Dolly Parton has a long history of colorful, animated interviews. Even so, a newly released clip from PBS Digital Studios' Blank on Blank video series — which attaches hand-drawn animation to Parton's conversation with Playboy journalist Lawrence Grobel in March 1978 — takes things to a new level.
"In the winter time, we just had a pan of water and we'd wash down as far as possible, and we'd wash up as far as possible," she says of her childhood days in rural Locust Ridge, Tennessee, a mountain community in the northern valley of the Great Smoky Mountains. "Then, when somebody cleared the room, we'd wash 'possible.' That's the way it was."
Drawn by Patrick Smith, the animation adds new life to the 37 year-old interview. It's Parton's honesty and humor that really sell the clip, though. Throwing Playboy's readers for a loop, she "bares it all" in a different, PG-rated sense, speaking candidly about the perils of sharing a bed with her younger siblings and the challenge of creating homemade makeup out of household items.
"The kids peed on me every night," she admits. "There were so many of us. We slept three and four in the bed. I would wash every night, and as soon as I go to bed, the kids would wet on me and I'd have to get up in the morning and do the same thing. [But] that was the only warm thing we knew in the winter time. That was almost a pleasure — to get peed on — because it was so cold. Lord. It was as cold in the room as it was outside."
When her father banned his daughters from using lipstick, Parton and her sisters decided to raid the family medicine cabinet instead. Mercurochrome, an antiseptic liquid infamous for dying its users' skin red, proved to be a solid substitute.
"I always wanted to wear make-up," she says. "I'd paint my lips and see there wasn't nothing Daddy could do. He couldn't rub that off. It stained your lips and those little bitty bottles [were] just perfect to go around your lip line. Then I would do that and I would blot it off and Daddy, he'd say, 'Come here get that lipstick off you!' I'd say, real calm, 'It's my natural color, Daddy.' It's so bull. When we wanted eyebrows, we'd get burnt matches. . .you could wet them and make your little eyebrows and whatever."
The Playboy interview was conducted in Los Angeles, more than 2,000 miles from Parton's Tennessee home. When Grobel wraps up the conversation by asking Parton if she enjoys L.A., she responds honestly, pining for the rolling hills that rose above her during those bed-wetting days.
"That 'old country' in me says, 'What in the world are you doing walking on this concrete when you can be rolling in the grass?'" she asks rhetorically. Fair question.