Dolly Parton, the iconic country music artist, has written more than 3,000 songs in her lifetime.
Many are country and pop music staples. But she never hesitates when asked to name her favorite. It’s Coat of Many Colors, which was a hit single in 1971.
That song — in which Parton shares a cherished memory from childhood, growing up poor but happy in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains during the 1950s — has been turned into a movie.
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Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
If you know the song, you know the story — or at least part of it.
“I needed a coat, and Momma didn’t have enough of one material to make it,” Parton remembers. “People used to bring Momma scraps to make quilt tops. This particular time, she knew I needed a coat, so she made it out of the scraps.
I could not wait to wear that coat to school. But the kids laughed and said, ‘That’s just a bunch of scraps.’
“In order to make me proud of it, she told me the story of Joseph from the Bible and his Coat of Many Colors. I could not wait to wear that coat to school. But the kids laughed and said, ‘That’s just a bunch of scraps,’ when I was thinking I was all royal.”
Her classmates might have made fun of her, but little Dolly still felt special in that coat because she knew the love that went into making it. And as Parton points out in a key line of the song, “One is only poor only if they choose to be.”
“We thought that would make a wonderful movie,” Parton says.
But it turns out there’s even more to the story. Jennifer Nettles, who stars as Avie Lee Parton, Dolly’s mother, tells it: “The Coat of Many Colors is a symbol for that family that grew out of a tragedy during a time when Avie Lee was pregnant with her ninth child, little Larry.
“He is born prematurely and he dies. This throws the entire family, and it sends Avie Lee into a depression. But as she is coming out of that depression, she takes the quilt that she was making for little Larry and turns tragedy into something beautiful.”
Suffice to say that, at a time when the airwaves are filled to overflowing with Christmas films, Coat of Many Colors is the feel-good TV movie of the month.
The cast also includes Ricky Schroder (as Dolly’s daddy, Lee Parton), Gerald McRaney (as Grandpa Jake Owens) and scene-stealing Alyvia Alyn Lind as 9-year-old Dolly.
“She’s going to make me look good,” Parton says of Lind. “As a child, I was never that cute.”
Parton, who’s also an executive producer, says the cast and crew felt like family to her. In fact, one of the co-stars really is family. Stella Parton, who had a substantial country music career in her own right, plays Corla, the woman who runs the dry-goods store in town.
“The real Stella and the little Stella that we cast bonded on set,” Parton says. “It was very cute. And I was just so happy to have her on it because it made it even more family.”
I thought that this would be a real good time, if you can sit your kids down long enough and get rid of all their equipment, to say, ‘Hey, watch this.’
Family is the operative word with this movie. Parton hopes that parents and children see the film together.
“There’s not enough family stuff on TV,” she says. “There are all kinds of freaky shows all over. Just craziness! Also, kids are all into this high-tech world and they don’t really associate with family or really understand what family used to be.
“So I thought that this would be a real good time, if you can sit your kids down long enough and get rid of all their equipment, to say, ‘Hey, watch this.’ If, for nothing else, just to see how people used to live. Maybe they’ll get some of the family values from it.”
Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors
- 8 p.m. Thursday
- KXAS/Channel 5