Ian Horner was thrilled to see the irrepressible Dolly Parton at her Sydney press conference – and he even managed to ask the buxom superstar a couple of his own questions…
Dolly Parton was at her flamboyant best at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney last Thursday to launch the month-long Australian leg of her Better Day world tour, in conjunction with her CD of the same name.
The singer and film star, actually born Dolly Rebecca Parton 65 years ago, eschewed hiding behind the traditional long desk overflowing with microphones and worked the auditorium standing up, showing off her dazzling costume, famous cleavage and legs highlighted by a short pantsuit to emphasise her amazing slim figure and decry her short stature.
Everything was up for grabs as she took every chance to puncture any self-pretence, ceaselessly taking merciless pot shots at herself before anyone else could.
Not that anyone was wanting to.
She played the reporters and news men and women for the fans they clearly were, dolling out schtick and ripostes by the bucketful. “How long does it take to do my hair? I don’t know, I’m never there!” And as she whipped out her notes from her ample bosom – “You thought these were boobs? They’re just paper wads!”
The crowd lapped it up. “How many men look me in the eye when I meet them? I don’t do anything to cover up my boobs so I can’t blame them for looking!”
I attempted a carefully considered question about the late Australian screen writer and producer Colin Higgins who also directed just three films, all hits, two of which starred Parton – Nine to Five (1980) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). They were the first two of just eight films – a total which leaps to 321 if you include movies and TV shows that have featured her songs. Her latest film, Joyful Noise, is due out in January.
Before I could get serious she jumped in.
“And Harold and Maude, which Colin wrote, is my favourite movie! I had that connection with him as well. Jane [Fonda] and Lily [Tomlin] and I used to say we’d jump at Nine to Five 2 but these days it’d be Ninety-Five! So if we’re gonna be doin’ that we’d better get on with it or it’ll have to be called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We’re not getting any younger. I think we’re a little too old to play secretaries now.”
I pressed on: Colin Higgins also happened to be gay. What do you think of our federal government’s reluctance to let him and other gay people marry?
“I have a lot of gay friends, including Colin who wrote and directed Nine to Five and Best Little Whorehouse and he wrote Harold and Maude with all that great music when he was in college.
“I have many gay and lesbian friends and a lot of people I work with so I don’t pass judgment on anybody. I think everybody should be allowed to be with who they love. That’s my comment on that.
“There’s not enough love in this world so find love where you find it and if you find it consider yourself lucky.”
Not exactly an answer, but she was clearly siding with her gay fans, something alluded to in her choice of favourite song: “Of all the thousands of songs I’ve written my very favourite has always been Coat of Many Colors. It’s very personal to me. It’s a true story from my childhood, about people making fun of you. Some of us have been made fun of in our lives and that’s not a very good feeling.”
Lest she become too serious she launched into the legendary story of how she came third in a Dolly-Parton lookalike contest. “It’s true and I love to tell that story. I lived in a little apartment in LA right up the street from Santa Monica which is a very big gay area, a lot of clubs and stuff there. It was Halloween and they were having a contest where people in costume would walk across the stage and the audience would applaud. A lot of the drag queens were dressed up like me – all sorts of Dollys and Chers walking round. Since I was up the street and I had a bunch of friends with me I said: ‘I’m just gonna over-exaggerate and make my hair bigger, I’ll make my beauty mark bigger, make my lips a little bigger and just kinda over exaggerate everything and I’m gonna go down and be in the contest!’
“But of course all those drag queens are six feet tall anyway, plus high-heel shoes, and here comes the pygmy walking across the stage and I got the least applause of anybody! We did it just for fun. They just thought I was some little short ugly boy dressed up like Dolly!”
These days she’s getting more than even.
Dolly Parton’s Better Day in Australia:
Hope Estate Winery, NSW: Nov 19, 20
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne: Nov 22, Dec 1
Brisbane Entertainment Centre: Nov 25, 27
Allphones Arena, Sydney: Nov 29
Tickets from $99.