Long before anyone was drooling over the mammarial blessings of actresses like Christina Hendricks, we had Dolly Parton. Far in advance of songstresses like Katy Perry giving us a double shot of singing talent and impressive cup size, we had Dolly Parton. And decades prior the present day's attempts at giving the curvier gals equal footing through widespread media campaigns, we had Dolly Parton. Going from country music sweetheart, to movie star, to business mogul, Dolly has always made good things happen, thanks to a sweet smile, an angelic voice, natural talent and, perhaps most memorably, a pair of gifts that should forever stand as rare proof of divine intervention on Earth.
Yet before any of that, Dolly was just your average back woods little girl. The 4th of 12 children born to Robert and Avie Parton, Dolly got her start in Sevierville, Tennessee on January 19th, 1946. Being born dirt poor in backwoods Tennessee meant living in a one-room cabin along with all her siblings and parents amidst the Great Smokey Mountains, where she and her family practiced a Pentecostal faith. For some in her family, like her grandfather, faith inspired a life of preaching the good word. For Dolly, her faith made her want to sing. And it was this calling which promised to change everything for her down the road.
Dolly began composing songs at the age of four, her mother often following her around the house, writing down the music as Dolly sang. Those early skills soon got her noticed by local radio and television stations, on which she routinely performed as a young child. From there she moved into larger and larger markets until the age of 13, when she performed at the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. There Dolly met Johnny Cash, who advised her to go with her gut as far as how she might continue her career. Following his advice, she set out for Nashville the day after she graduated high school, her sights set firmly on a career as a country singer.
It was shortly after arriving in Nashville that Dolly adopted her signature platinum blonde look, ironically borrowed from the look the local town tramp back home in Sevierville. At first, Dolly's talents were spent mostly as a songwriter, penning songs for the likes of Bill Phillips, Skeeter Davis, Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr. By 1965, she had signed with Monument Records, which marketed her as a pop singer, feeling that her strong vibrato voice was unsuited to country tunes. Unfortunately, few of her pop songs charted. It was only when her song "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" managed to crack the top 10 on the country charts, thanks in part to her singing harmony on the track with Bill Philips, that Monument relented to Dolly's desire to sing country songs. In 1966, she recorded two songs, "Dumb Blonde" and "Something Fishy," both of which reached the top 25 on the country music charts. 1967 saw Dolly release her first album, Hello, I'm Dolly. It had been a somewhat rocky start to her country career, but it was a start nonetheless.
Around this time in 1966, Dolly and her husband, Carl Thomas Dean, were married. Dolly met Dean on her very first day in Nashville in circumstances seemingly lifted from one of her country songs. While patronizing the Wishy-Washy laundromat, Dolly was made aware of Dean when he remarked to her, "Y'all gonna get sunburnt out there, little lady." That one comment was sufficient to spark a 47-year long romance between the two that is still going strong today. Entirely removed from Dolly's life as a performer, Dean lives a relatively modest life as a small business owner in Nashville. He's only seen her perform once and shuns anything that has to do with glitz or glamor. Dolly and Dean never had children, though they did raise several of Dolly's younger siblings at her Nashville home, which has earned her the nickname "Aunt Granny" by several of her nieces and nephews.
While happily married by the late '60s, Dolly was still unsatisfied with how her career as a country singer was turning out. Thus her move into variety television via an invitation from fellow country singer Porter Wagoner, who's syndicated The Porter Wagoner Show was in need of a new female lead. Initially unpopular among fans for having replaced that show's original female lead, Dolly eventually won over the crowd and became one half of the Wagoner show's great success in the coming years. Together, the duo recorded several hit country songs, though the few solo songs Dolly recorded didn't do as well at first. Having her slip a few covers of old timey tunes in amidst her original songs solved that problem and by the early 1970s, she was scoring hits both with and without Wagoner. It was the imploring ode to the betrayed woman called "Jolene" that proved to be Dolly's biggest hit up to that time, topping the singles charts both in the US and the UK and making it her first international hit.
By 1974, with her solo career heating up, Dolly and Wagoner had parted ways as a singing duo, though he remained involved behind-the-scenes as a producer on her albums for some time afterward. Dolly chose to sing an homage to Wagoner via the 1974 song "I Will Always Love You," a tribute to how much her time spent as his partner meant to her. The song proved another smash hit for Dolly, rising to #1 on the country charts and even garnering interest from The King himself, Elvis Presley, who wanted to cover the song. Unfortunately for The King, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, insisted on songwriters signing over half the publishing rights to him for any song Elvis sang. Dolly refused, which proved to be the right decision when some 2 decades later her ode to Wagoner was covered by Whitney Houston and became the theme to the film THE BODYGUARD. The rendition was a huge hit and has since earned Dolly many millions in royalties.
By the mid 70s, Dolly was a certified country hit, but that wasn't quite enough for her. She wanted to branch out into mainstream, as was the thinking for many a country singer at a time when the line between pop and country was beginning to blur. Thus her 3 albums, All I Can Do, New Harvest...First Gathering and Here You Come Again, all recorded between 1976 and 1977. These albums made many of Dolly's crossover dreams come true and were regularly covered during this time by several popular crossover artists of the day, among them Olivia-Newton John, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Her albums won her country music Grammys and even helped launch a short-lived variety TV show. By the end of the 1970s, Dolly's songs were charting in nearly every market, making her a huge star literally everywhere she went.
Being a huge crossover hit made it only a matter of time before the bright lights of Hollywood came calling. Dolly made her movie debut in the 1980 tribute to the secretarial staff, 9 TO 5, playing a displaced country girl come to live and work in the big city. It's there her character is sexually harassed by her boss, a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot played by the great Dabney Coleman. Joined by two more of her fellow female co-workers similarly wronged by their boss, played by Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda, their triple threat performance earned Dolly a Golden Globe for best new actress in 1980, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Song, which she wrote for the film while it was still in production. The film was a monster hit that year, earning over $100 million world wide and making Dolly the Top Female Box Office Star of the year by the Motion Picture Herald both in 1981 and 1982.
It's clear that talent and dedication have always been the primary factor in Dolly's success. However, one cannot dismiss the influence her obvious physical attributes have had on her popularity. One of the most immediately recognizable aspects of her public persona for decades, Dolly has never really taken her gifts up top very seriously. When asked about them, she's often made fun of the attention she gets for them and dismisses her resulting sex symbol status as little more than a role she plays. However silly she might find it, she's rarely ever failed to make sure that blessed bust was as visible as possible, yielding to the persuasive power of what nature had given her. So powerful were those gifts, they left even the biggest in the business, Johnny Carson, completely smitten.
Dolly's twin powers of persuasion brought in several offers from magazines like Playboy and Penthouse to do centerfold spreads, which Dolly always politely refused. She did grace the cover of Playboy, complete with trademark bunny ears and plenty of cleavage, in advance of her 1982 musical, THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, in which she starred along side leading man Burt Reynolds. The film, which featured a plentiful amount of Dolly's plenty, was yet another hit, earning her a second Golden Globe nomination and another huge box office payday for the time.Unfortunately, her 3rd film didn't do so well. The excruciatingly bad 1984 flop RHINESTONE starred Dolly and leading man Sylvester Stallone as a New York cabbie who Dolly must train to be a country star. Being a loathsome experience on most levels and sometimes even torturous, particularly during Stallone's miserable failures at singing country songs, it rightfully nose-dived into financial ruin, in the process becoming a huge blow to her film career. She further jeopardized her career with a rigorous weight loss effort in the mid 80s, which did take off the weight, mostly by shrinking down that world class rack of hers to a far less monumental size. Unable to imagine life as anything less than a DD cup, Dolly was forced to get implants to pump them back up to previous levels of enlargement.
Despite the huge failure of RHINESTONE, she did make a few more films, the most successful being the 1989 tear-jerker STEEL MAGNOLIAS. However, a generally bad experience making the 1992 film STRAIGHT TALK pretty much ended any further desire Dolly had to be a film star, so that by the mid 90s her acting career was isolated to the occasional cameo in film and TV, most notably on the Hanna Montana show, where she played "Aunt Dolly" to that show's namesake. Ironically, Dolly is Miley Cyrus' real life godmother.
Though acting roles have come and gone, Dolly has never strayed far from her roots as a singer and songwriter, having penned over 3000 songs in her lifetime. She continues to tour and release albums, something she's been doing for almost half a century. She's set to release her 42nd studio album in 2014, followed up by another tour. Dolly also remains devoted to her various business ventures, among them her Dollywood theme parks as well as her own production company, Sandollar Productions, which was one production company behind the popular TV iteration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dolly has spent much of her time and money promoting various charitable causes, many involving efforts aimed at increasing literacy. She's received every kind of honor under the sun, been inducted into practically every country music Hall of Fame there is. Highlights of her greatest honors include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a National Medal of Arts, a Living Legend Medal and her Kennedy Center Honors.
Almost 68 now, Dolly remains a daughter of Tennessee, living in the same rural areas she grew up in, though certainly not in a one-room shack. Time, hard work and good fortune have all come together to grant this country girl plenty of bright lights and big ticket paydays. Yet to her credit, she's never lost sight of her roots, keeping that little country girl who belted out hymns at the little Pentecostal church very close to her heart. I don't think she'd have it any other way.