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Blond ambition

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Lucinda Breeding

Local teacher's book offers details on the life and times of Dolly Parton

Randy L. Schmidt can remember when he first fell for Dolly Parton.

"I keep going further back," said Schmidt, who wrote two books about superstars -- Karen Carpenter in Little Girl Blue in 2011 and Judy Garland in Judy Garland on Judy Garland -- before publishing his latest title.

"I feel like I keep going further back. I discovered Karen when I was in middle school, and Judy Garland when I was like 4 or 5. With Dolly, I was like 2 or 3," Schmidt said. "I think before I could even express what it was that drew her to me. I knew what it was that drew me to her: the big hair and the sparkly costumes."

Schmidt collected interviews -- the famous ones and the obscure ones -- Parton has done with journalists and personalities in Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters With Dolly Parton. Released on Monday, the book is an in-depth look at the feisty country and pop musician and the empire she built over the last 50 years.

Schmidt, who teaches music to children in kindergarten through fifth grade, launched his writing career with a traditional biography of Karen Carpenter. His books about Garland and Parton, though, are compilations for Chicago Review Press and its "Musicians in Their Own Words" series.

Randy L. Schmidt, a music teacher in Denton ISD, has published his third title through Chicago Review Press. 'Dolly on Dolly' collects interviews with musician and actress Dolly Parton that span 50 years.Chicago Review Press
Randy L. Schmidt, a music teacher in Denton ISD, has published his third title through Chicago Review Press. 'Dolly on Dolly' collects interviews with musician and actress Dolly Parton that span 50 years.
Chicago Review Press

"I started this about two years ago," Schmidt said. "It's a lot of work, but there's sort of a formula to it, too."

Schmidt said he was such a big fan that he had Dolly posters on his wall, a Dolly Parton doll and a Dolly Parton trash can.

"Yeah, I had the trash can. Is that not strange? A Dolly Parton trash can. You can buy them online now," he said.

Schmidt said Dolly has the same quality that draws him to Karen Carpenter and Judy Garland.

"I connected with her storytelling," he said. "When she sings, it's much like a teacher. She's saying something to you, and it's personal. I like singers who are storytellers."

Dolly Parton has a truly American rags-to-riches story. Born in a family of 12 children in Sevierville, Tennessee, she ventured to Nashville shortly after graduating from high school. She built her career as a singer, songwriter and superstar brick by brick, eventually crossing over into TV and film. She's been nominated for nearly 50 Grammy Awards, launched her theme park, Dollywood, and wrote the score of 9 to 5: The Musical, which opened at the Campus Theatre on Friday, produced by Music Theatre of Denton.

"This book is digging into what's out there," Schmidt said. "I used some of the well-known interviews. Like the pieces in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Ladies Home Journal, and she did Andy Warhol's magazine, Interview. But I also included some stuff that wasn't very widely distributed and that you can't really get anywhere. There was one, the Music City News, where the journalist interviewed her in her apartment in Nashville. The apartments are still there, the Glengarry Heights Apartments."

Schmidt said he traveled to Nashville and East Tennessee for his research, as well as visiting the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills.

Working on the book, Schmidt said he learned about Parton's keen business acumen, and her stubborn way of both seeing a risk through to the end and surrounding herself with people who believed in what she wanted to do.

"And when someone told her they didn't think her idea was going to amount to anything, she's found people who believed in her and help her make it happen," he said.

It's no secret that Parton has been able to cultivate two very different fan bases. Country music fans adore her music about love, loss and survival. And her large gay fan base admires her style, her grit and the fact that she's a survivor. Not many artists have been able to stay relevant for five decades. Last fall, Parton sold out two shows at Hollywood Bowl, and released her No. 1 country album Pure & Simple, her first record in 25 years.

"Dolly's longtime manager who also managed Cher, Sandy Gallin, was gay. They lived together in an apartment in New York," Schmidt said. "So she had these years of living in New York, being exposed to the city. So many drag queens are Dolly fans, and there are a lot of drag queens who impersonate her."

Schmidt said Dolly on Dolly was a little more work than his first two books. Judy Garland benefited from a wealth of material that was in the public domain. And there were two weeks in 2016 when Schmidt was just inches away from a green-lighted interview with Parton to include in the book.

"It didn't happen," he said. "I'd gotten as far as sending her the questions I planned to do. I think what ended up happening was that they didn't want to do an interview and have it look like the book was an authorized product."

Schmidt said Dolly superfans helped him, pointing him toward interviews. He learned that Parton has a reputation for treating people well -- whether it's staff members, fans or media types. He also learned that Parton has a history of quiet philanthropy. After wildfires displaced residents in East Tennessee last year, Schmidt said Parton gave a number of families in crisis $1,000 a month or more to rebuild their lives. And he found that Parton likes to work with other musicians. When folk rocker Brandi Carlile was making her 2007 album of cover songs, Cover Stories, she sent a handwritten note to Parton asking her to record "The Story." She even offered to drop the key so the song would be easier to sing. Parton accepted, but told Carlile she could handle the high notes.

Schmidt's book means to show that for all the blond wigs and heavy makeup, Parton is a woman with the soul of an artist and a head for business.

"I think the hair and the outfits helped Dolly convince people that she wasn't threatening, and her charm allowed her to do things that a lot of women might not have been able to do at the time," he said. "I found a great quote from an interview she did with 60 Minutes. She talks about how men thought she was a dumb blonde, but she charmed them, got what she wanted."

Indeed, Parton told Morley Safer in 2009 that she looks "like a woman, but I think like a man."

"And in this world of business," Parton said, "that has helped me a lot. By the time they think that I don't know what's goin' on, I done got the money and gone."

Schmidt will have a book signing at Saturday's performance of Music Theatre of Denton's 9 to 5: The Musical. The show is at 7:30 p.m. at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St. Tickets cost $15 to $20.

For more information and tickets, visit


The following is an except from an interview in Dolly on Dolly editor Randy Schmidt found in The Great Speckled Bird, an underground newspaper published by the Atlanta Cooperative News Project from 1968 to 1976.

"I've written a lot of rock songs -- hard rock and then some -- I don't know how to define the category. Then I've wrote some pretty songs that could be easy listening stuff. I just write what I feel. I love all kinds of music. I just flip my radio from one station to another. If I hear a country song that I don't like, I flip to a rock station. 'Cause I just like music. It don't make any difference to me. I listen to WVOL, which is strictly a colored station, a lot of times. And another thing -- I like to keep up with what's going on, in order to write about what's going on."