Dolly Parton is marking the quarter-century milestone for her Southern-fried amusement park with a special on Hallmark, Dolly Celebrates 25 Years of Dollywood, that includes pals like Kenny Rogers, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Miley Cyrus singing at her beloved complex. ”When I started it, I had hoped it would be something great,” Parton says of Dollywood, which features everything from roller coasters to a bald-eagle sanctuary. ”It has gone beyond anything I had imagined.” Here, she reminisces with PopWatch about her 25 years as an amusement park owner.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been 25 years since you launched Dollywood. Are you shocked that it has done so well?
DOLLY PARTON: It’s like all dreams you hope to come true, and if they do come true, you hope they really, really do it up big. When I started it, I had hoped it would be something great. I just hoped it would do real well, but it has really gone beyond anything that I had imagined that it could be. I just wanted people to come back here, and I was worried that they wouldn’t start coming. They did start coming, and it made me feel like it was a wise movie because a lot of business-people said that I was gonna lose my a– when I launched.
Lose your a–?!?
And I guess I did! Because did you see some of my pictures from just before I opened the park? I definitely lost some of my a– in the last 25 years! But anyway, I am just really proud that it’s done so well, and it just does not seem like it could be 25 years.
Well, you’ve always sort of zigged when others were zagging with your career — and Dollywood is a prime example of that.
Well, that’s true, and I took a chance, but I take chances on other things. But I always pray hard, and I dream big. We’ve just had a wonderful 25 years, and, like you mentioned, we had to celebrate. So, of course, in addition to all the wonderful things we’re doing the whole year, the whole season we this special with Miley Cyrus.
You got to it before I could! So what’s going on in the special?
Well, actually, Kenny Rogers is my dear, dear buddy, and we’ve been working together for so long, and he was the first thought in my mind. Of course, I’ve known Billy Ray since he was young and had “Achy Breaky Heart,” so when I got to know him — I was there when Miley was born, and I kinda became her unofficial fairy godmother. I’ve just watched her grow up, so I’m very close to them. And I wanted it to be something comfortable, and that was family. Same with Billy and Miley — they seem like family to me, and the park is all family oriented, and I knew that Miley wouldn’t hurt nuthin’ with the ratings, you know?
You are shrewd!
But anyway, we did “Jolene” together, and it really turned out good.
That’s gotta be awesome! Was Miley excited to do that with you?
Yeah, she wanted to do that because she loves the song, and it was perfect as a duet because it’s really about two women fighting. So we would swap the verses and talk to each other like, “He talks about you in his sleep,” and “There’s nothing I can do to keep from crying.” And we sounded good together. Her big, old gravelly voice — I love her singing — and my little thin voice. The match was really good. People were complimenting us and saying that we really should do something together, and I think we should. Billy Ray, of course, was great. I’ve worked with him many times. So we just had a real good, comfortable, fun time doing it.
Sounds like a blast!
They had fun the whole time, and so did I, and I think that love showed, and we got a chance to use a lot of our Dollywood talents — the band, the musicians, the singers, the dancers, and the people just in the park. I just incorporated them into the songs, like “9 to 5.” I had them out in the streets, sweeping, and music, and working, and singing along. It was fun!
That is fun! It sounds like it will be like an hour-long transport into Dollywood.
It’s an hour-long commercial!
Exactly, also an hour-long commercial! I mean, come on down, people!
Exactly, but it makes you want to come on down because they actually gave us a chance to really show the park. The park has so many areas. You know, we have our ’50s area, we have the old Blacksmith shop, everything! The old grits mill. So the ground, it’s like a movie set.
When fans mention Dollywood to you, what kinds of things do they say about it? Why do you think people love Dollywood?
Well, first of all, they always do say something, and they always talk about how beautiful it is. Even though it’s a park, we’ve managed to keep as many trees and kind of center it in the mountains. I think, probably, more than anything, they talk about how courteous and wonderful the people are.
I read somewhere recently that you were working on a musical of your own life.
Would Dollywood ever be a place that you would maybe give it a test run?
I certainly might. I’ve thought about that.
It seems like a natural place.
Yeah! For sets, we’ve got the wonderful staging for it, and so, I certainly might do that.
Do you have any big vision or plans for the next 25 years of Dollywood? Anything that you’re thinking about or kind of percolating for the future?
Well, every year we get together and brainstorm and dream of what we’re going to add. We add something new every year. One of the big things that I’ve been waiting to do for the whole time is to have a big resort. We don’t have our own resort. We do have these wonderful, spectacular, elegant cabins, but I would love to have the full-blown resort, with a spa and restaurant and everything. We were just about to do that when the economy went belly-up.
Are you looking forward to celebrating Dollywood’s 50th anniversary in another 25 years?
Somebody sarcastically was saying, “Are you going to be there for the next 25 years, when it’s 50?” I said, “Well, yea I probably will! Look at it like this: In 25 years, I’ll be the same age then that Betty White is. She just hosted Saturday Night Live, so I think at least I can get to Dollywood. Then maybe hop on a plane and host Saturday Night Live if its still there!”
Totally. Have you never hosted Saturday Night Live?
Yes, I have. I’ve actually hosted and was the musical guest the same night years ago. I about killed myself trying to host and sing because my designer at the time, Tony Chase — who is absolutely wonderful — he wanted me to change clothes every time I breathed. He was one of those. So I had to change clothes so many times, plus I had to change all the clothes because I was in every skit. I was in all the skits, and then I had two or three musical numbers. That’s the hardest week I ever worked in my life, and that’s the truth.
That’s what I always hear. I hear it’s so crazy always.
It was fun, but it was the most fun when I finished.
But you would do it again, it sounds like.
Oh sure, absolutely!
And finally, Dolly, are you working on an album or anything coming up?
I’m not working on an album right now. I’m writing some music for a couple movies, just to present some theme songs for a couple things, and I might even possibly do a movie soon. I’ve got a good offer. I don’t want to say what it is yet, but I’ve got a real good offer, and if it comes through, I’ll probably start a movie in October to have a movie out next year.
Well, that’s fun. I would love to see you in something real fun.
Me too! I’ve been hoping to do something. Well, anyway, I’m hoping to do a movie. I’m taking off from the road. I’m not touring. I’m just writing my musical about my life.
Nice! So, do you think you’ll have that done this year or next year?
I don’t know. I’ve been working on it for a long time. It’ll take a while, and then you’ve got to sell it. So, it’ll be a few years.