Jerry Summers: Dolly Parton And The Greasy Pole

Monday, June 14, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The stories about country and pop superstar Dolly Parton and how Cas Walker gave her her first singing job on radio and television are well known.  At the age of 10 she became a regular on his early morning television show on WBIR-TV in Knoxville and Dolly credits Cas with giving her a start in her career.

However, one story is both acknowledged and denied by acquaintances of Cas and Dolly.  After she started appearing on Cas’ radio and television shows she also was expected to perform at live shows in surrounding areas.  Cas had rented a place in Sevierville, Tennessee and would put on live music shows. 

One of his gimmicks to raise crowds was to take a 50-foot long wooden pole, dig a hole in the ground and then put the pole in it and surround it with concrete around the bottom.  The pole would be covered with grease and before the pole was installed in the ground Cas would attach $50 dollars on top.  Every Saturday the contest drew a large crowd to see if any contestant could climb the pole and get the money without sliding off of it.

According to one story Dolly had tried to climb the pole every weekend when she was six years old in a pair of overalls but couldn’t make it to the top.  Finally, one Saturday she allegedly had her mother take her down to the river and Dolly waded out and got wet.  She then rolled in a sandbar and had grit and sand all over her clothes.  With this sand on her clothes she was able to climb the pole and get Cas’ $50 and end his greasy pole contest.

Another acquaintance, Larry Mathis, refuted the story and claimed that neither Dolly nor anyone else ever climbed the greasy pole although a great many people tried and that it was a great crowd attraction.  Larry and several of his friends make the same assertion that no one ever climbed that pole and nearly all of them are dead.

Dolly may be the only survivor that can verify Cas’ claim that she climbed the greasy pole as he expressed in his autobiography, “Cas Walker, My Life Story.”

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

           

Dolly Parton on the Cas Walker Show
Dolly Parton on the Cas Walker Show

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