Loretta Lynn. What’s a country music queen like you doing in a place like this, a blog about silent film stars?
Before I fell into infatuation with silent film personalities in the 1980s, I was a huge Loretta Lynn fan — I still am. There’s no finer personality, singer, and songwriter to ever come along.
Having said that, there is a connection with Loretta Lynn and silent films. I’ll tell you about it later.
Today is Loretta’s 80th birthday. She has always shied away from pinpointing her exact birth date. It is generally thought to be April 14, 1935. Kentucky birth records indicate 1932. But, that is beside the point.
It was somewhere in the early 1980s. I was studying journalism at the University of Georgia. It was a major goal in life to meet my childhood idol, Loretta Lynn. I had seen her in concert in the mid-1970s. I had been among the swarm of fans gathered around her bus before a show or the stage when she had taken her final bow. I knew it was virtually impossible to say more than hello to this country legend.
While studying journalism, I decided to take on the role of a reporter. That’s the way I would meet Loretta Lynn. I would be a journalist one day; I just wasn’t one yet! I made a fake press pass, bought a tape recorder, and put together some questions. On the night of Loretta’s show, I went behind the auditorium to her bus and gathered with her other fans. I asked for her road manager.
“I’m with such and such a paper and I was hoping to interview Loretta before the show?” I said.
The road manager disappeared inside the bus for what seemed like an hour. When he returned, he said I could have five minutes with the star of the show. As I write this so many years later, the butterflies are still swarming in my tummy. I was nervous about meeting my childhood idol.
I was led through the legion of fans, up the steps of the bus, and into Loretta’s on-the-road living room. She gets up, opens her arms, and says, “Well, honey, come on in.” I take a few steps forward before tripping on the last step. I came mighty close to falling into Loretta Lynn’s arms.
Five minutes passed. I had asked only one or two of my questions. “Sweetheart,” she said, “take as long as you need.” I asked her something about the space shuttle progam, which was just getting started. Would she like to become the first country star in space? “No way, Jose!” she said. “Let’s let someone else do that. Not me.” “What is your definition of success” I asked. “Peace of mind,” she replied without hesitating.
I don’t remember much about that first interview. What I do recall, however, still sticks with me almost 30 years later. She told me how she became successful in her field, but then turned the conversation to me, a budding writer as green as they come. “You will be successful in your work,” she said. “I believe in you. If I can do it, you can, also.” She gave me the confidence I didn’t have in myself. What a gift!
I later became a newspaper reporter and interviewed Loretta several more times. One time, we chatted before a show while she was still in her housecoat. She rolled her hair as we talked, dipping her fingers into water, wetting her hair, and pinning the rollers in place.
The last time I interviewed Loretta, it was after midnight. She had just performed two shows, and although she had to have been exhausted, she made time and gave a thoughtful response to my question about her future.
“I don’t know the future, but you have to know your past in order to live with the future,” she said. “I know where I’ve been and I’ve learned a lot. But, then again, when you get right down to it, it’s not what I’ve learned, but what I’ve been through that counts.”
I’ve interviewed hundreds of others over the years as a newspaper reporter and in my freelance work, but it is that first interview with Loretta Lynn that gave me a boost, the courage to pursue what I wanted most: to write.
Thank you, Loretta! Happy Birthday!
Oh! Loretta’s connection to the silent film era. I almost forgot.
Her mother, Clara, named her Loretta after Loretta Young, one of her favorite movie stars at the time. There you have it!