Why a Journalist Once Called Dolly Parton ‘Very Calculated’

Dolly Parton has been in show business for the majority of her life. She’s given countless interviews. When she was just starting to get massively popular, around the late 1970s, journalists started to pick up on a pattern. The “9 to 5” singer would often repeat stories and sayings (now dubbed Dollyisms) whenever she gave interviews. According to the book Dolly on Dolly, this technique often left reporters feeling “aggravated” because their “exclusive” interviews with the Queen of Country weren’t so exclusive after all. They sounded like all of the other interviews Parton was giving at the time.

Dolly Parton sits in front of a microphone in a red dress at the Opening Weekend Celebration of Dollywood on April 24, 1993 at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Dolly Parton | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Why Dave Hirshey once said Dolly Parton’s interviews were ‘very calculated’

Parton’s iconic image has always been carefully thought out. Parton created a character to play in an effort to help her sell music. As journalists quickly caught onto, Dolly the character came with a set of catchphrases.

“She’s got like 20 lines that she just keeps trotting out every so often, and it’s very calculated,” Dave Hirshey of the New York Daily News said in 1978, as reported by Dolly on Dolly. “Occasionally she’ll slip and give you something different, but rarely. Like Rodney Dangerfield has 100 rehearsed bits. She even has a rehearsed giggle. Everything is recycled. But she didn’t give me the same anecdotes that she gave The New York Times. She knows the market.”

Dollyisms

Parton’s recycled sayings became so prevalent that they earned themselves a name: Dollyisms.

“Dollyisms are clever and cutesy one-liners or witty phrases and quotes that Dolly has practiced and perfected for more than four decades now,” reads Dolly on Dolly. “Topics range from her career, diet tips, and love life, to makeup, wigs, and her famous womanly assets.”

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A couple of her more famous quotes are: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!” and “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

During the beginning of the feminist movement, Parton recycled this quote several times: “I was the first woman to burn my bra. It took the fire department four days to put it out.“ Reliably, it always got a laugh (and took the focus off of her politics).

And every Parton fan has heard the story of her losing a Dolly Parton look-alike contest.

Of course, part of the issue is that Parton has been around a long time. She’s been asked the same questions over and over again. So some stories are bound to be recycled. Still, there is no doubt that Parton comes to every interview with a pocketful of charming catchphrases ready to go.

Dolly Parton’s media presence

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A big part of Parton’s image is how she appears in the media. From the time she struck out on her own after leaving The Porter Wagoner Show, she and her management team selected her media appearances carefully.

“I think you can overdo it, especially somebody as weird as me and, you know, outrageous and all,” she told radio personality Chuck Brinkman in 1977. “You’ve seen me once, you’ve seen me. I’m like Brylcreem. . . a little dab’ll do ya! But I don’t like to be overexposed. I think exposure is good, I just think you have to choose the things you do as far as publicity. . . your articles, your cover stories of magazines, and TV. And I think my management is real smart. At the time that people are just about to get sick of me, they take me off the market for a little while. So I leave that up to them.”