A Little Happier: Why Did Dolly Parton Identify More with Barbara Walters than Barbara Walters Identified with Her?

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I know I said that I’d come to the end of my fascination with Dolly Parton, but apparently I haven’t.

One of the things that most fascinates me about Dolly Parton is that I think she’s so under-estimated. Of course, she’s a super-star and celebrated, but I think that people don’t appreciate how thoughtful, strategic, and far-sighted she has been during her decades-long career and in all her accomplishments. Among other things, I so admire her absolute clarity in her sense of herself, and what she wants, and her supreme command of herself and her public presentation.

From what I’ve observed, she’s very skillful at turning interviews the way she wants, and maintaining a certain playful image in the public eye. I wish that over the years, interviewers had asked her more thoughtful questions and pressed her to speak more revealingly about her ideas and aspirations.

For instance, I was very struck by one fleeting moment in an interview she did with the brilliant Barbara Walters way back in 1977, when she was just 31, on the Barbara Walters Special TV show.

Dolly Parton is looking as she always does, with a big blond wig, a bright turquoise outfit, a big turquoise rose in her hair, lots of makeup. Barbara Walters literally asks if she gives her measurements! And here’s part of their conversation, where Dolly Parton is describing her attitude toward show business. The specific moment I'm talking about is right around the four-minute mark.

Instead of just agreeing with Dolly Parton, in a kind of condescending way, I wish Barbara Walters had asked, “And why, do you think, do you relate to me more than I relate to you?”

I’m sure that’s true—I’m sure that Dolly Parton did relate to Barbara Walters more than Barbara Walters could relate to Dolly Parton, and I think it speaks to Dolly Parton’s particular genius, and I suspect that Dolly Parton’s answer would have given us a great insight into her perspective.

The lesson is familiar: We shouldn’t take people at face value. We shouldn’t under-estimate people just because they look and talk in a way that’s different from us.

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