When I heard Dolly Parton wrote another book (and did not send me an autographed copy . . . bad Dolly!), I reached out to the kind folks at Putnam, and they kindly me a copy.
I smiled and giggled as I read, but learned nothing new. I’ve known Dolly for years, and just about everything between the covers had already been told to me by the chesty crooner.
Still, a copy of Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You belong next to your copy of For Love and Country. By the way, the book is based in part on the commencement speech Dr. Dolly gave at the University of Tennessee in 2009; I didn’t attend, but Dolly sent me back an autographed program.
Here, we offer a chance to get to know the Dolly we know.
I knew Dolly Rebecca Parton and I would become fast friends when she let me hold her left breast. Before you start calling the tabloids or TMZ, let me explain. It was 1987, and we were in a photographer’s studio on the Upper East Side where Dolly was being photographed for the cover of Redbook.
She was dressed in a hand-made denim blouse (size 0), the wig was perfectly placed, the make-up flawless. She eyed the catered buffet and picked up a piece of chicken with two fire-engine red (fake) fingernails. She brought it to her mouth and plop! the sliver landed on her blouse, smack-dab on her left . . . well, you get the picture.
The adrenaline kicked in. “Quick, Dolly!” I said. “You hold and I’ll wipe.” I poured water on a paper towel and begin to very gently dab the spot on the mound being offered before me. Dolly grabbed a portable hair-dryer and with that infectious giggle cooed, “Now quick! You hold and I’ll dry.”
With those seven simple words, my entry into the world of dizzy, delightful world of Dolly Parton had begun. “One day,” I thought to myself, “I will live to write about this.”
The shoot was a success, and as Dolly climbed into her limo, I whispered, “I feel like your bosom buddy.” Without missing a beat, she said, “And my breast friend.”
Such is the magic of Dolly Parton. She’s a teeny lady, just 4-foot-11, but her talent and tenacity (and some say taste) knows no boundaries. In a career that’s spanned five decades, Parton, 61, has become the most honored female country performer of all time with seven Grammys (and a total of 42 nominations), dozens of No. 1 singles and scores of Top 10 country albums. And there’s no sign of slowing down.
“You’ve known me long enough to know that if I get bored, I get depressed,” she says. “And if I slow down, I die. Those words ain’t in my book.”
And it’s a book overflowing with chapters to keep. When she's performing, Dolly packs them in, tighter than she packs herself into her custom-made jeans, with old songs and new, especially tunes from Backwards Barbie, her first mainstream country CD in more than a decade and the first on her Dolly Records label.
“It fits me so well,” she says. “It’s about a country girl like me trying to look like Barbie. If I weren’t a singer, I would have been a beautician. That was kind of my dream as a child.” Indeed, Backwards Barbie is undiluted Dolly at her best; the title track is a succinct summation of the Parton philosophy: I’m just a backwards Barbie/Too much makeup, too much hair/Don’t be fooled by thinking’ the goods are not all there/Don’t let these false eyelashes lead you to believe that I’m as shallow as I look/’Cause I run true and deep.
“Backwards Barbie” is one of the songs in the Parton-penned score to 9 to 5, the musical based on her Oscar-nominated song, that flopped on Broadway.
She was seen on American Idol; next month, makes guest appearances at Dollywood, her 125-acre Pigeon Forge, Tennessee-based amusement park. So successful is Dollywood that it was named “Park of the Year” in 2007---sort of an Oscar bestowed by industry pros. “Each year we try to create something bigger and better for families to enjoy,” she says. She was one of the first to test the new water attraction River Blast. “I told the kids, ‘Don’t get me wet! I have too much to lose--- like my hair, my nails, my makeup!’”All the singing and spoofing and skewering and shenanigans have made Dolly a very wealthy little lady; depending on which site you cite, she’s worth more than $100 million.
Yes, she admits, there have been “bumps along the way.” Does anyone really remember Straight Talk, the 1992 film in which she starred opposite James Woods, and/or her 1987 ABC variety show, Dolly, which Dolly still says “sucked”?
“Whenever I fall on my ass I pick myself up and start again," she says. "Sure I cry and cuss and moan, but I also pray. The good Lord wants me to succeed. I am sincere in everything I do. I’m competitive and I know my strengths and weaknesses. I am very passionate, but I never take myself seriously and I don’t kiss nobody’s ass.”
It’s the sassy and self-effacing side of Dolly that has always made her look better than a body has a right to. “I’m not a natural beauty, so when I started out, I needed to be as flamboyant and outrageous as possible,” she recalls. “My trashy look started from a sincere place---a country girl’s idea of glamour. I always wanted to be sexy even before I knew what the word meant. I thought that town tramps were beautiful. They had more hair, more color, more of everything. And they had men always hanging ’round them. So I copied those girls. And I owe them a lot.”
She giggles. “When I realized my trashy look was working I kept it. It’s cost me a lot to look so cheap,” she adds. “ I wear the fake hair because it’s so tacky. I wear high heels because I have short legs. And I wear fake fingernails because I have short fat arms. I have no taste and no style and I love it! When I am 90, I’m going to look like Mae West. I may be in a wheelchair, but I’ll still have the big hair, big boobs and big fingernails. I’ll probably end up this way in my coffin. But I won’t be a fat hog!”
Fat? Dolly? It’s a word that makes her bristle, even 20 years after losing more than 40 pounds. “Lordy! Remember when I was a big as a hog?” I tell her I do. In the early ’80s Dolly had “personal, female trouble and I lost control and got real sick. I ate everything in sight---Velveeta cheese, funnel cakes and pizza and my all-time favorite food, potatoes, with butter and cream sauces. I was a pig! And I was miserable.”
She eventually lost the weight through “portion control. It took 18 months and I will never look like that again.”
The weight stayed off, but how is Dolly measuring up? I ask her if her measurements are the same as they were when we first met. “What did I tell you were?” she asks. I remind her: 40DD-17-36. “Change the ‘17’ to ‘20’ and everything else is the same. Everything is right where it should be.”
She’s the first to joke about her “assets,” though the boob jokes come less frequently, perhaps as result from turning 60. She calls her breasts “boobs” or “juggs” or “twin peaks” or “little soldiers” or sometimes by “shock” and “awe,” the nicknames she’s unofficially given them.
“They have supported me all these years---and I have supported them---and we are good friends,” she says with a laugh. And like good friends, they sometimes need a little support and help---Dolly acknowledges that her chest has had “a little jacking. They’ve been lifted so I don’t have to wear a bra. Ain’t nothing funnier or sadder than a teeny lady like me with boobs hanging to her knees.” Dolly does find it “really funny, I think” that Dolly, the sheep that was the first cloned animal, was named for her since the clone cell came from a mammary gland.
Talk of sex titillates her. Dolly has been married to Carl Dean, a quixotic businessman whom few have seen other than in one or two photos, since 1966. Throughout the years, they have been rumors of trysts with her leading men, most notably Burt Reynolds and Sly Stallone, her co-stars in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Rhinestone. Another rumor that’s plagued her for years is her close friendship with high-school buddy Judy Ogle---in her 1994 autobiography, Dolly admits she and Judy have a bond “closer than husband and wife.”
Dolly knows such talk makes good copy, and knows how far to take it. “The sexiest thing about a man?” She repeats my question. “Hmmm, it all depends on the man. I always look for a great sense of humor and personality.” And when it comes to a woman? “Same thing.” Do blondes really have more fun? “Sure! And they are easier to find in the dark.”
So what about all the rumored affairs?
“Everybody thinks I screwed Burt and Sly, but Carl and I love each other. Lord knows I love sex. It’s nothing dirty. If I thought I was gonna be punished for what I have done and not go to heaven, I might be worried. So many people have distorted views about God. They think he’s a monster sitting in the sky who points fingers. But God is not a punishing God, He is a forgiving God. He is all good, all love. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight or in-between, we are all God’s children and He loves us all.”
She pauses to sidetrack for a moment: “Did I ever tell you I once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest and lost to a drag queen? I wasn’t Dolly enough!” she recalls with a hoot.
“We all make our own heaven and hell. God is responsible for all the good in my life; any messes I’ve gotten into is shit I created. I’m not ready to go yet, but when I do get to those pearly gates, I want God to pat me on the head and say, “You did good!”
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