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.”
Dolly Rebecca Parton Dean was born on this very day, in rural Tennessee. 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 5th birthdays. So far, Parton and The Imagination Library have given away more than 50 million books.
Parton is an outspoken advocate for Women’s Rights. A good Christian girl, like Tammy Faye LaValley Bakker Messner, she seems to have actually read The Bible and gets the loving message of the life of Jesus. She has been an especially good friend to her gay fans, a longtime supporter Gay 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, 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. The 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. She was born fourth of 12 children. 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. By the time Parton’s mother was 30 years old, she had already given birth to 8 children. Her mother was one of 10 children.
Parton began composing songs before she could read or write. Her mother would transcribe her lyrics on paper for her. When Parton was just 7 years old, she was playing the guitar and singing her tunes to anyone who would listen. The cows, chickens & cats 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. In 1960, Parton signed with Gold Band Records, and 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 her songs, her old guitar and all of her belongings packed in 3 paper bags from Walker’s grocery store.
In Nashville, Parton rented a small apartment above the Wishy Washy Laundromat. While waiting for her clothes to dry, Carl Dean stopped to talk to Parton. The couple wanted to get married, but her agent was against it. They kept their wedding a secret for 2 years. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in May. Although they have no children of their own, Parton and Dean have raised 5 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 Charts Top 10. The accomplishment was noted by singer/songwriter Porter Wagoner, who asked Parton to sing on his popular television show for $60,000 per season. Parton and Wagoner had a difficult, often 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 popular 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 in Santa Monica. She lost.
Parton claims that she has written about 5,000 songs and she 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 100 million albums, received 2 Oscar noms & a Tony Award nomination, and 46 Grammy Award nominations with 8 wins. In 2005, she was honored with our country’s highest arts award, the National Medal Of Arts, and the next year she was given a Kennedy Center Honor.
“If I can get my dress on, my weight is under control.”
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. The park had a million visitors in the first 6 months after opening and they still have more than 3 million visitors a year. I want a Stephen theme park SteveTown!, a place with Marijuana tasting rooms, whiskey and pizza bars, a Daniel Craig ride, and Stephen singing songs on the Steve Stage every day at noon. 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 a Coat Of Many Colors, from her style to her stylish struggle against adversity & prejudice, plus her unabashed celebration of sexuality. Parton and all her companies are estimated at more than $500 million. However, she has no maids, drivers or servants. Parton is nothing if not a survivor, which feeds her status among her many gay fans. 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 gay people in equal measure. What is your favorite Parton project? I am still over the moon for the Trio Albums with Emmylou Harris & 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.”