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Dolly Parton: Mountain Queen

Dolly Parton is known for her music, movies and... a couple of other things -- including her roles as the patron saint of Dollywood and "the book lady".

"If you're lucky enough to get in a position to do things, then you should do great things," says Dolly Parton.

"It's all about liftin' up each other," continues the straight-talking country superstar as she relaxes in her dressing room during a busy weekend at her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

For as long as she can remember, that's just what Dolly's been doing. And nowhere is it more apparent than in her beloved native Appalachian Mountains, where she's touched lives not only with her music, but also in more tangible ways.

"I never got to go to Disneyland as a child, but I was always fascinated with it," she recalls. "I used to read all the time, so I knew that world was out there, but it was only after I was gone and grown and makin' money that I got the big idea that Dollywood would be great.

"But it was not only to provide jobs for my family and a place for us to work musically, but for other people to kinda get a start. And I knew it would be a great place for all the hard-workin', good-hearted honest people in this area that don't have jobs."

Dollywood and the two other area attractions under its corporate umbrella, the Dixie Stampede and Dollywood's Splash Country, employ some 3,500 people in the Pigeon Forge area, she says.

Since the beginning of Dollywood, fans have been able to see some of Dolly's own kinfolk regularly performing there. For this season, Dollywood's 19th, the ranks of Dolly's family members in park shows have increased with the addition of two of her nieces, Rebecca and Heidi.

Earlier in the season, Dolly and the girls helped unveil the park's newest attraction, a $7 million wooden coaster called Thunderhead. Then they very slowly rode the coaster into the station for a media event - and that's the only way Dolly ever plans to ride it!

"I kinda fall apart on these rides - first my wig, then my nails ... God only knows what else!" she laughs. "But the fact that I don't ride it is the best advertising we can do - because if I'm scared to ride it, every adventurous kid is gonna want to get on it."

Dolly knows a thing or two about adventurous kids. After all, from the time she first picked up a guitar and started writing her own songs at age 7, she's forged her own path, believing in herself and knowing she could accomplish whatever she was willing to work for. That's the attitude she's working to instill in other children in her native Sevier County, Tenn., and 300 other communities in more than 40 states through her Imagination Library program. Each child in the program receives a free book of their own every month, from birth until they enter kindergarten at age 5. That's 60 books - plus a little bookshelf that looks like a train - for every kid who otherwise might never have any books of his or her own.

Dolly, who is known by the kids as "the book lady," was on hand last December to present the program's one millionth book to a little girl. "We've sent out 75,000 books this month," she proclaims. "We're sending 1.2 million books out this year and I'm hoping next year we'll send out a couple million."

"The first book they get is The Little Engine That Could," smiles Dolly. "That book is to instill confidence and self-esteem in children - that you can do anything you want to. And if you fail, get up and try again. It ain't the end of the world. If you think you can, you can.

"And that book really describes my life and has been my philosophy.

"I'm the Little Engine ... that did!"

-- David Scarlett