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Dolly Parton got her big break on The Porter Wagoner Show. During her tenure on the program, she became a country star and set herself up for a lengthy and fruitful solo career. Though it was a helpful part of her rise, it was not always an easy one. Parton once joked that she could understand how Kermit the Frog felt after her years with Wagoner. 

Dolly Parton said work with Porter Wagoner wasn’t easy 

In 1967, Parton began appearing regularly on The Porter Wagoner Show. While his audience initially resented her for replacing singer Norma Jean, they eventually welcomed her with open arms. Soon, she began recording songs and traveling with him. They had such chemistry that rumors began to fly about an affair between them. Behind the scenes, though, their relationship was a constant challenge.

A black and white picture of Dolly Parton resting her hands on Porter Wagoner's shoulders. He rests his hands on a guitar.
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Parton did not feel that she had enough creative control over her own career, eventually prompting her to exit the show. Years later, she was on the set of her variety show, Dolly, watching Jim Henson sing a song as Kermit the Frog. She joked that her experience with Wagoner taught her how Kermit might feel.

“One day I was standing with my stage manager, Sandy Prudden, and Buddy Sheffield watching as Kermit the Frog (with the help of the late Jim Henson) sweetly sang a song,” Parton wrote in her book Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “Sandy was always a big joker. He sidled up to me and said, ‘Isn’t it amazing the way Kermit can sing like that with somebody’s hand up his a**.’ Without missing a beat, I came back with, ‘Shoot, that ain’t nothin’. I did that for seven years on The Porter Wagoner Show.’”

Dolly Parton said she and Porter Wagoner fought constantly

Parton acknowledged that Wagoner was extremely important to the development of her career.

“I think it was God’s will for a higher purpose for both of us,” she wrote. “I can’t speak for Porter, but I truly believe I have become a wiser and better person for the growth I accomplished during those difficult years.” 

Still, much of her growth happened through adversity. She put on a smile for the camera, but fought viciously with Wagoner behind the scenes.

“It was a great lesson in patience, tolerance, acceptance, love, and especially forgiveness as we dealt with greed, spite, possessiveness, jealousy, fear — even hate at times,” she wrote. “The former being angels, and the latter being demons, I think of Porter as one of the most important angels in my life, even with all of his demons. I have enough of my own demons to wrestle with, as we all do. We certainly were not shy about turning our demons loose on each other at any given moment. It was not uncommon for us to argue and holler loud enough to be heard a block away, or at the back of the bus.”

She didn’t think affair rumors would damage her image

Perhaps it was the passion they brought to their relationship that fueled affair rumors. Both Parton and Wagoner were married at the time, but she didn’t worry about the damage these rumors could do to her reputation.

A black and white picture of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner leaning towards each other.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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“The rumors about a romantic link between the two of us have lasted to this day. There had been the same kind of stories going around about Norma Jean and even Tammy Wynette, who had filled in for her at times,” Parton wrote. “One day I was talking to Tammy and she asked me, ‘What if Porter claims we all slept with him?’ ‘Don’t worry, Tammy,’ I said. ‘Half of the people will think he’s lying and the other half will just think we had bad taste.’”