Few contemporary gay icons are more beloved than Dolly Parton. And because the singer, songwriter, actress, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist has also inspired countless others in their own creative pursuits, Dolly's name has been attached to a number of projects through the years, regardless of whether she has been directly or indirectly involved in them.
One current endeavor that has the superstar's involvement is a documentary film titled Hollywood to Dollywood. Featuring 15 of Dolly's biggest hits, and two previously-unreleased tunes, "Celebrate the Dreamer in You" and "The Sky Is Not the Limit," Hollywood to Dollywood follows the efforts of North Carolina natives Gary and Larry Lane to get a screenplay they've written into Dolly's hands, having penned a part in the story specifically with her in mind. Boarding an RV which they christen Jolene (after Dolly's 1973 hit), the gay twin brothers, who currently reside in Los Angeles, head east to Dollywood on a journey of self-discovery, which also serves as a sweet tribute to the universal appeal of the woman from Sevierville, TN, who has become (and certainly possesses) one of the most recognizable figures in the world.
Hollywood to Dollywood, which was officially released this month on DVD and Blu-ray, has played at 52 film festivals around the world, winning Best Documentary awards at 22 of them. The photogenic Lane brothers, who have appeared on Fear Factor, in the Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill, and as contestants on ABC's obstacle-course challenge, Wipeout, (earning the $50,000 grand prize), say their connection with Dolly began at an early age, even before either of them had realized or acknowledged that they were gay. When given the choice of a summer vacation destination, between Disney World and Dollywood, young Gary and Larry chose the latter every time, visiting the down-home theme park a total of nine times. As they began to come to terms with their sexuality, and the views many in their hometown of Goldsboro, N.C. -- let alone the rest of the world -- had with regard to being gay, the twins took comfort in Dolly's music and in her many television appearances, as she championed her countless gay followers all over the world.
"If she was on Oprah or whatever, they would always ask her about her gay fans," says Gary. They were always fascinated by how she embraced them because there weren't that many who did, openly. She would say, 'I love everybody, I don't judge. I want everybody to be happy.' All those things she would say resonated in us, and as we grew older, it really stuck with us. We always felt an acceptance from her."
"It is a little rough in North Carolina with our family," adds Larry, "because they're strong Southern Baptist and they're not embracing it as much. When we were on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, [on OWN, in an episode about twins] that kind of put the gas on the fire because that was the first time that we said it and owned it. Within 30 seconds of being on there, Rosie asked us, "What was it like growing up gay in North Carolina?" She just went there! The thing with our mom was that she used to watch Oprah and Rosie and when Rosie came out, our mom wouldn't watch her anymore."
"I said to our mom, she raised so much money for breast cancer, she got so many children adopted through the platform of her TV show, now that you know she's gay, what does that change about Rosie?" notes Gary. "When that show aired, that's when [the fact that we were gay] started hitting North Carolina. That brought it to the forefront and we're in the middle of it now. We've had people reach out to us, like younger kids, the ones that are getting bullied, that have said, 'thank you for telling your story.' We know that the good is outweighing what's going on in North Carolina. Our parents have known for 12 years; they're not going anywhere and they haven't turned their back on us. We know they never will. But this is the first time that everyone at church has found out about it. So it's a big deal."
It's certainly much less of a big deal in L.A., where the film opens as they show their screenplay, titled Full Circle, to friends in the business, including out actor Chad Allen and Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk), along with ubiquitous character actors Beth Grant (No Country for Old Men) and Leslie Jordan (The Help), who starred together in the film and TV series Sordid Lives and were both raised in the South.
"I don't know if their mother will ever come around and be accepting," says Leslie Jordan. "She's doing the best she can with the light she has to see with. But she did a really good job raising those boys. I think that comes out in the film. Regardless of what her beliefs are, she did a really good job raising those boys. They're generous, they're sweet and they're curious."
The 57-year-old actor, who grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., immediately saw the connection shared by Dolly and the twins.
"There's something bigger than life about her, and yet, she's good," he notes. "There are just some people that are just good. The Lane boys are like that. I don't know if that's just the way they were born or that good Southern upbringing but Dolly's like that, too. You just know that she's good and that Dolly's gonna do the right thing. Of course, she's always loved gay people. She doesn't judge. That's just the way I think a Christian should be. Tammy Faye Bakker was like that, too. When I first met Tammy Faye, I thought, 'I wonder if she's puttin' us on, because she seems so good.'"
Beth Grant, who co-starred with Dolly in the 1999 made-for-TV film Blue Valley Songbird, agrees, saying, "I don't know her religious beliefs... but she exemplifies what I believe true Christianity is all about -- love, acceptance, forgiveness, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, never cast the first stone -- all of the true quotes that I've heard that Jesus actually said, she represents. If Jesus came back, he'd want to hang with Dolly. 'Where is that Dolly Parton? I want to hang out with her.'"
Like many Southerners, Beth was first aware of Dolly thanks to her appearances on the syndicated Porter Wagoner Show beginning in 1967.
"We knew her before many people did," she recalls. "I wasn't into country music and neither were my friends but I was just amazed by her voice, and the songwriting, and then her persona, with the hair and everything. She was always iconic. It didn't take time for her to build to be an icon. She was born to be an icon. Then to get to work with her and find out she was even more of a human being. She's always so generous and kind and helping the kids."
One of Dolly's philanthropic efforts, her Imagination Library, which provides books each month, from birth to kindergarten, to children enrolled in the program, is a beneficiary of Hollywood to Dollywood's success as well, with 10 percent of each DVD sold being donated to the program. It was a decision the pair came to easily, as a way to give back to the woman who has given them, and so many others, so much.
"We're proud of what we've done and we're proud that we have Dolly's approval," says Gary. "It's so powerful for us."
For Gary and Larry, now 36, Dolly's approval extends beyond their personal lives. Once the superstar viewed the film, she granted the brothers the use of some of the best-known songs from her highly-prized catalog, providing the perfect musical backdrop to their cross-country trek. She also offered footage that had been shot at Dollywood and during the opening of the Trinkets and Treasures store in downtown Nashville. But it's the average, anonymous people they encounter along the way who offer some of the most telling commentary about the icon.
"Everybody we ran into, they all had a Dolly story," says Larry. "I always say if you want a real task, go out and try to find somebody to say one bad thing about Dolly Parton. You're gonna be out there a long time!"
Although the twins had several interviews for the documentary planned while on a stop in Nashville, the May 2010 flood that put much of Music City underwater derailed their plans and put their entire journey in jeopardy. Their visit to Dolly's flooded Trinkets and Treasures store downtown shows the brothers witnessing firsthand the damage the flood had done, and also provides some will-they-or-won't-they drama since the contact person holding their Dollywood passes was preoccupied with the store's flood damage. The brothers were also under the gun to tweak their Full Circle screenplay so that it was ready for Dolly when they finally encountered her, knowing that with her meticulously measured daily schedule they wouldn't likely have much time to do more than just hand it off to her, or worse, to someone they hoped would get it to her eventually. For others, the pressure might have been too much to handle.
"Because we're twins, we've always had a close bond anyway, but doing the film and telling our story, I think it's brought us closer," says Gary. "In the movie, we argue a lot, just being in the RV, but we're as close as we can be. He's like my best friend. Along the way, we're not only going to find Dolly but we find ourselves, for sure."
Also aboard "Jolene" for the journey is Gary's partner of five-and-a-half years, Mike Bowen, who [spoiler alert!] presents Dolly with a custom-made birdhouse he handcrafted for her that is a replica of her Tennessee mountain home. (For more of his work, visit www.bowenbirdhouses.com). Gary and Mike's anniversary, by the way, is January 19, which is Dolly's birthday. Larry and his partner, Dusan Klasovity, have been together for six years.
When it came time to screen Hollywood to Dollywood at festivals, the business-savvy brothers followed in Dolly's footsteps, quite literally. They submitted their film to play where Dolly was touring, including the UK, Australia and Canada, allowing them to witness not only Dolly's global impact but also their own role in furthering her sterling reputation as a one-woman peace corps.
"People come to the screenings and they say 'I loved her already, but to see you guys and your personal story and what she means to you, I love her even more now.'"
"Hollywood to Dollywood" is available for purchase now on DVD and Blu-ray at www.hollywood2dollywood.com.
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more