Dolly Parton is a treasure unlike any other - it's nearly impossible to find anyone who dislikes her. The 2020 Netflix documentary Dolly Parton: Here I Am, directed by Francis Whatley, focuses on the famed singer as a feminist, businesswoman, philanthropist, prolific and skilled songwriter, and genuinely good human being. It features interviews with Parton along with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Kylie Monigue, Mac Davis, Porter Wagoner, session musicians, and others who have worked with her over the years.
Some of the Dolly Parton facts in the documentary might come as a surprise to you because the film explores who she is beyond the stereotypes.
When Parton First Came To Nashville At Age 18, She Moved From A One-Room Cabin Shared With 11 Siblings
Parton grew up in a one-room cabin with 11 siblings (a replica of her childhood home is on display at her theme park, Dollywood), and she didn't achieve success overnight. When she first went to Nashville at age 18 to make it as a country singer, she had a tough time. Although she lacked resources, she didn't lack grit. In the documentary Dolly Parton: Here I Am, she talks about her humble beginnings:
I was hungry. Cried myself to sleep every night. But I did learn early on that you really had to stand up for yourself - especially being a girl in business at that time, and a country girl that did look like a dumb blonde.
Parton knew she wanted to be a star from the time she was young, and didn't let hunger, hardship, or discrimination slow her down.5488Whoa?
Professional Session Musicians Doubted Her Because Of Her Appearance, But Were Blown Away When She Started To Sing
When Parton was getting her start in 1964, she recorded with professional musicians. In the documentary, session musician Lloyd Green recalls his first impression of the star: "Dolly was this beautiful little 18-year-old girl who seemed quite naive and uneducated. Her language was kind of crude..."
Musician Charlie McCoy says when he first met Parton, he thought, "This is a teenager. She was very pleasant... She seemed happy to meet us. Then she started to sing and it was, 'Whoa!'"
McCoy also noticed her confidence: "You have to believe you have something to offer, and I think she believed it."49714Whoa?
Porter Wagoner And Parton Had Different Stories About The Song 'I Will Always Love You'
Parton launched her early career into super-stardom on The Porter Wagoner Show, where she performed regularly for eight years. She was also signed to Wagoner's record label, and he produced many of her records, even after her departure from the show.
In the documentary, Parton and Wagoner, who passed in 2007 but is shown in earlier interview footage, talk about about the origins of the song "I Will Always Love You," and each has a different recollection.
Wagoner says he told Parton she was writing too much about her home in Tennessee and life in the Appalachian Mountains. He insisted no one would care about those things and she should write about love instead. When she came back with "I Will Always Love You," he instantly knew it would be a hit.
Parton says she wrote the song as a farewell when she wanted to move on from Wagoner's show. Because both entertainers were so stubborn, Parton felt the only way to get through to him was to write a song as powerful as "I Will Always Love You." The song moved him to tears when he first heard it.
Whichever story is true, Parton has always spoken highly of Wagoner, and in the documentary says of him that she "learned from the best."4222Whoa?
Parton's Husband Is Rarely Seen In Public
Parton's producers didn't want her to get married early on because they feared marriage would impact the launch of her career. She and Carl Dean got married anyway, and Parton kept it a secret for a year.
Music professor Lydia Hamessley, author of Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton, says in the film that keeping the marriage under wraps was actually "very clever because she demonstrated to her producers that she could in fact have a marriage and still be successful."
Parton keeps a strong boundary between her public and private life. During Parton and Dean's more than 50 years of marriage, the couple has almost never been spotted together in public. Many don't even know what Dean looks like (in the photo shown here, he's to the right of Parton in the yellow shirt), including people who work closely with the singer.
Songwriter-producer Linda Perry says in the documentary that Parton "knew very early on in her career... she was going to have to carve out boundaries before she got eaten alive."3977Whoa?