If something knocks Dolly Parton down, she bounces right back up. That resiliency has been the substance of the music that's made her a country superstar, and the truth of her life.
Reared in deep poverty with 11 siblings in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Parton, 65, is as surprised as anybody that "9 to 5," the 1980 comedy in which she had her first film role and whose Grammy-winning signature song she composed, has become a feminist touchstone.
The comedy, a series of revenge fantasies by female office workers on their chauvinistic boss, grossed more than $100 million and launched Parton's big-screen career. She has starred in such films as "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982), "Rhinestone" (1984), "Steel Magnolias" (1989) and "Joyful Noise" with Queen Latifah, to be released next year.
Parton's first film inspired a short-lived TV series as well as a musical that opened on Broadway in April 2009 to mixed reviews.
Nominated for four Tonys, it won none. The show closed after only 148 performances. No matter: Parton, who has a catalog of 5,000 songs and more hits than the Minnesota Twins, revels in trying new things.
"I was just given a chance to do something new, and I jumped at it," she said of writing the musical.
The self-described "backwoods Barbie," given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in February, was chipper and indomitable in an interview to promote the road tour of the musical, which opens Tuesday at St. Paul's Ordway Center, and her sold-out July 27 concert at Mystic Lake to support her well received new album, "Better Day."
Q: You created spunky secretary Doralee Rhodes in the movie. How much of the role is fiction and how much of it is you?
A: That character was so much me. Just a country girl, a fish out of water, overdressed with mascara. That's how I think I came up with the little "Backwoods Barbie" song [the title of her 2008 album]: "I'm just a backwoods Barbie, too much makeup, too much hair. Don't be fooled by thinking that the goods are not all there. Don't let these false eyelashes lead you to believe that I'm as shallow as I look because I run true and deep." It sums up who she was and who I am. I drew from my own experience, my own feelings.
Q: Did you ever imagine that the film would become such a cultural signifier, even though things have changed so much?
A: I read somewhere that Doralee is the No. 1 [screen] secretary of all time. The movie helped with awareness of a lot of women's issues. Things with the economy are harder now than they were back then. You have to work 24/7 now. But women are doing better, pushing up against a glass ceiling. We didn't intend to make a big statement about men or sexism or anything like that. [Co-stars] Jane [Fonda], Lily [Tomlin], Dabney [Coleman] and I, we were just having fun.
Q: The boss, Mr. Hart, is a jerk in the story. What was it like writing music for him and other male characters?
A: Oh, so much fun. I loved writing from his perspective. I just became that old turd. Of course, I wrote so many pieces for him, they had to narrow it down to two songs. Now they only sing one on the road show. Oh, I got such a kick out of it.
Q: In the film, TV shows and musical, the women deal with adverse environment by tapping their imaginations. How important is the imagination in coping?
A: People always are in a bind in tough, tedious jobs or in horrible circumstances. You know, I grew up in poverty. You need a fantasy life to escape. I think the success of "9 to 5" is because we have so much fun with it. Everybody loves to hate their boss and usually you have good reasons to.
Q: Was it difficult to translate "9 to 5" to the stage when the idea was first proposed several years ago?
A: The producers first wanted me for the movie because I was in the music business and I knew these characters so well. I had never thought of it as a musical until producer Robert Greenblatt [now chairman of NBC] mentioned it. As soon as they proposed it, being a musical person who loves to write stories and create stuff, I dove right in. I knew instantly what I would do.
Q: How did you like composing for the theater as opposed to writing songs for an album?
A: Once I got into it, I found it so much more exciting than writing for radio. When you're doing records, you cater things for airplay. You can't just go on and on. But with this, I had more freedom. I love the dynamics -- make it big, make it little. I'm going to do more things, even if it's just for community theater.
Q: The show did not do well on Broadway. How did you deal with that?
A: Well, I didn't know what to expect -- it's a new world for me. I had hoped it would be a big success on Broadway and was disappointed it didn't stay there longer. You can make all the excuses in the world -- it came out at a time when we were going into a deep recession, we started late.
Q: After it closed in New York, you tweaked it for the road?
A: We've come back to it, streamlined it and made it better for the road. Look, I grew up in poverty. I'm tough, and don't quit.
Q: What is the take-away from your musical theater experience?
A: I'm still in it. When the show closed, I think there was a message in there for me. I say, "Thank you, Lord, I got it." I call those God moments, where I think he's winking at me. Something looks like a setback, but it's really a breakthrough.
Q: You've been in show business for some five decades, and you don't seem to be slowing down.
A: Yes, I'm touring to support a new CD, "Better Day." I worked on a movie, "Joyful Noise," with Queen Latifah. She and I are in the choir together. There's an upcoming world tour -- Europe, Australia, here in America -- that kicks off July 17 in Knoxville, Tenn., and goes through December. At my age, I thought there were things I shouldn't be doing. But I'm learning and having fun. This backwoods Barbie is living in the promise of better days.