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Dolly Parton Pinball Machine in the Appalachian Collections

A virtual exhibit about the 1979 Dolly Parton pinball machine and its backstory—one Appalachian woman's wrestling with fame, her image, and her mountain identity.

Dolly Parton Pinball, More than Just a Game

The development of Bally's Dolly Parton themed pinball machine during 1978-79 presents an interesting case study in Appalachian and rural identity.

From Appalachia to Stardom

Dolly Parton is an internationally known singer, songwriter, actress, business woman, and performer.  She grew up as the fourth of twelve children in a one room cabin on Locust Ridge in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.

Parton began performing as a child, first in churches, then on local radio and television. At the age of 13 she began recording and first appeared at the Grand Ol’ Opry. In 1964, the day after she graduated from high school, she moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music. She first found success as a songwriter, and later as a performer and recording artist. By 1974 she had become a country music superstar.

Dolly Parton’s long and complex career includes an equally long and complex relationship with her country-Appalachian identity. Her definition of herself and her look have changed many times.  The Dolly Parton Pinball Machine is an example of this change; while the playfield portrays the Tennessee born country girl, the backglass boasts a flashy superstar in Vegas.




        Dolly Rebecca Parton, born January 19, 1946 in Sevierville, Tennessee.

The Evolution of Dolly's Public Image

Much like her portrayals in the pinball machine artwork, Dolly Parton's image has changed multiple times.    


ca. 1965 1977
1984 1996


Dolly on Being a Superstar and Growing Up in the Mountains

In a December 1977 interview on Barbara Walters Special, Parton said when asked about the shifted direction of her career:

“I’m not making a crossover from country to pop. I am trying to be accepted in the pop field as well as the country field. I feel my music is its own music just like I’m my own person. I write ‘em. I sing ‘em. I have my own way of doing it . . .  My dream was always to make as many people happy as I could in this life. I would like to be a superstar. I guess all people dream of that. So in order to be a superstar you can’t be just a superstar in one area. That means you have to appeal to the majority of people. And that’s what I am trying to do.”

Barbara Walters: “You said it yourself that you live a lot in your own imagination. Sometimes you remind yourself of a fairy tale, so I want to try a fairy tale on you. Once upon a time there was a little girl. Her name was Dolly Parton, and . . .”

Dolly: “She lived in a small town in the mountains, which she loved, because it was a comfort, because she knew there was love and security there with family. But she was a child, very curious, and she wanted all the things she had always been impressed with. Like the fairy tales of the mother goose stories and the Cinderella and the lost slipper. Well, I guess she kind of wanted to find the other glass slipper. So she worked hard, and she dreamed a lot, and one day it came true. She was a fairy princess, and she lived happily ever after.”

-- Entire Interview once available on YouTube as video: 3Vj3Bb9aCvA, retrieved in 2015, but now removed.