Why Dolly Parton Calls Hollywood ‘the Most Depressing Place I’d Ever Seen’

Dolly Parton began her career in Nashville. But in the 1980s, she made her way to Hollywood to break into the film industry. Her debut film was 9 to 5, along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The infamous city of angels wasn’t anything like what she anticipated. Where Parton expected glitz and glamour, she found dysfunction and heartbreak.

Dolly Parton arrives at the Vanity Fair dinner and after party at Morton's celebrating the 78th Academy Awards.
Dolly Parton | RICH SCHMITT/AFP via Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s first time in Hollywood

“I always thought that Hollywood was this great, glamorous place—a Disneyland with all the stars you see on TV,” wrote Parton in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “It was a real eye-opener the first time I went there. It was the most depressing place I’d ever seen. Down on Hollywood Boulevard there were all these people on the streets, homeless people and pitiful, crazy nuts running around. Oh my Lord, it was just a horrible setting.”

Parton got a funny feeling from the area.

“When we first went there as musicians playing in places like the Roxy and staying at the Holiday Inn, I felt I was in a really strange town,” she wrote. “There was weird craziness. It was not what I thought it was going to be.”

Dolly Parton couldn’t help but notice the drastic economic inequality present in Hollywood

“Even when I had the chance to live in better quarters, I could see how depressing it still could be,” she wrote. “All the rich people live in other areas.”

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The “young people” who were trying to make it in the entertainment industry stuck out to Parton especially.

“I would see these young people who’d come there and be willing to sell their souls to make it in show business,” she wrote. “They’ll do whatever they have to do, like the ‘casting couch.’ If their plans don’t work out, they wind up selling themselves on the streets to get money for shooting up dope.”

‘Hollywood Potters’

Parton’s early experience with Hollywood inspired several songs, like “Hollywood Potters,” which came out in 1982.

“I wrote ‘Hollywood Potters’ when I was doing [the movie] 9 to 5,” she wrote. “This one kid, an extra, killed himself. He was a struggling actor who believed himself to be a finer actor than to be working as ‘atmosphere,’ as they called it.

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“I think this song really nails what Hollywood’s about,” she continued. “It’s a ‘dungeon of drama.’ That’s what it really is, a ‘dealer in dreams.'”

It’s no wonder that Parton’s time in Hollywood affected her creatively.

“I think being in Hollywood opened up a whole other world for me as a songwriter,” she wrote.