Jill Frye: Dolly, we will always love you and what you do

May. 19, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

Last week, I had an opportunity to attend a special media event for the opening of Splash Country’s newest attraction, the first water coaster in Tennessee. Later the same day, I attended the ribbon cutting and preview of Parton’s latest show, “My people: Dolly’s Letters Home.”

As a native of Dandridge with grandparents who lived in Sevier County, Dolly’s rags-to-riches story was certainly not unfamiliar to me. As a child, I recall attending an outdoor Dolly concert off McCarter Hollow Road, just across from where the park is now located. At the time, the park was still Silver Dollar City.

Just a few years later, a colorful, butterfly-shaped flower bed, Dolly’s signature emblem, graced the entrance. Fast-forward 27 years later, and the park has more than doubled in size, adding over 110 million in expansions, from new shows to rides that thrill even the biggest adrenaline junkie.

With Dolly’s name and face behind the park, attendance to the attraction soared in 1986, and Dollywood now boasts the title of most visited attraction in Tennessee. In addition, it also makes the list of top 50 most visited attractions in the country. But it isn’t just her name that makes the park successful, it’s also her experience in the entertainment industry. Don’t let the blonde beauty fool you. There’s a sharp woman behind that make-up.

A pioneer of sorts, Dolly joined the country music industry in the 70s, when it was primarily dominated by males. In my mind, she’s a modern, Southern-belle version of Mae West.

I often remember listening to Dolly tunes while riding with my parents in my dad’s green Dodge pickup as a child.  Still an avid Dolly fan, my dad, although now retired, spends his summers working the games in the County Fair section of the park.

Some of my favorite childhood memories include listening to Dolly on evening rides with my parents and having fun at the park. Today I make new memories with my own children every summer at Dollywood and Splash Country, and my 9-year-old daughter, Julianna, is also quite the Dolly fan, thanks in part to the “Hannah Montana” show that was a Disney highlight a couple of years ago. 

I’ll never forget the summer she turned 4, when it was time for her to have her own Dollywood pass. When she went in to have her picture made for the pass, she informed the lady behind the counter that she wanted to see “Aunt Dolly.” I had to explain that the “aunt” was because that’s what she’d heard Miley Cyrus call Dolly on the show! When her dad and I cracked up, she looked at me innocently and asked, “Well, what do other people call her?”

Another Dolly incident occured at Clint’s restaurant in Sevier County. When my daughter saw Clint’s life-size Dolly cutout, she simply had to have her picture made with Aunt Dolly. After much pleading and a phone call to Dollywood’s gracious public relations department, I agreed to let my mini-Dolly fan accompany me to the River Rush preview, as well as Dolly’s new family show, where she, too, will remember watching Dolly sing. 

Of course, I couldn’t help but laugh at her excitement last Friday, especially when she asked to wear something “sparkly” that Dolly would like. Though she has since stopped calling her “Aunt” Dolly, I don’t think she will ever stop being a fan.

As a child gazing at the bronze statue of Dolly on the lawn of the Sevier County Courthouse, what awed me most about her was her humble background. A perfect embodiment of the American Dream, Dolly has never forgotten her roots. While it’s easy for some to ridicule her ostentatious wardrobe, plethora of large wigs, and even larger plastic-surgery enhanced cup size, I couldn’t help but look upon her in admiration last Friday.

Surprisingly, what first struck me about Dolly wasn’t the blonde wig or the  flashy sequined dress she wore, it was the way she carried herself. Dolly is as comfortable in her own skin as most of us are in our favorite T-shirt. With self-deprecating humor, Dolly declined the opportunity to ride the park’s newest attraction. “I’d lose my wig and my pride,” she quipped.

How can anyone not love Dolly’s raucous sense of humor? Her strength lies in her courage to be vulnerable. Through her song lyrics, she writes openly about her past, her feelings on love and relationships, and best of all, she knows how to laugh at herself.

Dolly Parton knows who she is, and she embraces it.  She remains loyal to her roots, and she gives back not only to her hometown, but also worldwide through her Imagination Library program.  Her attractions, The Dixie Stampede, Dollywood, and Dolly’s Splash Country, provide jobs for thousands of people in Sevier County.

The Hollywood Gazette once quoted Dolly as saying, “The only thing real about me is my heart.” That’s part of the magic of Dolly. She doesn’t care what you or I think about her appearance or who she is. That’s where her true beauty lies. She’s authentic, at least where it counts. 

— Jill Frye is a reporter for The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 214, or e-mail to jfrye@themountainpress.com.