.”

Character and deadly weapon, in a single case. Again within the ’60s, a busload of children from Sevier County Excessive College got here to the New York World’s Truthful, and Dolly and Judy Ogle peeled off from the others to go examine Instances Sq.. They had been little ladies with teased hair and an excessive amount of make-up and all of the dime-store jewellery they might hold on themselves—“We appeared low-cost,” Dolly says cheerfully—and a person accosted them. Dolly was packing a gun “for cover within the large metropolis,” and when the person wouldn’t go away, she pulled it out. “Contact me once more,” she stated sweetly, “and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen.”

She talks poetically about “understanding the true nature of a person,” however even whereas she’s understanding the man, she’s received him in her sights, if solely metaphorically, more often than not.

What kind of man appeals to her? “I like simplicity. Simplicity and intelligence. So far as the bodily look, I’m sufficiently old and I’ve lived sufficient to the place I’ve been concerned in some unspecified time in the future with nearly all types of males. Although within the early days, I used to be drawn to tall slim males as a result of my father was tall and slim. My husband’s very tall and slim. I really like that frail look, like Sam Shepard.”

Shepard, who performs Dolly’s husband in Metal Magnolias, was on location in Natchitoches, Louisiana, solely briefly—“He did his complete half in a few week,” Dolly says—however he made an enormous impression. “Oh, he’s simply so fairly to me, and he’s so good, so good, so quiet. There’s stuff occurring in there. You’d similar to to climb down in and keep awhile and discover out what all it’s, however you recognize he’s received any person and also you’ve received any person, and also you ain’t received no time for climbin.’”

The women of the ensemble—Dolly, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Subject, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts—had been in Natchitoches for 3 months, and “received alongside actually good.” What about Shirley MacLaine? Did she inform Dolly who’d she’d been in one other life? “No,” Dolly says, “I simply kidded together with her. I stated, ‘I don’t imagine in reincarnation, and I didn’t imagine it after I lived earlier than both.’ I preferred Shirley. I feel Shirley and me had been essentially the most worldly of all, essentially the most traveled and road-worn, and we had a mutual respect.

Parton on the “Metal Magnolias” premiere in New York (November, 1989) with co-stars Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Sally Subject, and Julia Roberts.

Ron Galella, Ltd.Getty Photos

“I beloved all the ladies. We didn’t battle over costumes as a result of no person was so superbly dressed that it was a menace to anyone else, we didn’t battle over males as a result of there have been no males to battle over, we didn’t battle over who had the larger trailer as a result of we had ’em all precisely the identical. Metal Magnolias represents sturdy Southern ladies; I play a beautician, and the lifetime of the city is centered in her magnificence store. It’s primarily based on a real story written by a boy named Bobby Harlin. It’s about his sister who died, and all of the townspeople received to be extras within the film. It was so unusual, they’d come up and say, ‘Oh, sure, we had been on the authentic marriage ceremony’ or ‘We had been at the actual funeral.’

“In any small city, there’s an excessive amount of gossip, and on daily basis, we heard a brand new rumor. Supposedly, folks had been beatin’ on my door, tryin’ to return in, and it had received so unhealthy I needed to commute from Shreveport on daily basis in helicopters, and never a phrase of that was true. We’d get hysterical. It was simply because there have been all these film stars in that city, every thing turned a narrative, and among the tales would get offered to the Enquirer and the Star. Sooner or later, any person is available in with a paper that had an image of Shirley MacLaine in a single nook and Sally Subject in one other, and the headline says, ‘MacLaine Distraught As a result of Sally Subject Tells Her to Shove It.’

“The entire remainder of the time we had been there, we’d all go round saying, ‘Oh, shove it, Shirley, simply shove it.’”

Metal Magnolias offers Dolly a shot at a success film, which she hasn’t had since 9 to 5. What does she suppose went fallacious with the display model of The Finest Little Whorehouse in Texas? As she understands it, she says, “The individuals who did it on Broadway had been to supply and direct, after which Common purchased it they usually didn’t need these folks, they usually stored buyin’ all people out. Individuals thought me and Burt Reynolds had teamed up and had been causin’ issues, however I didn’t have the ability to do this and I don’t suppose Burt did both. They requested me to jot down further music, however I want I’d by no means wrote a factor for it; it simply turned horrible to the purpose the place I had no enjoyable.”

Since Dolly additionally starred in Rhinestone (she needed to sing with Sylvester Stallone), the query arises, would she wish to make one other Hollywood musical? “Nicely,” she says, “I’ve now carried out two musicals with two folks that don’t sing. To me, that’s silly. Possibly if any person put Kenny Rogers and me collectively, it might have been nice, however I’m not so positive. I’m slightly bit leery of musicals in Hollywood lately, the identical means I’m of selection tv.

“These musicals I made weren’t the sort I might have needed to do, nor was my tv present the present I had in thoughts. They drug folks out of mothballs that hadn’t carried out something in twenty years, since selection died of pure causes. I had imagined somethin’ extra like Hee Haw, extra nation. I’ve no regrets. I’ll by no means apologize for tryin’ one thing, and I’ll do tv once more in some unspecified time in the future in time. Nevertheless it’ll be extra rigorously deliberate. And I’d be stunned if it’s carried out in Hollywood.”

In 1976, Dolly confessed to being cautious with a buck. She instructed me then that she took nothing as a right. “Individuals say, ‘Boy, it should be good to have the ability to purchase something you need,’ however I simply can not hardly make myself spend 5 hundred {dollars} on a costume. And to today, if I’ve cooked dinner at house, I cannot throw nothin’ out as a result of I can nonetheless hear Mama sayin’, ‘Ain’t that somethin’, you throwed that out, and all them children abroad starvin’ to dying.’”

It is the identical now, she says, although she’s invested in homes in California and Tennessee. “I don’t have a lot bother with actual property, as a result of I can at all times resell that and earn a living, however for me to say I’m gonna purchase a three-thousand greenback coat or a bit of jewellery for a big sum of money, I might nonetheless fairly have a whole lot of low-cost issues. That can at all times be in me, from bein’ poor, from bein’ nation. It’s like I feel, Oh, my lord, I might purchase meals for a number of households a month with what I’ve paid for this silly coat. My supervisor buys me fur coats and diamonds, I nonetheless purchase pop beads and automobile coats. I’m nonetheless low-cost.”

Low-cost is relative. Dolly does have a white limousine (now immortalized by her and Mac Davis in “White Limozeen”). “I received it after I was doin’ the Dolly present. It made sense; I might work within the automobile going forwards and backwards to the studio.”

When she was making ready to do the brand new album, she phoned country-music immortal Davis. “Mac’s been cautious together with his cash, he don’t should work anymore, however I stated, ‘It’s time you sling these golf golf equipment within the closet, drag your git-tar out, and let’s write some songs.’ I stated, ‘I’m gonna come up there, and we’re going to jot down like we’re hungry once more.’ And on the way in which to his home, I received so tickled. I believed, Right here I’m on this white limousine, goin’ as much as Mac’s mansion in Beverly Hills, and I’m sayin’, ‘let’s write like we’re hungry once more.’ It simply hit me so humorous. After I received out of the automobile, Mac’s stunning canines come runnin’ out all groomed, and it was similar to a portray, and I instructed Mac what I’d been thinkin’, and he stated, ‘Hell, let’s simply write about that. Let’s simply write your story.’

“So we went into the music room, and the one two songs we ever wrote collectively, we wrote ’em each that night time. We wrote ‘White Limozeen,’ after which we segued proper into ‘Wait ’Til I Get You House.’”


Parton with Mac Davis, Burbank, California, 1977.

NBCGetty Photos

It hasn’t been such a very long time since Dolly did an album, however “it’s been a very long time since I did a nice album. This one, whether or not it’s an enormous success or not, it’s a success with me. It’s what I wanted to do musically. For now.” Having chosen Ricky Skaggs to supply—he additionally performed a number of devices and sang background—she discovered herself dealing with “a whole lot of flak. Ricky hadn’t had any sizzling data shortly, this was an vital album for me, so all people stored sayin’, ‘Why Ricky Skaggs? And I stated, ‘As a result of he’s essentially the most proficient particular person in Nashville that understands what my music actually is, which is nation mountain music.’ I stated, ‘Both it’s Ricky or I’m not doin’ it.”’

It was Ricky.

Dolly considers the years since we final met. “I feel now with all of the miles I’ve traveled, all of the factor’s I’ve carried out and received crucified for—folks thought after I left Nashville, let Porter Wagoner’s present, left nation, went out to Hollywood, I used to be makin’ a mistake—I’ve laid some groundwork. I feel I’ve received it to the place I can afford to do my music now, for the artwork of makin’ music, and never should rely on that for a livin’.”

The brand new present she’s taking up the highway shall be “like my life story instructed with dialogue, with comedy, and the actual songs as they got here alongside, and the times with Porter, and the transition into Hollywood and the TV present. And if I get an opportunity to do a film, it’s constructed into all my contracts, I can take off for 3 months.” She says she intends to be on the highway for years. “That’s at all times been the Dolly Parton I’ve recognized and preferred rather a lot, you recognize, the woman that sings and writes and likes to carry out and likes to journey.”

However this time, she has to ensure journey received’t be so broadening. (She was as much as 150 kilos when she took herself in hand; now she’s 110.) “I by no means weighed greater than one-fifteen till I began makin’ cash, settin’ on my fats ass, ridin’ the bus, makin’ nachos, stoppin’ at each grocery store in each mall we’d undergo, cookin’ out with the band at campgrounds, and simply layin’ round, lettin’ all of it settle. It’s simple to place it on, and there’s no approach to get it off besides hunger. I’ve tried each weight-reduction plan. I’ve carried out slimming capsules, again in these early days when the physician would put you on tablets, and they’d drive me up the wall. I’m so hyper anyway {that a} cup of espresso will knock my wig into one other room, and I’d be all up all night time; I’d scrub my bogs, after which I’d name the next-door neighbor to see if I might work in her home for some time.

“The best way I preserve my weight down now, I simply eat a whole lot of small meals a day. I eat something I need, as a result of I hate weight-reduction plan meals, I hate weight-reduction plan drinks, I hate thinkin’ I can’t go in a restaurant and have a bit of pie, however I simply make myself not eat all of it.

“I used to be by no means anorexic—anyone that thinks I’m out to attempt to get between me and a cheeseburger—however I needed to do one thing’ about my weight. I’m very brief, I’m small-boned, and I wasn’t wholesome, I had a whole lot of feminine issues. I at all times had slightly waist and massive boobs and massive hips, however I used to be by no means like a fats particular person. I grant you, I received too skinny for some time, however I needed to get to a spot the place I might have some weight to play with.”

Since she’s in a enterprise the place she has to fret about what she appears to be like like, how does she really feel about cosmetic surgery? She feels nice. “If I’ve received the cash to afford it, and the nerve to do it, and I do know an excellent physician, I’ll have a tuck each time I would like it. Individuals say, ‘If God had needed you to have this or that, if He’d needed you to have your hair streaked or bleached’—nicely, that’s foolish. Any outdated barn appears to be like higher with slightly purple paint, as Minnie Pearl would say. I’m fortunate I’ve nice pores and skin. I’m like my mom; she had 13 children and don’t have a stretch mark on her physique. The variety of years don’t concern me as a lot as hopin’ I can keep wholesome and look pretty respectable. I’m forty-three, and I’m not sensitive about it, I simply hope I can keep wholesome sufficient to play with the children and be the right Granny.”

Granny is what her nieces and nephews name Dolly. They used to name her Aunt Granny, however they’ve dropped the Aunt. “They name Carl Peepaw, so it’s Peepaw and Granny now.”

Is she sorry she by no means had infants of her personal? “I used to punish myself,” she says, “after which after I received older, I noticed there was a motive for every thing, and I simply stopped being self-pitying. The truth that I couldn’t ever have a toddler born of my physique, I believed I used to be purported to really feel much less of a lady, however I don’t really feel that means anymore. I really feel God has chosen me for a motive. I’m there for therefore many youngsters, for my household, I’ve helped increase so many little ones, and it’s okay now.”

Sunny and tender-hearted as she appears, does she ever tire of being candy? Does she have a mood? “Certain,” she says, “I’m an excellent particular person, I’ve an excellent coronary heart, however I’m a human being. I communicate my thoughts, particularly in enterprise, if I don’t respect one thing, however I strive arduous to be variety in public. I imply, typically there are people who get in your nerves, pullin’ and tuggin’ at you if you don’t really feel like bein’ pulled and tugged in any respect, and also you’d similar to to say, ‘Will you get out of my face, you ugly girl, and take them bratty children with you?’ However you don’t, as a result of it’s not their drawback that you just don’t really feel good that day.”

13 years in the past, she was “not close to the place I’ve dreamed of goin’ within the enterprise”—and he or she says that’s nonetheless true. “I get up with a brand new dream on daily basis. However I’ve persistence, I can wait.”

I’ve persistence, I can wait. It’s fairly, it’s like Chekhov, it’s Dolly.

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