Dolly Parton Gives Perfect Response To Barbara Walters’ 1977 Comments On Her Appearance


Broadcast journalist and television personality Barbara Walters interviewed a slew of rising stars and established celebrities over the course of her career. Today, Walters is also known for her integral role in creating and building The View, but even before that, she conducted a memorable interview with country legend Dolly Parton.

Parton’s success in the music industry spans multiple decades and genres – and even mediums, as she also boasts a formidable acting career. But for much of her life, Parton’s appearance was a consistent talking point among those around her, and that 1977 interview was no exception. Hear what Parton was asked and the lesson she taught in response.


Dolly Parton discusses her background with Barbara Walters

BARBARA WALTERS SPECIAL, Barbara Walters, interviews Dolly Parton, at her home, 12/14/1982. (c)ABC. Courtesy: Everett Collection

Walters was born and grew up along the east coast of the U.S. to a businessman father who made and lost fortunes throughout his career. Her father brought her to his night clubs and she was fussed over by the actresses and dancers, immersed in a gilded life early on. Parton grew up in a one-room cabin in Tennessee the fourth of twelve children. Her father, illiterate, worked multiple jobs to keep the large family afloat. Considering their two contrasting upbringings, Walters talked with Parton about wisdom and the perception of hillbillies; Walters said when she thinks of hillbillies, she “thinks of your kind of people.”

STRAIGHT TALK, Dolly Parton, 1992. ph. Jean Moss / © Buena Vista / Courtesy Everett Collection

RELATED: Dolly Parton Shares Why She Doesn’t Wear Real Diamonds Anymore

Parton then addressed the misconceptions and connotations now attached to such a word. In her view, the word was essentially taken from those it refers to and repurposed to mean something negative. But, she emphasized, “We were very proud people, people with a lot of class. It was country class, but it was a great deal of class. Most of my people were not that educated but they are very, very intelligent.” Here, she stresses the importance of wisdom, the quieter type of insight into the world that cannot be read from a book or taught in a populated city university.

At the end of the day, she knows who she is

THE BARBARA WALTERS SPECIAL, Dolly Parton, Barbara Walters, (aired Dec. 6, 1977), 1976-. © ABC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

From there, talk turned to Parton’s appearance. Walters asked if Parton had always carried her trademark bold appearance even in her youth, say age eleven or twelve. She also wanted to know, jumping ahead, “Is it all you?” Parton joked she couldn’t show the answer per se, but she had been asked that question many times in the past. Walters told Parton, “You don’t have to look like this. You’re very beautiful.” No need for the wigs or “extreme clothes” or any of it.

Parton derives confidence in her own knowledge about who she is and what talents she possesses / ph: Bob Sacha /©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

“It’s certainly a choice,” Parton replied. Growing up, Parton idolized the beauty of Hollywood bombshells like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield, but also the town trollop. Parton knew that was what she liked and wanted for herself; if she could achieve that, she would be happy simply because it’s a choice made for herself. She did what she wanted, and other people’s judgment did not matter. “Oh I know they make fun of me,” Parton said during the interview, “but all these years the people have thought the joke was on me, but it’s actually on them. I am sure of myself as a person. I am sure of my talent. I’m sure of my love for life and that sort of thing. I am very content, I like the kind of person that I am. So, I can afford to piddle around and do-diddle around with makeup and clothes and stuff because I am secure with myself.” She has said it succinctly on a separate occasion, “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde.”

In fact, all of this is consistent with Parton’s philosophy, that she would not “like to be like everybody else. I would never stoop so low to be fashionable, that’s the easiest thing in the world to do.” Watch the interview below between Barbara Walters and Dolly Parton to hear some sage wisdom.

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