As two of the most influential female artists of the late Seventies, Dolly Parton and Barbara Mandrell both broke new ground in — and outside of — country music. While Parton made the successful crossover to pop music and starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the blockbuster 1980 film 9 to 5, Mandrell joined her sisters Louise and Irlene in an NBC variety series that debuted in the fall of that year and spotlighted the siblings’ virtuosity on numerous musical instruments, adding comedy (or a reasonable facsimile) and top-flight guest stars to the mix.
In January 1981, just one month after the assassination of the Beatles’ John Lennon, Dolly was nominated for an Oscar for her smash theme song “9 to 5.” As one of the guest stars on the sixth episode of the Mandrells’ series, which aired January 10th, Parton, who shared a longtime friendship with Mandrell, joked with her fellow entertainer, telling her “I think you’ve got just about everything a girl could want. You ain’t got just a heap of it.”
In spite of both being decked out in shiny gold gowns, their blonde tresses perfectly coiffed, Parton notes that success hasn’t changed either of the ladies, and “we’re still the same simple girls we always were.” “I was saying that just this morning to the man who brushes my teeth,” Mandrell joked before things turn from silly to sincere and Mandrell reasoned that what matters is the kind of person you are inside.
“Money can’t buy love and friendship. It’ll sure buy a lot of other good stuff, though,” Parton quips, turning their little morality lesson into a perfectly timed song cue, a longstanding staple of the TV variety series. (Watch their performance below.)
Surrounded by the temptation to forsake their friendship for diamonds and furs, the pair plays dress-up while turning in a lively performance of the Beatles’ 1964 hit “Can’t Buy Me Love,” deciding by the end of the number that they valued friendship over all — but wouldn’t mind hanging on to a few of those material possessions for themselves. The Seventies may have been over, but it seems traces of the “Me” decade remained.
Although the final new episode of the Mandrell series, with guest stars Johnny and June Carter Cash, aired in February 1982, the show remained in reruns through June of that year, by which time variety shows had all but disappeared on network television. In 1987, Parton’s attempt to revive the genre with her own ABC variety series was unsuccessful.