January 19, 1946– Dolly Parton:
I’m not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I know I am not dumb. I also know I am not blond.
Keanu Reeves recently appeared on The Talk where he revealed to panelists Sharon Osbourne, Sara Gilbert, Sheryl Underood, and Carrie Ann Inaba that he had worn Dolly Parton‘s Playboy Bunny outfit when he was a teenager. His mother made the costume which was featured on the cover of the October 1978 issue of the Playboy. Reeves:
There was one year, I was in performing arts high school, and Dolly Parton had done the cover of Playboy and so you know she had the bunny ears. I wore that for Halloween.
I say, who hasn’t dreamed of doing that? I love Dolly Parton. I love her big voice, her big hair, and her big boobs. I also admire her.
Parton is passionate about early childhood education, and she has done amazing, important work to give kids who are born in her part of the Appalachian Mountains a good start in life with her Dollywood Foundation, which runs The Imagination Library, providing rural Tennessee kids a new book every month until their fifth birthdays. So far, Parton and The Imagination Library have given away more than 55 million books.
Parton is an outspoken advocate for Women’s Rights. A good Christian girl, she seems to have actually read The Bible and gets the loving message provided by the life of Jesus. She has been an especially good friend to her gay fans, a longtime supporter LGBTQ Rights and Marriage Equality, even appearing on the cover of Out magazine.
Parton’s production company, Sandollar Productions, which she started with her longtime manager/business partner/close friend Sandy Gallin, an openly gay man, God rest his soul, chose as its first project the Academy Award winning documentary about the making of the AIDS Quilt, Common Threads (1989).
Drag Queens adore Parton, which is the highest compliment a human being can hold. There are those wigs, the costumes, the trashy makeup, the over-the-top, larger-than-life hair, and we still believe her sure-enough sweetness and the love she exudes.
Parton knows about family. I think you know her backstory, but I’ll tell ya’ll anyway. She was born fourth of 12 children in rural Tennessee. Her father paid the doctor that attended her birth with a bag of oatmeal. Parton’s father was a sharecropper, growing tobacco. He was one of 15 children. Her mother was one of 10 children. When Parton’s mother was 30-years-old, she had already given birth to eight kids.
Parton began composing songs before she could read or write. Her mother would transcribe her lyrics on paper for her. When Parton was just seven-years-old, she was playing the guitar and singing her tunes to anyone who would listen; the critters were her audience. Parton and her sisters sang at the Pentecostal Church where her grandfather was the preacher.
When she was 10-years-old, an uncle brought her to the attention of Cas Walker, the owner a chain of grocery stores. Walker produced a radio show to promote his shops. Parton sang on his Knoxville radio show in front of a live audience. They loved her. She loved them. In 1960, Parton recorded a single of Puppy Love and on the flip side, Girl Left Alone. She was 14-years-old. When she was 16-years-old, she signed with a major label, Mercury Records.
In 1964, Parton became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. The very next day, she got on a Greyhound bus bound for Nashville, with nothing but her songs, her old guitar and all of her belongings packed in three paper bags from Walker’s grocery store.
In Nashville, Parton rented a small apartment above a laundromat. While waiting for her clothes to dry, Carl Dean stopped to talk to Parton. They fell in love. The couple wanted to get married, but her agent was against it. They kept their wedding a secret for two years. The couple will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary in May. Although they have no children of their own, Parton and Dean have raised five of her siblings.
When I am home, I spend Sunday with my husband. If we’re not cooking, we travel around in our camper, stop at fast-food restaurants, and picnic. We love that stuff that will harden your arteries in a hurry.
In 1967, Parton’s song Dumb Blonde placed in the Country Music Chart’s Top 10. The accomplishment was noted by singer/songwriter Porter Wagoner. He asked Parton to sing on his popular television show for $60,000 per season. Parton and Wagoner had a contentious relationship, but they recorded and performed together until 1974. In 1973, Parton wrote a little ditty titled I Will Always Love You as a thank you gift for Wagoner. We all know how that turned out. In the same writing session, Parton penned another huge hit, Jolene. Between 1968 and 1972, the prolific Parton released an astonishing 21 albums.
A fan named Jane Fonda sent Parton a script for a film titled 9 To 5 in 1980. Parton was not certain that acting was for her, but she reluctantly took the role. Parton enjoyed acting, audiences enjoyed Parton on screen and she was nominated for an Academy Award for writing the title song.
In 1996, research scientists named the world’s first cloned mammal, a sheep, after Parton. Ian Wilmut, who was in charge of the project said:
Dolly (the sheep) is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s.
On Halloween 1999, Parton entered a Dolly Parton Lookalike Contest at a gay bar in Santa Monica. She lost.
Parton claims that she has written about 5,000 songs and she still composes a new one every few days:
Songwriting is my way of channeling my feelings and my thoughts. Not just mine, but the things I see, the people I care about. My head would explode if I didn’t get some of that stuff out.
Parton has sold more than 125 million albums, has had two Oscar nominations and a Tony Award nomination, a Golden Globe win, plus 46 Grammy Award nominations with eight wins, tying her with Bruce Springsteen for the most Grammy nominations ever. In 2005, she was honored with our country’s highest arts award, the National Medal Of Arts, and in 2006 she was given a Kennedy Center Honor.
I Believe In You (2017) is Parton’s first children’s album and 47th solo studio album. All proceeds from this album’s sales will go to benefit Parton’s Imagination Library. It is a sweet album with a big shot of much needed sunshine during all the darkness and anxiety of our troubled time.
Parton wrote the songs for the Netflix film Dumplin’. The soundtrack album was released last month, by Dolly Records and RCA Nashville. One song, Girl In The Movies received Golden Globe a nomination Best Song this year.
Parton and Netflix are partnering on a series of television films based on Parton’s songs, titled Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. The first one is set to be released this summer.
She built a Dolly Parton-themed theme park. Dollywood opened in 1986. It was originally a tiny tourist attraction that opened in 1961 as The Rebel Railroad. Dollywood put Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on the map and gave jobs to hundreds of people in the area. She is the real job creator! The park had a million visitors in the first six months after opening and they still have more than three million visitors a year. I want a Stephen Rutledge theme park “SteveTown” a place with marijuana tasting rooms, whiskey and pizza bars, an Idris Elba ride, and Stephen singing songs on the “Steve Stage” every day at happy hour. Every evening at twilight, Stephen ascends to the top of the Magic Mushroom Castle with a baby pink spot light following him.
I look just like the girl next door… if you happen to live next door to an amusement park.
Parton is fabulous and fabulous comes from self-invention. This is what us old school, pre-Stonewall Gays love the most: Getting knocked down by society and then having the genius and the artistry to remake yourself into a fabulous creature. Don’t you think Dolly Parton fits the bill? She is truly a Coat Of Many Colors, from her style to her stylish struggle against adversity and prejudice, plus her unabashed celebration of sexuality.
Parton and all her companies are estimated at more than $700 million. However, she has no maids, drivers or servants. Parton is nothing if not a survivor, cementing her status as a true Gay Icon. She has defied her critics, stayed true to herself, and turned a stereotype into a power position. She certainly holds a very special place in our culture, embraced by Conservative Christians and queer people in equal measure.
What is your favorite Parton project? I am still over the moon for the Trio Albums with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.
The only way I’d be caught without makeup is if my radio fell in the bathtub and electrocuted me and I was between makeup sessions at home. I hope my husband would slap a little lipstick on me before he took me to the morgue.