After launching her movie career in 1980 with 9 to 5 — starring alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin — Dolly Parton returned to the screen in 1982 for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The campy movie featured Burt Reynolds, Hollywood’s most bankable star at the time, who had already starred in Deliverance (1972),The Longest Yard (1974) and, of course, Smokey and the Bandit (1977).
Whorehouse was an adaptation of a 1978 Broadway musical, but Parton — who played Mona Stangley, a madam who runs a brothel called the Chicken Ranch in a small Texas town — insisted on singing some of her original songs, and the controversial role ultimately earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). The film featured a rendition of her hit “I Will Always Love You” — which would be released as a single in ’82 and again reach Number One — but she also sang “Sneakin’ Around,” a duet with Reynolds, who played Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, with whom her character was having an affair.
The duo were also rumored to have had an affair in real life. When Rolling Stone‘s Chet Flippo interviewed Parton before the film’s release about being cast with Reynolds, she was coy and flirtatious. “When they started askin’ for suggestions, I said I would like to see more of a romance,” she said. “Wouldn’t you feel like you wasted five dollars if you paid to see Whorehouse and you didn’t see me and Burt kiss? I was makin’ a joke, and I stuck to it — I’m not going to miss my chance to kiss Burt Reynolds. There ain’t no way I’d do sex scenes. I’m talking about love scenes.”
Later, in a book about the Queen of Country, titled Dolly on Dolly, Interviews and Encounters With Dolly Parton, she revealed that filming the movie was “a nightmare” for her. Reynolds went on the record as saying, “Dolly is very self-deprecating, at least in public.” Despite whatever went on behind the scenes, two of the biggest stars of the Eighties created an enduring cult classic.
Today, after news of Reynolds’ passing, Parton released a statement: “Oh how sad I am today along with Burt‘s millions of fans around the world as we mourn one of our favorite leading men. I know we will always remember his funny laugh, that mischievous sparkle in his eyes, and his quirky sense of humor. You will always be my favorite sheriff, rest in peace my little buddy and I will always love you, Dolly.”