DVD Review: Dolly: The Ultimate Collection

Dolly Parton has been part of our lives since she first showed up on The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967. She become a welcome guest on countless talk shows and award ceremonies. She even hosted her own variety series. Plus plenty of concert specials give folks at home a taste of her live stage action. And now all the over 50 years of Dolly Parton on the dial have been brought together in the mammoth Dolly: The Ultimate Collection boxset with 19 DVDs containing 35 hours of those shows and specials.

The collection begins at the beginning with Dolly’s first big break when she replaced Norma Jean on The Porter Waggoner Show. The 30 minute show was a precursor to Hee Haw as Porter would perform with his band, guest artist and the country bumpkin comedy of Speck Rhodes. It was very lo-fi in its production so that it looked like a ’90s cable access series. Porter wore colorful suits designed by Nudie Cohn that you might have seen on Gram Parsons during his Flying Burrito Brothers days. The audience wasn’t too happy that Norma Jean had split the show and didn’t like Dolly. How can that be? Who doesn’t love Dolly Parton? She and Porter became duet partners with numerous hits during the seven years she stayed on the show. Included in the boxset is 7 episodes with guest stars ranging from Bobby Bare to Onie Wheeler to Nat Stuckey. But who tuned in for the guests when you had Dolly behind the microphone. It’s remarkable she was able to outshine Porter’s suits.

After she left Porter Waggoner, she quickly found herself in demand as singer and a TV hostess. In 1976, she had her own variety show produced by the same guy who did Porter Wagoner’s show. To keep things simple, the show was called Dolly. The thirty minute episodes not only gave Dolly a chance to dazzle, but begin mingling with important musical collaborators. The guests among the six episodes included are Tom T. Hall, Freddy Fender, KC and the Sunshine Band. Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt mix their voices with Dolly nearly a decade before they’d release their Trio record. Even more importantly is getting to see her instant chemistry with Kenny Rogers. She and Kenny would go on to do so many arena tours together. The show would last a season. For a while Dolly focused on her music and her movie career as she made 9 to 5, Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and Rhinestone with Sylvester Stallone.

Her variety show was revived in 1987 and was once again called Dolly. Because it was an hour long and on ABC, it was more of a variety show than purely music driven. The first episode featured Hulk Hogan, Dudley Moore and Pee Wee Herman which was ratings gold in 1987. Plus the opening to the episodes had Dolly in a bubble bath. People were eager to tune in. The debut had nearly 40 million viewers. Although outside of Dudley, not exactly known for their musical talent. The Pee Wee Herman segment has her show up at the Playhouse, the hottest address on TV. They duet on “Hey Good Lookin'” Pee Wee didn’t make her think of dumping Kenny, sadly. The boxset contains 16 of the 22 episodes. The second episode has Dolly hooking up with Burt Reynolds and singing with Alabama. The third episode reunites her with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, although by this time they had released the Trio record. Other guests featured are Bruce Willis, Kermit the Frog, Oak Ridge Boys, Louie Nye (Sonny Drysdale), Willie Nelson, Bob Hope, Jerry Lee Lewis, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Jerry Reed, Miss Piggy, Patti LaBelle, Barbara Mandell and others. Of course there was also Kenny Rogers. Although the most important guest is when she returns to Nashville to duet with Porter Wagoner. He still has the flash suit for the Opryland stage. The show only lasted a season after the ratings collapsed. As good as the musical moments, the dopey comedy segments dragged the show down.

She does comeback to TV as a guest on Bob Hope’s Jolly Christmas Show with the All-American Champs has her with Don Johnson and Florence Griffith Joyner. There’s also Song by Song: Dolly Parton where the singer breaks down the history of some of her biggest hits with six episodes dedicated to “I Will Always Love You,” “9 to 5,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” Travelin’ Thru,” and “It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right!” She really gets deep into the inspiration. There are also episodes where she talks with other performers about their music including Miley Cyrus, Vince Gill and Kenny Rogers. A selection of Opry Country duets has her and Porter joining voices on “Holdin’ On to Nothing” and “If Tear Drops Were Pennies.” Highlights from the CMAs include Dolly performing “Love Is Like a Butterfly” and “Here You Come Again.” There’s quite a few music videos she made in the 21st Century including “Backwoods Barbie” and “Jolene.”

There’s three episodes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She first arrives in 1977 as a fresh face in Hollywood. She returns in 1987 with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Her last visit is in 1992 with Steven Wright in the comedy slot. Dolly has her way with Johnny on all three visits. There’s a pack of visits from when Dolly visited Crook & Chase from 1986 to 1992. Dolly also sits down with Oprah for an interview in 1987 when her new show was about to launch.

There are two concerts included in the boxset. Dolly Parton: Live and Well is from 2002. Dolly Parton: Live from London was shot in 2009. She rules the stage at the O2 arena. Here you get to see her on stage and sharing all the music and little anecdotes that have made her part of our lives. Dolly Parton: Here I Am might be the first thing you should watch on the boxset since the documentary sets up so much of what you’ll see in the other specials. She talks about she went from the backwoods to the big times.

Dolly: The Ultimate Collection lives up to its promise with so much of Dolly Parton’s time in front of the TV camera in the boxset. So many of her best songs are either performed or probed over the 19 DVDs. You see how she went from Porter Wagoner’s new singing partner to packing an arena in London. This is a video museum to Dolly that leaves you fully embracing her music as much as her as a person. This is the ultimate Christmas gift for anyone whose been to Dollywood.

Currently Dolly: The Ultimate Collection boxset is available online from Time Life at https://timelife.com/products/dolly-deluxe-edition

The video is 1.33:1 full frame for so many of the shows. The London Concert, Dolly Parton: Here I Am and the more recent shows are 1.78:1 anamorphic. The audio is Dolby Digital mono for the older shows. The new shows are in stereo. There are a few episodes that are Closed Captioned or subtitled.

Dolly: In Her Own Words Interviews
London Loves Dolly
Sound Check
Meet and Greet
Dolly: Custom Made
The Porter Wagoner Show: Promos
Interview: Mac Davis (2012)
Dolly Parton sings for Johnny – Original Air Date: September 19, 1979
Interview: Lily Tomlin (2012)
Jo Walker-Meador Interview
Lyrical Moments

Time Life presents Dolly: The Ultimate Collection. Starring: Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Porter Wagoner, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Boxset Contents: 19 DVDs. Released: November 3, 2020.

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