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Associated Press photo

April 30, 2000

Dolly's returning to Mississippi — officially — in October

By Gary Pettus
Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer

For much of her life, Dolly Rebecca Parton has stood out, in Nashville, Hollywood and most points, stages and venues in between and beyond, but on a recent trip to Mississippi, the look-here! entertainer from Tennessee was somehow overlooked.

"My husband and I were traveling through Louisiana and we went back up through Mississippi, and visited Vicksburg," Parton said in a phone interview.

"We go to Tupelo all the time, and we even have a house patterned after one in Natchez.

"Coming back this time, we saw the exit to Amory off the highway and went there on a lark. It's a wonderful place. I love those covered sidewalks."

Apparently, the sidewalks weren't the only things under cover. Parton — normally about as unnoteworthy as Halley's comet — explored the town with husband Carl Dean, unmolested and unremarked.

"We were in our camper, just traveling around like anyone else," Parton said. "Just enjoying ourselves."

Among those who missed the Parton pop-in was Amory resident and long-time fan, Norman James, who has since found out about the surreptitious visit.

"I think it's hysterical. No one knew she was here," James said.

"From what I understand, they shopped at the Wal-Mart and the Piggly Wiggly and then went on their way.

"I'd like to come across her in her disguise to see if I could pick her out of a crowd.

"I could see that people might not know her without the wig and makeup, and wearing a muumuu. But how could she hide her nails?"

Lucky for James and his fellow Amory-ites, plus a fair-sized chunk of the world at large, there'll be another chance to check out Parton, nails and all, this fall.

Parton will return to Amory as the headliner among another 16 or so Hollywood stars, in a stage show that benefits Mississippi students.

It will be one of her rare public appearances for the entire year.

Chances are, she'll be noticed this time. James thinks so.

"I'm excited beyond belief," he said. "Everybody's talking about it. I think she's one of the most fantastic entertainers who exist."

Sporting her trademark pulchritude and platinum hair, the country music star, songwriter, actress and theme park tycoon will perform Oct. 7 at the Amory High School football stadium, for Stars Over Mississippi.

She and her full band will entertain for at least an hour, she said, as they pick out a few bluegrass and gospel tunes, along with some of her greatest hits, including Jolene, Here You Come Again and Two Doors Down.

"I'm looking forward to the show," Parton said. "Sam talks about it all the time."

"Sam" is Amory native Sam Haskell, the Worldwide Head of Television for the William Morris Agency. He founded the event eight years ago in honor of his mother, the late Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell.

Raising scholarship money for deserving students attending an in-state public university, Stars has amassed more than $1 million in funds so far, for the benefit of at least 90 students.

Traditionally, every entertainer on tap, including this year's hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Kathie Lee Gifford and Brooke Shields, is Haskell's friend or client, or both.

For her part, Parton has baby-sat Haskell's two children. This Easter, she made chicken and dumplings, cole slaw and dessert for the family.

"I started working with Sam about a year-and-a-half ago," Parton said. "He's my agent in Hollywood.

"We just became friends and kind of took to each other. It's nice to have friends from the South in Hollywood."

Throughout her career, the Sevier County, Tenn., native has made friends and admirers in virtually every entertainment arena: music, movies, TV. In her bare feet, she stands 5 feet tall, but in the entertainment world, she's about 8-foot-nine.

Great stature

Her stature is such that she was asked to host the Academy of Country Music Awards show, to be broadcast live Wednesday at 8 p.m. by WJTV-Channel 12, in the Jackson area.

The ceremony had not used a host the past two years. "Very few people have the ability to host this kind of show," Paul Shefrin , ACM Awards spokesman, has said. "When we found out Dolly might want to do it, we decided to make the change."

Among the academy's top nominees are the Dixie Chicks.

"They've got the Dixie Chicks and one old Southern hen," Parton said, snickering at herself.

This "old Southern hen," rules a $100-million plus entertainment roost that includes Dollywood, her theme park located in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Very busy life

The head of a her own production company, Southern Light, she's also busy developing feature films, including a CBS TV movie of the week airing this fall, a gospel musical titled Heavens to Betsy.

She has a new album out, The Grass is Blue and is working on another one.

Next year, adjacent to her beloved Dollywood, she plans to open a $20 million water park.


In her fifties now, Parton is forever glamorous to her many fans, thanks in great part to a personal style that projects flamboyance and folksiness at the same time.

Brassy in speech and busty in dress, she counteracts all with an unrehearsed lack of pretentiousness. Which might explain why one of the country's most famous faces can disappear among the discount doodads of a Wal-Mart in Amory.

Accomplished a lot

A member of the Country Music Association Hall of Fame, the recipient of four Grammy Awards, nine Country Music Association Awards, three People's Choice Awards, an American Music Award and an Oscar nomination — for her role in the 1980 hit movie 9 To 5 — Parton explains her enduring success this way: "I try to use my head.

"I use it for the business end of show business. I try to keep up with what's going on. I try not to pigeonhole myself — or Pigeon Forge myself," she said, laughing.

"I've always found some way to fit in. I'm willing to work. I never take anything for granted. It's never crossed my mind to retire, and it never will.

"And, I have a big mouth and a long neck. And I stick it out a lot. I just go for it."

She goes for it bolstered by a brave, down-home wit, surely a product of her early background. Because few people have come from a home more down than hers.

One of 12 children, baby Dolly first materialized in a two-room Tennessee shack — "rat infested," her biographers say.

But, by the age of 10, she was on her way out, performing regularly on Knoxville radio, after debuting on The Cass Walker Show with George Jones' You Gotta Be My Baby.

She signed her first recording contract at age 13, moved to Nashville and, as legend has it, became a star the day after she graduated from high school.

The day after arriving in Nashville, Parton met Carl Dean, at the Wishy Washy Laundromat.

Carl Dean does not like to be seen, and few people have caught a glimpse of this retiring man of mystery. Apparently, though, Parton is the solution: they've been married since May 1966.

Never mind the awards, her marriage is one of only a few testimonials Parton says she is proudest of. The others are:

  • Dollywood, a Smoky Mountain carnival of rides, country music shows, mountain history and local crafts, featuring the Dolly Parton Museum and a sanctuary for bald eagles.

  • The Dolly Parton statue on the courthouse lawn in Sevierville, Tenn. "I just love it," she said. "There I am in bronze, barefoot and holding a guitar. Of course, now, the pigeons do a number on me."

  • The Dolly Parton Rose. Parton, along with Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, is one of many celebrities who have had a variety of rose named after them.

    "It's a very sweet and simple thing," she said. "It's been out at least 15 or 20 years, and I have yard full of Dolly Parton roses myself.

    "Not just because they're named after me, but because they're beautiful."

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