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Back in the late ’70s and ’80s, Dolly Parton used to speak about the “Dolly Parton character” she put on whenever she had public engagements. She even talked about changing up her image entirely from time to time, as she did in an interview with Ladies’ Home Journal in 1982. Here’s what the “Jolene” singer had to say about her “cartoon” character.

Dolly Parton waves to the camera in London
Dolly Parton | Michael Putland/Getty Images

How Dolly Parton came up with ‘the Dolly image’

When the “Dumb Blonde” singer was young, she glamorized the “town tramp.”

“I always liked the look of our hookers back home,” she said, as recorded in the book Dolly on Dolly. “Their big hairdos and makeup made them look more. When people say that less is more, I say more is more. Less is less. I go for more.”

When she began to create a character for herself, she modeled her after “the town tramp.”

“I look one way and am another,” she said. “It makes for a good combination. I always think of ‘her,’ the Dolly image, like a ventriloquist does his dummy. I have fun with it. I think, what will I do with her this year to surprise people? What’ll she wear? What’ll she say?”

Dolly Parton thought about changing her image after ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’

Parton’s first movie was 9 to 5, which she starred in alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. She played a character named Doralee.

“The Doralee role in Nine to Five was not great, but she was fine for Dolly’s first role,” she said. “She could kinda sneak in as a little old fat secretary, cute and lovable and fun.”

But her part in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Miss Mona, was “the epitome of everything I’ve tried to create with this image.” So the “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” singer felt, after the film premiered, she “may not have a need for [the Dolly character].”

“Maybe I’ll totally change Dolly’s look to surprise people,” she said.

Parton went on to say that she was careful “not to get caught up in the Dolly image.” If she started believing that she was the character she’d built, she felt “frustrated and mixed up.”

“Like, I suppose I am a sex symbol, but that idea is funny to me because I see Dolly as a cartoon,” she said. “She’s fat, wears a wig and so on. Oh, sure, I feel sexy, and to some people I come across as extremely sexy, but Dolly’s as big a joke to me as she is to others.”

Who the ‘Jolene’ singer really is


Dolly Parton Shared a Rare Photo of Husband Carl Dean From the ’60s

So who is Dolly Parton, really? Or, at least, who was she in 1982? She told the publication that, deep down, she still felt like the same little, poor country girl running around barefoot in the mountains that she was growing up.

“In a big country family, you’re just brought up by the hair of the head,” she said. “You do what you got to. I—believe it or not—was a tomboy. I could climb a tree or wrestle or run as fast as any brother. We faced starvation, but Mama and Daddy taught values you don’t learn in schoolrooms—God, nature, how to care for other people and for the land, how to trust people and when not to. In a way, I’m still that little stringy-headed girl who ran around barefoot, sores on her legs, fever blisters, no clothes, who dreamed of being someone special someday.”