Porter Wagoner Wanted Nothing to Do With Dolly Parton Before She Joined His Show

In 1967, Dolly Parton began appearing on The Porter Wagoner Show. When she met with Wagoner, she had no idea that he would offer her the life-changing role. Still, she was quick to accept it. It was a particularly good stroke of luck, as Wagoner wanted little to do with Parton before he met her.

Porter Wagoner didn’t want Dolly Parton on his show

In the latter half of the 1960s, Parton began making a name for herself in Nashville. 

Everybody you ran into was talking about Dolly Parton. Everybody,” journalist Bill Littleton recalled in the book Dolly by Alanna Nash. “They all had a Dolly Parton story, they all knew her, and everybody had been to lunch with her. It was like the town had adopted her, and she was the fair-haired child. Every time you’d turn around. There was no way to stop her.”

A black and white picture of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton smiling together.
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton | GAB Archive/Redferns

Wagoner was aware of Parton, but he believed she wasn’t “country enough” and had betrayed the genre by singing pop songs.

“Someone had brought up her name to him as a singer, and he just wasn’t gonna have anything to do with Dolly,” his former employee said. “It was also before he met her.”

Porter Wagoner changed his opinion of Dolly Parton

After Parton released “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy,” Wagoner’s opinion of her began to shift. Before long, he believed she would be the perfect person to replace his singer, Norma Jean. He invited her to his office, where she played him a song she wrote about her husband, Carl Dean, fishing.

“This song told me so much about her,” Wagoner said. “I knew that if a person could sit down and write a song like that, they’d have to have a real soul inside them.”

He also knew her bubbly personality would work well on television. It didn’t take long for him to offer her a spot on the show.

“There was a lot that sold me on Dolly, but I think the deciding factor was Dolly’s personality — her warmth, her sincerity, her bein’ a real person,” he said. “She’s the kind of girl you can take anywhere under any conditions to meet anyone, and they’d like her . .. She has the type of personality I could sell to people on television and in person.”

She didn’t hesitate to accept his offer

When Parton met with Wagoner, she thought he would be considering her songs for Norma Jean to perform. It came as a shock, then, when he offered her a permanent spot on the show.

“I just stood there with my mouth open,” she wrote in her book Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “Now Porter became the businessman. His brow furrowed up a little bit as he said with conviction, ‘All I can offer you is sixty thousand a year.’ I was almost completely dumbfounded by the offer and the dollar amount, but I tried to act cool.”

A black and white picture of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner with their faces close together. She wears her hair in a beehive.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

She tried to maintain a poker face, but couldn’t for too long.

“Everything I had ever heard from my daddy about horse trading and everything I had ever learned from Uncle Bill about the music business quickly flashed through my mind,” she wrote. “Porter looked a little puzzled and prodded me with ‘Will you accept that?’ I said with the best poker face I could put on, ‘I’ll have to think about it … Yes I will.’ So much for horse trading.”

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