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Dolly Parton’s career reached new heights when she began making appearances on The Porter Wagoner Show. When Wagoner first heard of Parton, he didn’t think she would be a good fit for the show. After he met her, though, he knew she would be perfect. He shared the deciding factor for inviting her on the program.

Porter Wagoner shared what made him want Dolly Parton on his show

In 1967, the singer on Wagoner’s show, Norma Jean, announced she was leaving following her marriage. Wagoner needed someone to fill the role, and Parton, whom he did not initially like, began to seem like an attractive option. He wanted to meet with her first, though. 

Parton arrived at his office and sang a song she wrote while watching her husband, Carl Dean, fish.

A black and white picture of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner with their faces close together. She wears her hair in a beehive.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“This song told me so much about her,” Wagoner said, per the book Dolly by Alanna Nash. “I knew that if a person could sit down and write a song like that, they’d have to have a real soul inside them.”

Wagoner liked that she could write her own songs and that she was a rising Nashville star. Ultimately, though, he wanted her on the show because of her magnetic personality.

“There was a lot that sold me on Dolly, but I think the deciding factor was Dolly’s personality — her warmth, her sincerity, her bein’ a real person,” he said. “She’s the kind of girl you can take anywhere under any conditions to meet anyone, and they’d like her … She has the type of personality I could sell to people on television and in person.”

She didn’t expect him to make this type of offer

While Wagoner knew he was likely going to offer Parton a spot on his show, she claimed she had no idea. She thought he wanted her to write a few songs for Norma Jean.

“I was also familiar with the female singer on his show, Norma Jean Beasler, the one Porter always called ‘Pretty Miss Norma Jean.’ Everybody loved her, myself included. She had done some fun songs that I relate to, like ‘Don’t Let That Doorknob Hit You Going Out,’” she wrote in her book Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “I had some songs I thought might be right for her so I had submitted them to Porter for consideration. I assumed that was the reason my guitar and I were being summoned to Porter’s office.”

When she finished playing a song for him, he offered her $60,000 a year to appear on the show. She said she was “dumbfounded” but immediately agreed.

Dolly Parton said working with Porter Wagoner was challenging and rewarding

Parton worked with Wagoner for the next seven years. She said this was one of the most challenging periods of her life, even though it was a career boon.

Dolly Parton wears a red turtleneck and a denim shirt and sits in front of a window.
Dolly Parton | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Dolly Parton Made the Painful Decision to Fire Her Best Friend 

“I have analyzed my relationship with Porter, over the years, and come to understand that even though it was the hardest and worst period of my life, those seven years were the most prosperous, productive, and growth-filled ones as well,” she wrote. “When I think back on it all now, it is the good I remember.”

While their working relationship ended on a sour note, she forgave Wagoner before his death.