Jane Fonda's First Impression of Dolly Parton: 'She's a Very Mysterious Person'

Article Highlights:

  • What Jane Fonda thought of Dolly Parton after working together on 9 to 5
  • Lily Tomlin’s impression of Dolly Parton
  • What the Queen of Country thought of her 9 to 5 experience

Jane Fonda knew she wanted Dolly Parton to be in 9 to 5 before she even met her. Here’s what both Fonda and Lily Tomlin thought about working with the country star, and the “Jolene” singer’s perspective on her first-ever film.

Jane Fondo’s impression of Dolly Parton after working together on ‘9 to 5’

It was partially Fonda’s idea to make a movie about secretaries. As soon as she decided that the film would be a comedy, she thought of Dolly Parton.

“I had never met her, but I was really into her music,” Fonda told Rolling Stone in 1980. “Anyone who can write ‘Coat of Many Colors‘ and sing it the way she does has got the stuff to do anything. This was not a woman who was a stereotype of a dumb blonde. I felt that she could probably do just about anything she wanted, that this was a very smart woman. We developed a character based on who she is and what she seems like. Did we coach her? No. Her persona is so strong, you get somebody mucking about with that and making her self-conscious, and it could be negative.”

Through working together, Fonda realized she and Parton were actually very similar, despite coming from “different backgrounds and different classes.”

“Dolly’s not political, but her heart, her instincts—she’s just on the side of the angels,” said Fonda. “Very often someone will wow you, but as you get to know them, the mystery wears off. One of the things that just flabbergasted me about Dolly is the amount of mystery she has. She’s a very mysterious person.”

Lily Tomlin’s take on Dolly Parton

Tomlin was the third secretary in the film, acting alongside Fonda and Parton. Here was her impression of Parton after working together:

“She was wonderful; she’s so quick, so natural, dazzling, down-to-earth, bigger than life. She’s just the quintessential . . . whatever it is. She ended up giving me lines. You could have replaced Jane or me in a more satisfactory way, but once you got the idea for Dolly to be in her role, it would have been more of a disappointment to not have her.”

What the Queen of Country thought of her first movie role

9 to 5 was the first acting Parton had ever done. Thankfully, the “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” singer said the cast was happy to help get her up to speed.

“Lily and Jane were very helpful,” Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “Jane is the one who got me in the movie. She was thinking, ‘Dolly will get us the South.’ I told her later as a joke, ‘Well, I might get you some North and East and West, too,’ because I had a lot of fans.”

Other people helped Parton along the way in addition to Fonda and Tomlin.

“Jane said, ‘Don’t worry about acting. Just be yourself. The director will tell you what to do, and you’ll learn,’” wrote Parton. “Dabney Coleman [who played Mr. Hart] taught me a lot, too. He’s a Texas guy, and we had a great connection. They all knew it was my first time in the movies, so they were all helpful. People are generous.”

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