WITH DOLLY, SOMETHIN'S ALWAYS COOKIN'
By Bonnie Churchill Entertainment News Service
As appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Oct. 02, 1999
PIGEON FORGE, TENN. There was a smudge of flour on her nose as Dolly Parton spooned the last dollop of dough into the big black pot. She'd set the timer for the chicken and dumplings just as the phone started to ring.
"I thought it was one of the other timers going off," she recalled. "I'd also set them for the meatloaf and the rib roast I was cooking."
The phone call gave her the news that she would be the 70th artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Parton, along with Conway Twitty and Johnny Bond, was admitted on Sept. 22 as part of the Country Music Awards.
Next calls were from the wire services and USA Today wanting her reaction. She obliged: "What a great honor. I'm really surprised. I thought I'd have to be as old as Roy Acuff or as ugly as Willie Nelson to get in the Hall of Fame -- just kiddin', boys!"
In October, she'll be at her theme park, Dollywood, for its Annual Harvest Festival, then on to Hollywood to talk to Lifetime about her next two TV movies, followed by a day or two at CBS to map plans for Dolly's gospel special, finally back home for the two movies her company will produce -- and, of course, to Nashville for her next recording session.
If she has time, Parton will be using her favorite mode of transportation "I love to ride my tour bus," she admitted. "I only fly when I have to." When she was promoting her album, Trio II, with Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris, she always went by bus. Even when she appeared on David Letterman's TV show in New York, or in Hollywood for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she got there via bus.
"Next to singing, cooking is one of my most fun things to do," Parton confided. "My mama, grandma and auntie taught me, and by the time I was 9 I was really good at cooking soul food. With our large family, it was a necessity to cook big and often."
The singer has written some of her biggest hits while cooking. "When I get an idea for a lyric, I stop everything to write it down on the wall pad. I keep paper and pencil in my pockets and in every room of the house, even the bath."
Big-hearted Dolly shares her cooking with her family. "I just call and say, `Come on over, I've been cooking.' " Everyone adores her "down-home" recipes, except her husband. "Carl thinks my old-fashioned recipes are just too heavy. While the rest are licking their bowls with my chicken and dumplings, he's stirring tea, munching on a salad or ordering out. He does admit I make the best meatloaf and mashed potatoes in town."
The one thing they never disagree on is her theme park, Dollywood, located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains at Pigeon Forge, Tenn. It opened 14 years ago, and to date 25 million folks have passed through its gates. "Attendance is up 15 percent this year," she said proudly. Southern Living magazine has named it one of the top five theme parks in the South.
"Every year we try to add something new. This season it's really special. Dollywood was chosen by the Southern Gospel Music Association to be home for the first Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It traces the roots of gospel, spotlights its artists and will stage wonderful concerts for the visitors."
Parton has recorded a gospel album featuring many of the songs she grew up with in eastern Tennessee. It can only be bought at the park or from its Web site.
"Remember, my granddaddy was a minister, an old-time preacher man, and I grew up singing in his church choir."
Parton is ever truthful. She's the only actress I know who lists her date of birth on her studio biography. "No use lying about it," she shrugged, "it's Jan. 19, 1946. I'm the fourth of 12 children, but we were all musical." This spring her brother, Randy, and sister, Rachel, sang gospel on Dolly's TNN television special, Precious Memories.
For all of her fame and travel, Parton is a vital part of the community of Sever County, where she grew up. She has established a special-education fund, and an Imagination Library, which gives every baby born in the county a book a month, until they are 5 years old. "It introduces them to new people and places, and helps to bond the family with mom or dad, or older brother or sister reading to the young'uns. By the time they are 5, they have 60 books, plus a case to keep them in that is built like a little train."
By now, one of the kitchen timers was going off, and Dolly had to return to her Southern soul food. Soon she was on the phone to her brothers and sisters. "I've been cooking today," she began. "I'm putting it in the plasticware, so come over and bring your appetites."