Dolly Parton’s Friend Nearly Starred in ‘Best Little Whorehouse' Without Her

One of Dolly Parton’s most famous film roles is also one for which she wasn’t initially considered. After filmmakers considered several potential leads for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Parton landed the part. Her co-star, Burt Reynolds, was also not the first choice. Instead, filmmakers wanted one of Parton’s close friends and collaborators, Willie Nelson, as a leading man.

Dolly Parton felt her role in ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ was a culmination of her signature look

In The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Parton plays Miss Mona, the owner of a brothel. She felt that her character design fit her own looks perfectly, particularly after her part in 9 to 5. With Best Little Whorehouse, she had the chance to wear brighter, more dramatic costumes and sing. She even felt that she no longer needed her signature look after the film.

“Miss Mona in Whorehouse is the epitome of everything I’ve tried to create with this image, so I may not have a need for it after the movie comes out,” she explained in an interview with Ladies’ Home Journal, per the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “Maybe I’ll totally change Dolly’s look and surprise people.” 

Willie Nelson nearly had a role in the movie

Despite Parton’s evident excitement about the role, the part nearly wasn’t hers. According to New Line Theater, playwright Larry L. King, who wrote the stageplay, initially wanted Shirley MacLaine to play Miss Mona. He also suggested Dyan Cannon, Jill Clayburgh, and Cari Glynn, though the filmmakers believed none of these actors would be a big enough draw at the box office. Eventually, the role went to Parton. 

Had King gotten his way, Parton’s friend and collaborator Willie Nelson would have been a lead. Parton and Nelson met as young songwriters in Nashville, long before either of them struck it big.

“Willie and I came to town about the same time,” Parton said, per CMT. “Back in 1964, ’65, ’66, we both were writing for Combine Music…And we used to hang out a lot together, different people. Even Kristofferson back in those days! We all knew each other, and we used to sit around and write different songs.”

Though the studio took this suggestion more seriously, even meeting with Nelson about the part, the role eventually went to Reynolds.

Dolly Parton said filming ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ was difficult for her

Despite her excitement for the role, Parton said that Best Little Whorehouse was one of the most challenging parts she’d ever had. During this time, she dealt with both physical and mental illnesses that severely impacted her enjoyment of the shoot.

Whorehouse was not fun,” she told Interview magazine. “I loved Burt Reynolds and Jim Nabors and all those people. But at that particular time I was ill, and coming from a Broadway play, we already had everything against us.”

Upon finishing the film, Parton said she was happy with it. The process of getting the final product was grueling, though.

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