Dear Aunt Granny
A group of us want to move up in this world, but something’s always holding us back. Love, looks, family, jobs—they all seem so tough sometimes. The preacher says pray for the answers, the personal trainer says more workouts, the life coach says, “Let it go,” and our family says, “Don’t go changing.” What about you?
—Life Is Tough in East Tennessee
You live in East Tennessee? Why, the answer’s right in front of your nose! Sevier County gal Dolly Parton made it from a one-room cabin to superstar status, and she ain’t lettin’ go of her figure, her bank balance, or her love life after 50 years in the spotlight, either. With a glamour gal like that as a role model, who needs the book-learned people? When life presents a dilemma, you’ll always know the right thing to do if you just ask, “What Would Dolly Do?” Let me give you some examples:
WHY’D YOU COME IN HERE LOOKIN’ LIKE THAT?
It gets me down when people tell dumb blonde jokes.
WWDD? Laugh them off. “I’m not offended at all,” Dolly told People magazine in 1982, “because I know I’m not dumb. I also know I’m not blond.’’
I really need to lose some weight.
WWDD? Go on the “Your Name Here” diet. Parton lost 50 pounds in the mid-1980s after trying every type of diet in the book, from Optifast to Scarsdale. She wrote “Two Doors Down” (“They’re laughing and drinking and having a party”) when friends were eating fried clams at Howard Johnson’s and she couldn’t have any. But then she came up with the Dolly Diet, which involves eating anything she has a craving for, just in small quantities. That’s the whole self-prescription, no diet foods or drinks, which she loathes, and no exercise component. “If I tried to jog with these boobs, I’d end up with two black eyes,” she wrote. “I am physically lazy and don’t like exercise of any kind... well, one kind.”
Okay, I lost the weight and now my two up-front assets have shrunk, too. Are breasts worth having if they’re not DD?
WWDD? Seek out some plastic surgery. “I always say if I, you know, if I see something sagging, dragging or bagging, I’m going to go have it stuffed, tucked, or plucked,” she says. According to fan website Dollymania, Dolly’s had her breasts “lifted,” had work done on her face, neck and rear end, regularly endures chemical facial peels, and takes collagen injections to hide wrinkles. In interviews and on stage, she consistently says she only believes in the work of licensed and qualified doctors, and she recommended the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons Referral Service in her autobiography.
People make fun of my gaudy outfits, but I like ’em.
WWDD? Wear ’em and sell ’em with pride. Dolly did land on People magazine’s turn-of-the-century “Worst Dressed of All Time” list, but that hasn’t stopped her “two sequins are better than one,” tight-fitting gown, 300-wig, and brash makeup fashion approach. “I’m going to always look like a cheap whore as long as there’s doctors and surgeons in the world,” Dolly told TV Guide in 2005. “Hopefully, this is the way I’ll look when they lay me in my coffin. Somebody better not put me out there without fixing my hair and putting my makeup on.’’ And if you want to dress like Dolly, she makes that easy for others, too, with Dollywood’s Dolly’s Closet offering “Dolly’s style in your size!” Not quite gaudy enough? Just get the seamstress who sews in the window for all to see to personalize your choice with extra shiny, feathery, or leathery stuff.
Still, I worry that my outrageous appearance will turn off potential employers.
WWDD? Be yourself. According to Dolly, people like to tell her, “‘You could have done so much more with your music if you had not been so outrageous.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but what kind of fun would I have had? What kind of a drag-ass, dull life would that be?’”
I want to learn guitar but I’d really like to have nice fingernails, too.
WWDD? Except for really important performances, preserve the nails. “I used to play guitar really well before I got these nails, but I’m such a girlie girl,” Dolly says. “I play, but I’m limited. But when I write seriously or really want to put down some guitar, I just have to take these acrylic nails off and build a new set when I’m done. But I can’t stand not to have my nails.” And hey, you could always just play your fingernails in place of an instrument—tapping the tune is how Dolly wrote “9 to 5” right on the movie set.
JUST BECAUSE I’M A WOMAN
I want to date but I have a hard time meeting people.
WWDD? Head for the laundromat. The Wishy Washy in Nashville, right below the apartment where Dolly lived when she first moved there, is where she first encountered Carl Dean, and they’ve been married 42 years. Of course, it could also be the outfit. “I remember I was wearing a red ruffled rib-tickeler outfit with tight bell-bottomed pants,” she writes in her autobiography.
People keep thinking me and my best friend are gay.
WWDD? Only confirm or deny it once, then have some fun with it. Dolly denied her lesbian love affair with lifelong friend Judy Ogle explicitly in her autography—but she still likes to fan the flames a little, publishing a photo of her (fully clothed) riding a prostrate Ogle on the rug, saying they always sleep in the same bed when they travel, and, in a later interview, saying she most often sleeps in the nude.
I just can’t forget this fellow I had this huge crush on when I was a teenager.
WWDD? Admit it very publicly—but wait 40 or 50 years. Dolly’s big crush was Johnny Cash, when she was just 13 and he helped her get a slot on the Grand Ole Opry in 1959. “I had never seen a man with such a presence—tall, lanky, and sexy, with that trademark voice that cut through me like butter.” When both had hit the big time and were “taken,” she did confide her earlier infatuation, she told the British newspaper The Daily Express. “He thought I was cute. June [his wife] didn’t particularly care for it!”
I want to figure out how men think.
WWDD? Watch ’em watch you. As she famously said onstage at Dollywood, “When I talk to a man, I can always tell what he’s thinkin’ by where he’s lookin’. See, if he’s lookin’ at my eyes, he’s lookin’ for intelligence. If he’s lookin’ at my mouth, well, he’s lookin’ for wit and wisdom. If he’s lookin’ anywhere else except my chest... he’s lookin’ for another man.’’
My husband and I fight all the time, is there any way to stop?
WWDD? Always be the one to say you’re sorry. Dolly does, “whether it’s my fault or not. Carl would go to the grave before he would apologize, and he’d give me the cold shoulder until then. I’d rather just say I’m sorry and get it all over with.”
There’s this musician who thinks he’s in love with me, but the feeling is not mutual.
WWDD? Be flattered, be embarrassed—but say no. Merle Haggard wrote about his passion for Dolly, which was never returned, in his 1981 autobiography, describing the “exceptional human being who lives underneath all that bunch of fluffy hair, fluttery eyelashes and super boobs.” Seems the two toured together in 1974-75 and she inspired his number-one hit, “Always Wanting You,” which includes the lyrics, “Always loving you, but never touching you/Sometimes hurts me almost more than I can stand.”
WHAT A WAY TO MAKE A LIVIN’
I’m getting bullied by business associates.
WWDD? Never back down, even if it makes you cry yourself to sleep. Dolly told the 2007 audience at Belfast Odyssey Arena that Elvis himself wanted to record a duet of “I Will Always Love You” with her. His manager, Col. Tom Parker, burst the bubble when he made it clear Elvis couldn’t participate unless Dolly signed over half the publishing royalties on the recording. She said “no” and cried all night over the incident. “It’s already been a hit for me... and this is the stuff I’m leaving for my family when I’m dead and gone,” said Dolly. “But anyway, when Whitney Houston’s came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland!”
Just because I’m “mature,” employers treat me like I’m over the hill.
WWDD? Own your own rights and work for yourself. From the start of her solo career, Dolly would pay for her own recording sessions, then lease them to a label. “Then my masters go back to me,” she explained. “After a certain amount of time, I’ll want my masters throughout the years to go to my family. That’s the way I’m doing it.” Since 2007, she’s also owned her own record label, Dolly Records, with herself as the only signed artist. “With the way country has been the last several years, they dropped a lot of the older artists from the big labels, and so I’ve been doing a lot of albums on my own labels,” says Parton. The first release on Dolly Records, her 2008 Backwoods Barbie album, debuted at number two on Billboard’s country chart.
Wait, I can’t be a musician. What about some alternative careers?
WWDD? Look into beauty school. ‘“Even if I wasn’t in show business, I would have wanted all the glamour—and that’s about the only way a girl in a small Southern town is going to get it, being a beautician,” she told the Saturday Evening Post in 1989. “Or maybe I’d have been a missionary; I thought about that, too, but where would I get my hair done?’’ One other option: performing as a female impersonator. “I’ve always said that if I hadn’t been a woman, I would have been a drag queen.”
JESUS AND GRAVITY
I love the Lord, but I can’t seem to clean up my language.
WWDD? Forget about it. “I don’t really talk dirty to be dirty... Some people are just born cussers.”
I want to be kind to gay people, but my religion’s against homosexuality.
WWDD? Leave the strictest part of the faith behind. “I believe in ‘human rights’ and the Scripture, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged,’” she says. “I have many gay friends who I love dearly.”
Seems like the young people are running everything. Is there anything I can do besides get jealous?
WWDD? Join in. As Dolly told Dial Global about appearing with real-life goddaughter Miley Cyrus, “I’m famous now ’cause I’m Hannah Montana’s Aunt Dolly. Little kids just see me in the street and just point—‘Aunt Dolly!’ and it’s just been so cute.”
I’m thinking about retiring; when would be good?
WWDD? Reconsider. Now 62, Dolly’s future plans include writing her life story as a musical, getting involved in more “Broadway-type” things, and possibly having her own weekly children’s show, “like Pee-wee’s Playhouse, that will also appeal to grown-ups.” Oh yeah, and maybe a cosmetics line, TV things, specials, “possibly a few more movies if the right things come along.”