Dolly Parton: Why We’ve Lasted

Dolly Parton reveals the secrets behind her long love affair with publicity-shy husband Carl Dean—and why he’ll have another date to see 9 to 5 on Broadway.

Dolly Parton’s husband of nearly 43 years, Carl Dean, has been excited about her involvement in the Broadway version of her 1980 movie hit 9 to 5 since the first time she played him some of the music she was writing for the show. Here are some insights into their very special relationship and the man she knows she was meant to be with.

For more on Dolly and Carl, pick up the May 11 issue of Country Weekly.

CW
I know Carl’s not the kind of guy who wants to be anywhere near the spotlight, but you’ve mentioned that he will come see the 9 to 5 Broadway show you’ve written the music for. Is he the kind of guy who, if he thinks there’s something that could’ve been tweaked a little more in the show would tell you? Or just keep his mouth shut and say, “This is her thing. I’m not gonna say anything”?
DP
If we’re into that place already and he comes—if it lasts, if we stay on Broadway, if they don’t close it down after opening night [chuckles] [the show opened to rave reviews on April 30]—if it goes, he will just pick out the stuff he really, really likes. But he will not criticize and say, “Oh you should’ve done this and you should’ve done that.” It’d be too late then. But he wouldn’t hurt my feelins’ like that. He would just really, really lay heavy on what he really, really did like.
CW
Has Carl never flown?
DP
Yes, he did fly. He would fly. He smokes, for one thing. And he don’t really like to be where he can’t smoke his cigarettes. But he did fly with me back when people were still allowed to smoke. We flew to Hawaii and stayed over there for two weeks. He loved that. He’d never been on a plane before. ‘Course it was one of those big ones where all the girls were dressed in their Hawaiian stuff, and the food was great. We flew first class and had the movies, and he thought he’d died and gone to heaven [chuckles]. So, he did fly there and he loved it. Didn’t seem to show a bit of fear. In fact, it was an experience for him.
But I’ve never been able to get him to do it again. I think it was one of those things where he thought, ‘Well, I’m doin’ this once. And even if I was scared s***less, I ain’t gonna say it!’ [huge laughs]. I think he just thought, ‘Okay, If I ever got my feet back on the ground, I’m never gonna do it again!’
But I even tried to get him to go with me on the European tour, ‘cause I would love for him to see some of the countries we go to. ‘Cause he’s so into history and geography and he knows everything about every country. He’s always reelin’ off stuff. I thought this’d be great. He said, ‘No, I think I’ll just stay here.’ Anyway, he’s comfortable on the bus, and he can smoke when he wants to.
CW
Let me ask you a little about the times we’re living in. Is there gonna be any economic impact on Broadway attendance do you think? Or are we not to that point yet where people are gonna stay away from the theater because they’re pinching pennies a little bit?
DP
Well, I think they’re already worryin’ about that. I think they’ve already had some decline. And we’re hopeful that we do good. But, if there is a show to see—and not just ‘cause it’s our show—but this show really is uplifting and it’s a perfect show for the times. Because people are always gonna be workin’, they’re gonna always despise their boss, no matter who it is. And so there’s always going to be that element.
I wrote a lot of songs on purpose. I worked very, very close with Pat Resnick, who did the book and wrote the original screenplay for the 9 to 5 movie. And Bob Greenblatt, it was his vision, his idea and he brought me onboard. He produced it and Joe Mantello . . . I worked real close with them in the writing of the songs. But my own inclination was to really try to write positive stuff. So there’s some really fun and great stuff that’s uplifting. You go away from there feelin’ good. And kinda dealin’ with issues. I think people love to feel like they’re accomplishin’ somethin’ and makin’ a difference. One of the main songs that I wrote is called “Change It” and then “Shine Like the Sun.” It’s like once the clouds roll away, once things level out. So really, a lot of the stuff, it’s just ironic, most if it was written before we started havin’ the big hard times and the big scare. But it’s just so up to date, the whole story about the people in the workplace. Hopefully my songs really speak to the heart and uplift the spirit. I think people are always gonna want to be entertained. As you know and have heard, during depressions and things like that, people go to movies more. And go out to see people, ‘cause they want to get out of the fear and the doubt. So let’s hope this is what that is.
CW
When did you know that Carl was the person you were destined to be with? As soon as he knew . . . or did it take you longer to realize it?
DP
Well, no, it was instantaneous. We think back on that a lot now. And he was such a shy person. He’d never had a serious girlfriend. And he was definitely not the kind to stop and holler at some girl on the street. That was just totally not him. The instant I saw him, it was just one of those things, like a flash—I just knew him. I just knew. And same with him. He knew. It was just meant to be. And we think that more and more as time goes by and as we get older. And, of course, the spark was instant for both of us. And it just grew and grew. And the more we were together, the more we believed that that was so. We didn’t talk about it. But we both believed that. We have talked about it a lot through the years, after everything was what it was.
But it’s the same with [lifelong friend] Judy. Our parents knew each other. Mountain people do. My dad knew her dad and my mom knew her mom. We were just mountain people that you’d see here and there. But it was only when me and Judy were in the 3rd grade at the same school, I had moved from another place into that Caton’s Chapel area where we lived for a long time. But I mean, it was instant with Judy. She was a shy little ragged red-headed girl. And I was this kind of hyper little thing that was always in trouble, not meanin’ to be. Just my nature, just bein’ fidgety.
But Judy was very athletic and I was not. So I would always want to be on her team. I was just drawn to her. And she was drawn to me. And she always just got a kick out of me. And through the years, we were just right there. We took all our classes together through school. It was an unspoken bond.
And I believe with all of my heart that God puts people together for whatever his reasons are. And I’m just thankful for it. I believe it and I’m gonna believe it from now on.

For more on Dolly and Carl, pick up the May 11 issue of Country Weekly.

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