Dolly’s no dummy!

The coun­try star’s a straight-shootin’ fem­i­nist

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - Contents -

Dolly Par­ton likes to start the day bru­tally early, so we've been sum­moned to meet her at an un­earthly hour. “I'm a coun­try girl,” she says. “We get up with the chick­ens.”

We meet as dawn is ris­ing over Nashville and the cof­fee is brew­ing at her of­fices, where brick walls are adorned with all man­ner of sparkly mem­o­ra­bilia. There’s a leop­ard print and neon­pink dress next to a sil­ver se­quin fish­tail one. They are im­pos­si­bly small with hand-span cinched waists. At 72, Par­ton can still get into every one of them.

Just as you’re mar­vel­ling at those pro­por­tions, there she is

in front of you, smil­ing and

of­fer­ing a man­i­cured hand, which is weighed down by a gi­ant sil­ver but­ter­fly that spreads from her wrist to her fin­gers.

“Well hello,” she says in that fa­mil­iar south­ern, honey-glazed purr. She is tiny (1.52m), and at 6am is the full pack­age – gi­ant eye­lashes, huge hair, in­tri­cate make-up, enor­mous sparkling hoop ear­rings and high heels.

Dolly has joked that she mod­elled her look on the town hooker. “I swear that's true,” she tells proudly. “I thought she was just so glam­orous.” Dolly is never not glam­orous. She will not an­swer her door with­out make-up on.

“When I'm in LA, I go to bed like this. If there's an earth­quake, I don't want to have to run out­side my ho­tel with­out my hair and face in place. No way, José.”

The coun­try star has built a $785 mil­lion em­pire on a su­per-brand that's as rock-solid as her two most fa­mous as­sets.

Up close, that sur­gi­cally en­hanced bo­som is im­pres­sive. It is im­pos­si­ble not to sneak a peek and she knows it. You try not to, but some­how your eyes are drawn to her chest. She stands for a mo­ment to be ad­mired. “Ev­ery­body wants to look,” she laughs. “I al­ways un­der­stood guys would want to look at my boobs. I would say in a busi­ness meet­ing, ‘I'll give you a minute to look at these, but then I want you to lis­ten to what I have to say be­cause I'm here to make money for all of us.'”

No dumb blonde

What makes Dolly truly re­mark­able is that she's a woman from nowhere who has made it big in a man's world. At the age of 18, she left her dirt-poor fam­ily's one-room log cabin in the Smoky Moun­tains, Ten­nessee, and within a decade had trans­formed her­self into a su­per­star who would go on to sell 100 mil­lion records, win nine Grammy awards and earn two Os­car nom­i­na­tions.

Her first chart hit was 1967's “Dumb Blonde”, which led to a life-chang­ing gig on The Porter

Wag­oner Show, the big­gest syn­di­cated coun­try mu­sic TV pro­gramme in Amer­ica. The 21-year-old wig­gled and winked through her per­for­mance.

“I'm nei­ther dumb nor blonde,” ex­plains Dolly, who was born a brunette. “But back when I started out, it was eas­ier to be seen that way. I knew ex­actly what I was do­ing.”

Dolly has proved to be an un­likely fem­i­nist, beat­ing the sex­ist mu­sic in­dus­try at its own game by play­ing up to the most ex­treme ver­sion of a woman but never los­ing con­trol in the process.

Her ge­nius move was set­ting up her own pub­lish­ing com­pany in 1965, which means she owns every cent her records make. Al­most half her for­tune comes from roy­al­ties earned from cov­ers of her songs by artists from The Bee Gees to Ellie Gould­ing. She's earned around $40 mil­lion from movies.

As a child, she hung around her father's feet while he did deals with lo­cal farm­ers and horse traders, al­ways driv­ing the hard­est bar­gains. She took those lessons on board and it led to her mak­ing some tough de­ci­sions. In 1975, when Elvis Pres­ley wanted to record “I Will Al­ways Love You”, Dolly turned him down.

“His man­ager called me up the day be­fore he was due to record the song and said, ‘Now you know Elvis has to have at least half the pub­lish­ing rights of any song he records.'

“I was des­per­ate for Elvis to sing my song, but I couldn't let that hap­pen. It's my song, my pub­lish­ing rights. It broke my heart, but I had to turn him down.”

Sev­en­teen years later, she was proved spec­tac­u­larly right. Whit­ney Hous­ton cov­ered the song for the movie The

Body­guard and it went on to earn Dolly $30 mil­lion

and count­ing in roy­al­ties.

In 1978, Jane Fonda asked the singer to take on her first movie role. In 9to5, Dolly plays seem­ingly sub­mis­sive sec­re­tary Do­ralee, who joins forces with two other of­fice work­ers (Jane and Lily Tom­lin) to turn the ta­bles on their sex­ist bully of a boss and prove they can run the busi­ness bet­ter than him.

The movie's mes­sage could not chime more with the cur­rent #MeToo times and will be reprised in the stage show 9 to 5:The Mu­si­cal, which heads to Lon­don's Savoy The­atre in Jan­uary.

“I agreed on the con­di­tion that I wrote the score,” says Dolly with a wink. The sin­gle “9 to 5” re­mains – along with “Jo­lene” and “I Will Al­ways Love You” – one of her big­gest hits. “I loved the mes­sage of the movie,” she says. “But what I also loved was that we de­liv­ered it with a lot of hu­mour.”

Stand­ing proud

Dolly pauses be­fore launch­ing into the sub­ject of sex­ism. Her view is sur­pris­ingly at odds with the #MeToo move­ment. “I am very sup­port­ive of these women who are speak­ing out – no woman should be abused – but we can't turn it all into say­ing that all men are bad. I don't like that.

“I grew up with 11 sib­lings and six of those were boys. I had my daddy and I had my un­cles. And of course I had men hit­ting on me, but I knew what was go­ing to hap­pen, espe­cially when I dressed like I do.

“It was my daddy who taught me how to han­dle my­self with men, to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for mak­ing sure I never got into a sit­u­a­tion I couldn't han­dle,” she ex­plains. “It's just say­ing let's all be treated equally. I've built my own busi­ness, I own all my songs. I've never had to do any­thing I didn't want to and so much of that is down to what my daddy taught me. So I'm a woman who has had suc­cess be­cause of what she got from a man.”

Grow­ing up a self-de­scribed hill­billy, Dolly is all about pulling your­self up by your boot­straps and, like the rest of her life, her ca­reer has not al­ways been easy. She scan­dalised the con­ser­va­tive coun­try mu­sic scene in 1974 by leav­ing the

Wag­oner Show and find­ing fame in Hol­ly­wood.

It's an in­ter­est­ing in­sight that “I Will Al­ways Love You” – ac­claimed as one of the great­est love songs of all time – was never about a ro­mance. She wrote it to Wag­oner when he re­fused to al­low her to leave his show. She felt they both needed to move on. He didn't.

“We would talk and talk but never agree,” she says.

One night, she wrote that song and sang it to him to make him un­der­stand. He fi­nally agreed to let her go. “I Will Al­ways Love You” is not re­ally a love song – it's the most prof­itable res­ig­na­tion let­ter ever writ­ten.

Lessons in love

Dolly has never lived out­side Ten­nessee. She has a man­sion in Nashville, but spends most of her time in a smaller apart­ment in the city with her hus­band Carl Dean. They met in 1964 on her first day in the coun­try mu­sic cap­i­tal. He ran a road re­pair com­pany.

Their mar­riage is a suc­cess in celebrity terms. “I can't think of many other peo­ple in this busi­ness who've been mar­ried this long,” says Dolly. “We just suit each other. I do my thing, he does his and we like each other – that's the se­cret.”

The pair never had chil­dren. “The big­gest thing I wanted was my ca­reer. I wanted to be mar­ried, I wanted never to be di­vorced, I wanted to be a big singer and that was all I thought about. Later in life, I did think about it, but noth­ing hap­pened and I ac­cepted it.”

There's a lot loom­ing in the Par­ton pipe­line and Dolly is due at her next ap­point­ment. Along with the 9to5 stage show, there's a movie se­quel that looks set to re­unite her with Jane and the up­com­ing re-re­lease of the 9to5 al­bum.

She stands up and pats down her out­fit. “If you want to know my se­cret,” she says, eye­ing her dé­col­letage, “think like a man, look like a woman. These aren't boobs – these are balls.”

Sh ’ b ( b h ll )

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