"We had a roof over our head, I always say, even if it did leak. We had something to eat on our table, even if it wasn't exactly what we wanted. Had a bed to sleep in, even if there were a bunch of us in it," she told Safer.
The day after high school graduation, Dolly lit out for Nashville, the country music capital. She had already had a record or two and been on local radio and TV back home, but Nashville was one mean town.
"It was a lot of that being lonely, being homesick, cryin' every night," she remembered.
But she told Safer she was never tempted to just pack it up and go home. "Never crossed my mind. Because I figured the least I would be would just be hungry."
Eventually, she got a spot on the Grand Ole Opry, the country music mecca. And soon, little Dolly Parton was very big indeed, as singer and writer of country music classics.
She's so big back home in eastern Tennessee, they put a statue of her in front of the courthouse in Sevierville.
And nearby is Dollywood, her theme park. It's a shrine to southern culture, southern food and southern music. For nearly a quarter century, Dollywood has brought the area thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue. It's Dolly's own economic stimulus package.
One of the rooms at her museum, filled with memorabilia, is called Dolly's Attic. "I call it my arts and crap building," she joked.
And behind all the costumes, the Grammys, the gold records on display at Dollywood, there's the guiding hand of a show biz entrepreneur. "I love the business end of the business. I'm almost like three people. There's me the, Dolly, the person. There's me, the star. And then there's me, the manager," she explained.
And of course there's Dolly, the composer. On Broadway is "9 to 5," the musical, with songs by Dolly. It's a show developed from her first movie 30 years ago, one that turned her into a feminist icon. She wrote the title tune while the movie was being shot. It was right there at her fingertips.
"I have acrylic fingernails. And they make a great, you know, rhythm sound. And they sound almost like a typewriter to me. And it was all about secretaries. So I'd be on the set, I'd just go around 'Workin' 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.' So they all got a kick out of my nails. And I actually wound up playing my fingernails as part of the percussion sound on the real record," she explained, demonstrating the sound her nails can make.