The Inspiration Behind Dolly Parton's Famous Look

Dolly opens up about her most memorable holiday traditions.

Alanna Nash
Dolly Parton holding a guitar over her shoulder
David McClister

We sat down with the country icon to discuss her upcoming Christmas Special, Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love and some of her most memorable childhood holiday memories and traditions.

Q: Your new TV movie, Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, airs on November 30. What inspired it?
A: Well, actually we got such good ratings with Coat of Many Colors, last year’s movie, that they wanted to do another one. I think people had really missed faith-based family entertainment, like “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons.” I know I had. I’ve always wanted to do another Christmas movie. [Her first was A Smoky Mountain Christmas, 1986.] This seemed to be the right one. It’s got a lot of family love and forgiveness in it.

Q: You’ve said for many years that you took your look from the painted lady here in Sevier County, Tennessee. And now you’re playing the painted lady!
A: (Laugh) Well, that lady that had a big influence on me when I was eight, nine, ten years old, being just a real country little kid. I was always wanting to be more than what I was. I wanted to look pretty, and wear fancy clothes. And so she just had everything that was appealing to me at the time—yellow hair piled on top of her head, red lipstick, her eyes all painted up, and her clothes all tight and flashy. I just thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. And then when everybody said, “Oh, she’s just trash,” I thought, “That’s what I’m going to be when I grow up! Trash!” (Laugh) So who better than me to play the painted lady?

Q: How did you choose Alyvia Lind to portray you as a little girl?
A: Little Alyvia Lind. I just knew that God was going to send her. Because we went through so many children, trying to find the right one. And the second I saw her, it was like a light bulb went off. I thought, “I relate to her. She’s got my spirit.” And she was so pretty. I was never that pretty. She makes me look really good. (Chuckle) But she just had everything that I thought we needed for that part. And she is such a wonderful little human being. She’s going to have a big career, I think. I feel blessed to have found her.

Q: You have other movies in the works based on your songs. One is about “The Seeker,” and the other is a dramatization of “Jolene.”
A: Actually, I made a four-picture deal with NBC. It doesn’t necessarily have to be movies. It could be specials, also. As matter of fact, I’ll probably do a Christmas special next year, and put a Christmas album out then, too. But we’ll start filming Jolene right after the first of the year. We’re going to be producing a lot of things for other networks and Netflix, as well. I’m looking forward to getting a lot of my songs and stories in the works.

Q: What’s one of your favorite childhood Christmas memories?
A: Well, one of my favorite Christmas memories is what this movie is about, the year that we all got up money to buy Mama a wedding ring. Because Mama and Daddy got married when they were really young, and started having one baby right after another. So there never was money for a ring. Then Daddy came to us and said, “Let’s get Mom a ring this Christmas,” so we all worked together to make that a reality.

Q: What were your Christmas traditions growing up?
A: Well, same as most people, I think. It always evolves around family, food, fun, and music, singing the Christmas songs. And what presents we did have, we always opened on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, we just cooked and ate typical things, like sage and cornbread dressing, and turkey or chicken, and mashed potatoes and gravy. We still do that. Now that we’re grown, we just try to see each other when we can. My husband’s people always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day. So that’s worked out good for us. I can visit my family on Christmas Eve, then his folks on Christmas Day. Between Thanksgiving and the first of the year, we get a lot of visiting done.

Dolly shares more about lessons from Mama and all about growing up in Tennessee.