Destinations & Diversions: A red carpet premier in Dollywood

J. H. Osborne • Nov 30, 2016 at 1:15 PM

PIGEON FORGE — My destination last Tuesday (Nov. 22) originally was Florida. But then a diversion of a whole new color came up. The folks at Dollywood called and wanted me to work the red carpet at the Dollywood-goes-Hollywood-style premier of “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.”

It is scheduled to air tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 30) on the NBC television network.

At first, I leaned toward sending my regrets. I planned to be halfway across Georgia by the time the red carpet walk was set to begin at 4 p.m. But I was, in fact, planning to make my annual birthday pilgrimage to Walt Disney World via Knoxville, in order to drop my mother Wanda at my sister Pamela’s house.

So, Dollywood was practically right on the way. And mother was among the millions of television viewers who adored last year’s “Coat of Many Colors,” based on Parton’s song. It also aired on NBC, as the first in a series of movies Parton and the network made a deal to make based on the songwriter’s songs. Many expected the next to be “Jolene.” But “Coat of Many Colors” proved to be “box office” gold: it was the most-watched television movie in six years.

So, I reconsidered. I don’t usually take mother on assignment. But after I explained to the Dollywood folks that I would have her in the car and would be delaying my ultimate destination by a day, they said she was welcome to join me in what turned out to be one of the largest groups of media I’ve experienced in more than 15 years of covering events at Dollywood.

I dragged out my black velvet sport coat with black satin lapels (impulse buy off a “last chance” sale rack) and shined my best black dress shoes. Mother pulled out a gold-sequined jacket she hadn’t worn in at least a decade, along with her black-sequined flats. I warned her it would be pretty cold once the sun went down. Mother gave my niece Emily her old mink cape to wear between her wedding and reception a few years ago. And her old “mouton” jacket is deep somewhere in a storage unit. And no one wears real fur anymore, including mother.

Our friend Vicki Cooper Trammell, as she often does, came to the rescue, lending mother a lush, black faux fur.

Me (on the phone without even saying “hello”): “Do you happen to have a dark-colored faux fur coat Mom could borrow?”

Vicki: “Of course I do.I’ll drop it by as soon as I find it.”

So off we went to our first red carpet event.

We got to talking about movies in general, favorite Christmas movies in particular, and that led to a flood of memories for each of us as we made our way to Dollywood.

Who all remembers “The River,” filmed right here in our region? My aunt and uncle Ova and Lon Wallen were among the many locals who served as extras for the film. When it had its own local premier at the Eastman Employee Center, my parents and I were among those who shelled out the money to buy for-the-times-pricey movie tickets to be there. We blinked and missed Ova and Lon in a crowd scene. If that premier included a red carpet event, we don’t remember it.

It turns out, I have a lot of movie-related memories. A lot include my father taking me to see Disney films. “Jungle Book” really stands out. I think it was at the State on Broad. I remember my cousin Richard Nottingham taking me along with his sons Darrin and Rick to movies at Eastman’s old, smaller theater when that was a popular employee perk. I remember taking my grandmother to see “Coal Miner’s Daughter” at the Strand and praying she didn’t ask me what they just said happened whenever Loretta and “Doo” got to eatin’ baloney. (She didn’t.) I remember begging my parents to take me to see “The Poseidon Adventure” at the Terrace, with its “rocking-chair” seating and huge screen — and pacing the aisle and the back of the theater because the plot was so tense. I remember the Fort Henry 5 opening in the Fort Henry Mall, and my friend Marie Akens Graichen getting a job there. That led to many sneak/free previews of just-released films as management held screenings for employees and their guests. It also led to my first in-over-my-head-with-a-gorgeous blonde girl experience. A coworker of Marie’s at the 5, She was a whole year older. I was immature. But lots of good memories.

Mother and I each have numerous Christmas movies on our “favorites” lists. One we share and try to watch together each year is “A Christmas Memory,” a late 1960s television adaption of a Truman Capote short story. It’s about a young boy living with some elderly aunts in a rural area of the deep south during the Great Depression. He and an elderly female relative also living under the care of the aunts spend their year saving pennies in order to make a run of fruitcakes each Christmas. It’s a heartwarming, tale, with some humor and a good bit of sadness as well.

The same can be said of “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.” 

Parton has been touring in recent months under the title “Pure and Simple.”

“Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” is pure and simple family entertainment. If you are a fan of last year’s NBC/Parton movie, you will love this followup. It continues the story of Parton’s childhood. And this time Dolly herself ea part in the movie. She plays the “painted lady” she’s always said was the local woman Parton has always said was the inspiration for her own look.

At the premier, Parton said the film is based on two separate incidents from her childhood. I won’t give any of the plot away. But I will say if you are the sentimental type, be prepared to tear up a few times. Parton is a joy in her bit part, popping up here and there and interacting with young “Dolly” as her family faces several tough decisions and life-threatening challenges one Christmas season.

Like the film and many of Parton’s songs, the red-carpet premier focused heavily on Dolly’s family — more than 350 Partons or Owens family members were there. And, well, that’s how it should have been.

Mother and I were delighted to be on the media line and to get to watch the film with Parton, her, her family, the other cast members, and local VIPs.

We think we have a new Christmas movie to add to our “favorites” lists.

And I bet you will, too.