Dolly Parton makes movie, music as popularity surges with millennials [video]

Dolly Parton takes the stage last week at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to sing, to talk about the release of her new album, "Pure and Simple," and to announce her first major tour of the U.S. in 25 years. Behind her is Lightning Rod, the new woo0den rollercoast at Dollywood.

Dolly Parton at age 70 still has a slender waist, ivory complexion - which she self-deprecatingly credits to "Botox and makeup" - and a new growing fan base among millennials who love her classic "Jolene." Parton's goddaughter Miley Cyrus even recorded a bestselling version. Now, in addition to writing a Broadway musical about her life, she's making a movie based on "Jolene"

She told the Times Free Press that the movie script was penned by Emmy-winning "West Wing" producer, "China Beach" creator and writer John Sacret Young.

"He's written a wonderful script," Parton said during an interview last week at the seasonal opening of Dollywood, where she greeted a crowd of fans and chatted about her new album, "Pure and Simple," and announced an upcoming 60-city tour of the United States and Canada, her first major tour in 25 years.

She added that the plot of "Jolene" is about a senator or governor who has an affair with red-haired temptress Jolene, who will be a legislative aide or lawmaker.

"We want (former 'West Wing' star) Allison Janney to play the wronged wife," Parton said. "We planned to cast it and start filming it this year. But we also might be doing a sequel to 'Coat of Many Colors,' which could delay 'Jolene' a little bit."

"Coat of Many Colors" is the 2015 TV movie that detailed Parton's early years growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Parton based the original song "Jolene" on a young bank staffer who flirted with Parton's husband, Carl Dean, when the couple were newlyweds. In May, the couple will renew their vows in Nashville on their 50th wedding anniversary; Parton said she will wear an opulent white wedding gown and coax Dean into a tux.

"Then we'll sell the photos to the tabloids and give all the money to my Imagination Library," Parton said, referring to her program that has given more than 60 million free books to preschool children since 1995.

She hooted and laughed when a Times Free Press staffer handed her a 1995 photo taken of Hillary Clinton at her Dolly-themed birthday party. Clinton, a huge Parton fan, was dressed like Dolly in a curly blonde wig and cowgirl outfit with a cowboy-hatted Bill hugging her.

"I should sign this photo and mail it to Donald Trump," Parton said, grinning. "But I want to keep it. Bill doesn't look much like Carl. My husband doesn't wear cowboy hats. Hillary looks a lot like me here except she needs bigger boobs for the exact look."

Parton has a photo of herself hugging former president Jimmy Carter when she sang at the White House and a photo of herself with Former Democratic Texas Gov. Anne Richards hanging in the entry hall to her Dollywood museum. But don't ask her to weigh in on the current presidential race.

"I avoid discussing politics," she said.

Except for a question on whether a woman could be a great president.


Force of nature

The iconic country music star should be as famous now for her shrewdness as a business woman as she is for her songwriting talent and steady flow of classic hits like "I Will Always Love You," "Here You Come Again" and the theme song for her movie "9 to 5." She grew up in poverty, adoring her father who never learned to read yet could negotiate lifesaving business deals to support his family.

The skill seems to be genetic. She has negotiated deals for recording contracts, movie roles, publishing rights to her songs and the creation of Dollywood, in which she took the former Silver Dollar City Tennessee amusement park in 1986 and transformed it into an attraction that brings about 3 million guests a year. Since it opened, Dollywood has doubled its size, added a water park, a hotel/resort and become home to the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.

Her business instincts were in excellent shape in 1992 when she OK'd Whitney Houston using "I Will Always Love You" in the film "The Bodyguard"; the song was a worldwide hit, spending 14 weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. alone. At this point, the single has sold more than 15 million copies and made about $20 million - and the publishing and songwriting royalties poured in to Parton.

The song itself was directed at her own mentor, country music TV star Porter Wagoner, who launched her toward stardom in the 1960s. When asked if she thought he became hostile because he was jealous of her increasing popularity, she nodded.

"It's common knowledge we loved and hated each other," she said. "I was with Porter seven years and promised to stay for five. He was a hard-nosed businessman. I had my own dreams. I stood up for myself. We fought quite a bit.

"When we first broke up, it was hard for him and me. I wrote the song 'I Will Always Love You' for him because he wouldn't listen to what I was trying to say."

Parton convinced him to stop arguing with her long enough for her to sing him the song. He cried as she sang. When she finished, he immediately said, "You can go if I can produce that song."

She laughs at the memory and says she replied, "I'm going anyway, but you can produce it."

She adds that the Broadway musical she's writing will showcase those crucial Porter years.

New fans

Parton said she was surprised but delighted by her growing fanbase of millennials. She recorded memorable duets with Norah Jones and will sing with Katy Perry on April 3 in Las Vegas when Parton accepts an American Country Music Tex Ritter award for "Coat of Many Colors." Perry and Parton will sing a mash-up of "Jolene" and "Coat of Many Colors."

She attributes some of her ability to bridge the generation gap to her goddaughter Miley Cyrus.

"I would be a guest star on (Miley's show) 'Hannah Montana,' and a whole generation of kids in their 20s now grew up with me," Parton said.

She and Cyrus have often discussed teaming up for an album or at least a concert.

She names Adele as the singer she would most like to sing with, but duets don't happen just because two superstars admire each other.

"There's always a catch; managers get involved, and contracts, and it gets complicated," she said.

But when it comes to movies, there is one role she has always wanted to play but never had the chance.

"I'd like to play a town tramp," she said, laughing.

When she was in elementary school, Parton remembers being dazzled by a woman in her home of Sevier County, Tenn., who flaunted big hair and flashy makeup.

"I kind of patterned my own look on her," she said.

About the same time, Parton spotted a pair of scarlet high heels in a local store and decided she would wear stilettos that glamorous if she could ever afford them. For last week's events at Dollywood, she donned golden stilettos with 5-inch heels to sing "Puppy Love" onstage. She wore a gleaming dress adorned with crimson and orange flames in honor of Dollywood's new Lightning Rod rollercoaster, said to have a top speed of 73 mph, which would make it the world's fastest wooden rollercoaster. She later changed into a zebra-striped gown to greet a team of daredevil acrobats from Africa.

While she was onstage welcoming fans, one asked about her favorite Dollywood ride; she replied, "I don't go on any of the rides. Never."

Her handlers later explained she doesn't want her hair and makeup mussed up on the rides.

Tough negotiator

Parton often tells interviewers that some men in the music industry often made the mistake of thinking she was a ditzy blonde due to her va-va-voom appearance. She used their complacency to her advantage, catching them off guard with her shrewdness and determination. She even held her own against Elvis Presley's famously tough manager, Col. Tom Parker.

Presley loved "I Will Always Love You" when he heard Parton sing it on the radio and told Parton that he sang it to his wife, Priscilla, at romantic moments. Parton was thrilled when he decided to record his own version and told all her family and friends. Just before the big day, however, Parker told Parton he would only allow Presley to record the song if she let Presley have half of the lucrative publishing rights, a requirement demanded by Parker whenever Presley recorded a song.

Parton refused; Parker canceled the recording.

"I told Col. Parker, 'My family needs the money more than Priscilla and Lisa Marie,' so there is no way I would give away ownership of the song," she recalled ruefully. "I was so disappointed. I had to tell all my friends Elvis wouldn't be singing it.

For a long time, Parton searched everywhere, hoping maybe a tape of Elvis singing it casually might exist somewhere. But she never found one. She sighed, "Wouldn't that have been a find?"

Businesswomen don't make the same tactical mistake with her, she said. When asked whether she preferred negotiating with a tough man or a tough woman, she instantly replied, "Men. I prefer working with men.'" Men will eventually concede some points to get things done and move on to making money, she said.

But there is at least one exception to the men-rather-than-women rule. Her 1980 movie "9 to 5" became a feminist favorite. Her co-stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda now star in a Netflix series called "Grace and Frankie," and Parton has told them she was ready to reunite with them as a guest star any time.

Whether it happens is up in the air. Her own TV and movie commitments are already hefty. After the stage show for "Jolene" and the film sequel to "The Coat of Many Colors," she wants to make a movie based on her song "The Seeker." Lyrics include the lines: "I am a vessel that's empty and useless/I am a bad seed that fell by the way/I am a loser that wants to be a winner/And you are my last hope/Don't turn me away").

"It will be about a young man, a sort of Christ-like figure, who travels the country and has adventures helping people and doing good," she said.

Contact Lynda Edwards at 423-757-6391 or

Dolly Parton Timeline

* 1946 — Born in the Great Smoky Mountains inTennessee* 1956 — First professional performance takes place on local radio show, “The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour.”* 1966 — Moves to Nashville and sings on “The Porter Wagoner Show” for the first time.* 1969 — Joins the Grand Ole Opry at age 23* 1973 — “Jolene,” a song written by her, hits No. 1 on the Billboard’s Country Songs chart.* 1974 — Leaves “The Porter Wagoner Show.”* 1976 — Debuts her own syndicated TV show, “The Dolly Parton Show.”* 1977 — The song “Here You Come Again” sells 1 million copies, hits No. 1 on the country charts and No. 3 on the pop charts, her first crossover success.* 1981 — The song “9 to 5,” from the movie of the same name, hits No. 1 on both the country and pop charts.* 1983— Releases the single “Islands in the Stream,” a duet with Kenny Rogers that hits No. 1 on the pop charts.* 1986 — Dollywood opens* 1992 — Whitney Houston’s version of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” used in the film “The Bodyguard,” is a worldwide hit, spending 14 weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. alone; the single has sold more than 15 million copies.* 1999 — Dolly inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame; she also releases her first bluegrass album, “The Grass is Blue,” to critical raves.* 2003 — The album “Halos & Horns” earns two Grammy nominations adn includes a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”* 2004 — Parton accepts the Living Legend Medal from the Library of Congress.* 2005 — Releases “Those Were the Days,” an album folk classics that includes duets with Norah Jones, Keith Urban, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss and Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens).* 2009 The Broadway musical “9 to 5” debuts with a musical score written by Parton.* 2013 — Releases “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” an album on which she reunites with Kenny Rogers.* 2014 — A new album, “Blue Smoke,” is a worldwide hit, hitting the Top 10 in several countries, including Australia and New Zealand; it hits No. 2 in America.— Source: Library of Congress