How Dolly Parton turned the “town tramp” into a million-dollar brand

The first time Dolly Parton splurged on herself was on a gold Cadillac.

“I thought, just like the big hair – you can’t be country if you ain’t got big hair – you can’t be country if you don’t have a Cadillac,” Parton said.

But before the Cadillac, costumes or big hair, Dolly Parton was simply the fourth of 12 children.

“Willadeene, David, Denver, Dolly, Bobby, Stella, Cassie, Randy, Larry, Floyd, Freida and Rachel. And I could say it faster than that,” Parton said.

They grew up poor, just like practically everybody else in rural Locust Ridge, Tennessee.

“Well, what they call ‘white trash,’ I don’t like anybody else calling me that, but to be called a hillbilly, I always take pride in that,” Parton said.

Parton’s life has been the quintessential rags-to-riches story, but she is no cliche. The prolific song writer and successful actress even has her own theme park. Dolly does things her own way, with a little Dolly flair.

In 1967, country music star Porter Wagoner plucked Dolly from obscurity, offering her a spot on his variety show. She stood out from the very beginning for her looks and vocals, but Parton said that wasn’t her game plan.

“I just was me. I was not a natural beauty, and I always wanted to be pretty. I always wanted to be flashy…” Parton said. “They used to always say that you know, ‘Less is more.’ I was the one that originally said, ‘No, less is less. More is more,’ and more is good for me.”

Parton patterned her signature look after what she described as “the town tramp.”

“And she wore the makeup, red nails, red high heels, tight clothes. I just thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen,” Parton said. “And people say, ‘Oh, she ain’t nothing but trash,’ but in my mind, I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to be when I grow up.'”

After seven years, she left the show and in 1974, she went solo. Her song, “Jolene” was a cross-over hit.

“It was kind of based on a little bit of truth in my own life. My husband, when we first got married, there was this beautiful, redheaded, long-legged girl working down at the bank. And, of course, he just thought she was the cutest thing in the world. She had everything I didn’t,”Parton said. “There was not an affair or anything, but it’s like, how sometimes you just think, ‘Well, you don’t need to be going down there, we ain’t got that kind of damn money.'”

Then, Dolly took her backwoods image to Hollywood, starring in the 1980 comedy, “Nine to Five.” She agreed to do the part under one condition – she wanted to write the theme song. “Nine to Five” went to number one, and Dolly was nominated for an Oscar.

In 1989’s “Steel Magnolias,” she played the role of a quick-witted Southern Belle. Dolly had turned the “town tramp” into a million-dollar brand.

“Well, I like the business end of it. I get that from my dad,” Parton said. “My dad… wasn’t educated, but there’s nobody smarter than my dad. You know, he managed to raise 12 kids with bargaining, my dad made ends meet. I get a lot of that. I get my music and my spiritual side from my mom.”

It was that spiritual side that inspired Dolly’s most famous song. Nineteen years after writing “I Will Always Love You,” Dolly turned on the radio in her Cadillac and heard Whitney Houston sing her words.

“I heard that, ‘If I…’ that a cappella part. And then… it kept going and I thought, ‘Oh my God,'” Parton recalled. “And then when she went into the chorus… I had to pull over. I had to pull over because I was afraid I’d wreck the car or you know, pull out in front of somebody.”

When people commonly mistake the song as Houston’s, Dolly does not take offence.

“I say, ‘You got that right,'” Dolly said, laughing. “And other people they kind of say, ‘No, that’s Dolly Parton’s song.’ I said, ‘Look, she can have the credit. I just want the cash.’ And I made plenty of it all off of Whitney, thank God.”

As for her own love, Dolly and her husband, Carl Dean, plan on renewing their wedding vows after 50 years together. But he’s remained largely out of the public eye.

“Well, he’s shy about the public, in fact, I was surprised that he was willing to do this, but he’s so proud too that we lasted 50 years,” Parton said. “He said, ‘Well, who in the hell else, you know, can say they’ve been married 50 years in this business,’ you know? I can’t imagine being with anybody else.”

Dolly turned 70 this year, but instead of hanging up her guitar after decades of musical success, she’s going on the road. This summer, she’ll launch her biggest tour in 25 years, making a return to her acoustic roots. Her tour is called, “Pure and Simple,” also the name of her album.

“It’s so pure, it’s almost sacred. Simply put, it feels divine,” Dolly sang. “And I just love you pure and simple. Pure and simple and sublime.”

On May 3rd, Dolly also released a DVD about her upbringing in rural Tennessee, called “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.”

via CBS | photo

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Christina Vixx

I was born and raised in Toronto Canada. I love writing, poetry and music. I'm a contributor for SocialMediaMorning. Make sure you follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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