Wednesday, February 11, 2009
– By Marlene Hall (Photograph by Sam Hurd)
Dolly Parton has done it all, song writer, singer, actress, entrepreneur, philanthropist, but she easily could add one more - comedienne. Parton had the rapt audience at the National Press Club Tuesday rolling with laughter with her self-deprecating humor as she shared her excitement as being named Ambassador of her beloved Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She also answered questions ranging from her Dollywood Amusement Park, her music to her new Broadway show based on the movie "9 to 5" for which she also wrote the music
Parton wore a maroon skirt and maroon jacket with sparkly yellow embroidery and a yellow top, topped off with clear heels. She was immaculate with her perfect makeup, blonde hair, long red nails and toe nails. She gamely took pictures prior to the luncheon and her speech posing under the National Press Club plaque. She leaned over to talk to a little girl as well and gave everyone her undivided attention. When Parton emerged to the luncheon from the VIP area, the reception clapped loudly and she was soon assaulted with hundreds of clicks from the camera. Finally the President of the National Press Club Donna Leinwand made an announcement to stop taking Parton's picture so she can eat lunch without the photo clicks interrupting her.
Parton said yes to be the Ambassador to the Smoky Mountains in a "New York minute" as it is "the most beautiful place in the world." As ambassador, Parton will lend her name and image to a variety of Park events, activities and informational media. Parton calls the Smoky Mountains her "heart and soul" and "the Smokys are part of my DNA." She told a laughing audience the Smokys "are still free, that's good right?"
Parton gamely told the audience, "The Smokys are the most visited" and she said when prodded by her friends, "Are you sure?," she replies confidently, "Yes, I am!" (audience laughter).
Parton wrote eight new songs for the Chiconahay who are friends of the Smokys with the disc out Feb. 11. Parton seized on this moment to have the audience bang on their tables in unison while she broke into song singing Chiconahay, "oora, oora."
Parton remembered fondly growing up there with her six brothers and six sisters. They were dirt poor, and her mom and dad had no education, and her dad worked like a dog to support their family. Parton claimed she got her musical abilities and imagination from her mother and her father's hard work ethic. She said the people in her town "believed in God and each other."
Parton, who still lives there, said, "My dad was proud to call me the book lady" in reference to her charity Dolly's Imagination Library (http://dollysimaginationlibrary.com/) which she started in her home town. She also enjoys hearing from children, "Thanks for the books Ms. Dolly!"
The charity encourages children to read and it is not "just for the poor, but books for all children," she explained. Children are given a book a month from the time they are born until they start kindergarten. More than 20 million books have been delivered to more than a thousand communities. The first book that kids receive? "The Little Engine that Could" which Parton describes as believing in yourself and your dreams, which influences her greatly to this day.
Parton recalled receiving this question about her looks, "Tell that story about how you look so cheap?" (audience laughter) She remembered this woman when she was a kid, walking up and down the street, and she thought she was the prettiest woman she had ever seen and others told her, "She is trash." Dolly's response?, "uh-huh, that's what I want! I'm a country girl." (audience laughter) She wore clear high heels with gold fish swimming in the bottom of them. To this day, Parton said this woman influenced her look. Parton is honored that there are many young men dressing like her today. (audience laughter) She waxed nostalgic about dressing like herself and overemphasing her look one time during Halloween. She entered a Dolly Parton drag queen contest, and no one paid her any mind! (audience laughter)
Parton's other ventures include Dollywood and was glad to bring jobs to the people that live there. As for a Dollywood Europe, she smiled and said, "Don't put it past me!" "If it all goes well", there might be a Dollywood Europe. Right now Dollywood is celebrating its 24th season.
As for the recession impacting jobs, Parton shared, "We are all in the same spot, and we are holding above water. I still believe people need to be entertained." She said she hoped people will come visit during the summer.
Parton also explored her movie "9-5" impact. Parton is, "Very proud to be a woman. Being a woman served me proud. I look like a woman, and I think like a man. I am proud to provide jobs to women."
As for turning "9-5" into a play, Parton claims, "It was not my idea." She would see "9-5" and "Steel Magnolias" constantly on TV in her hotel rooms and would think, "Is this ever going to die?" (audience laughter) She was approached when she was performing with Melissa Etheridge by a producer about doing a Broadway show for "9-5." She said she decided, "I'd give it a try. Let me see what I can do." The producer loved her music, and the play debuted successfully six months ago in Los Angeles. It will debut on Broadway in April.
As for any other movies in the future? Parton would, "love to do sequels (to her previous hits) and would love to do a movie, but I get a lot of junk." She is also interested in television, but so far nothing. She is writing children's books like "I Am a Rainbow" which she wrote in rhyme. Her other children's book "Coat of Many Colors" was a best selling book.
Parton loves all kinds of music, but her true loves are mountain music, bluegrass, country and gospel. She feels very blessed that since she moved to Nashville in 1966, she has won every award imaginable, but the biggest reward is to be in the music. Parton calls music "the voice of the soul."
Her favorite song she ever wrote? Well she says the most lucrative one was I Will Always Love You and then smiles, "Thank you Whitney Houston." She wrote the song after her break from the Porter Wagoner Show, which also resulted in a $1 million law suit against her. "(Porter) wouldn't let me go. He is stubborn as a mule, and so am I. We had a love-hate relationship." She had been with the show for seven years. People thought she was crazy to leave, but she wanted her solo act. They were eventually able to settle their differences, and she was with him the day he died last year. Parton wrote the song in two to three hours. "I will always love you, I will always be grateful" to Porter she says.
Her first million selling record was Here You Come Again. Parton has written more than 3,000 songs in her lifetime. She then broke into song singing Coat of Many Colors. She stopped singing midway saying, "If I continue I will start crying. This song is emotional for me." Her mom made her a coat with quilt scraps as a child, and the kids would laugh at her at school and call her poor. She said she looked like Joseph. Her mom told her, "You're not poor, we've got love, understanding, caring." Her most surprising hit was Here You Come Again.
As for any musician she would like to perform with? Parton responded to laughter, "Ahhhh, no." Last week she sang in the studio with her long time friend and collaborator Kenny Rogers. She feels everything just falls into place and she has been blessed to sing with so many great people. She loves singing with everybody. "I still write my songs for the same reason. I sing songs about being poor."
"I like to write songs in Tennessee at my house."
As for what is on her iPod? She replies, "My what?" (audience laughter)
Funniest thing she read about herself in the tabloids? Her husband would go to the supermarket and read she and Burt Reynolds had another baby. Another tabloid would show a picture of Reynolds with a dog, and her husband would ask if she and Burt Reynolds had another dog together. Another one would state she had a bad back because of her large chest, but she was refusing to get surgery. Dolly sighs, "I would hope they weren't cutting down trees for that crap!"
What does Parton listen to these days? Parton is "so busy, so she mainly listens to herself." "I love to read and read a lot of Oprah Book Club."
Parton attributes her business savvy to "having good people around me."
"I am a creator and inventor," she said, adding, "My daddy was one of the smartest people I knew. He was a good horse trader and worked real hard. As for my mom, I got her creativity from her in music."
Parton wants to be remembered for "I did what I wanted, I followed my dreams and didn't keep them to myself. I was able to help, and I did care and try. I am a Little Engine that Did."