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CHER v. DOLLY
BATTLE of the DIVAS
WELCOME BACK to Battle of the Divas! This week we have CHER v. DOLLY, and it promises to be quite a smackdown.
This is a far, far more difficult contest than Liza v. Aretha. In these match-ups, one must generate categories without stacking the deck for an unfair advantage to one or the other—I’ll admit choreography was rough for Aretha.
I thought of husbands, for example, where Cher has had two (gee, I thought it must be more) while Dolly just the one. Either way you feel about husbands, that’s not entirely fair, or pertinent, Bechdel Test-wise.
Also, we aren’t much into judging people based on looks and such—we’re all red inside, where it counts.
Same with plastic surgery: “An' ye harm none, do what ye will” as we say in the trade. We all have a choice—as marvelous Australian comedian Judith Lucy says: “You can look old—or you can look weird.” I say “old” now, while I’m young, Young, YOUNG, but who knows later, when Hollywood calls…? Weird is people too.
Therefore, the judging categories are: Movies, Music, and new categories, philanthropy and “America’s Grandma.” I literally have no idea how this is going to end as I start writing, so let’s gooooooooo! Monocles in.
Already we come to a difficult round. On the face of it, Cher has been in far more movies, and while we could take an easy point for her, I believe there are really only two movies of consequence for either.
Cher: The Witches of Eastwick, Moonstruck (both from 1987)
Dolly: 9 to 5 (1980), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
This is a fair match, I think—three witches of Eastwick, and three office gals; while Moonstruck and BLWT were starring roles.
I adore all four of these movies. I never saw Silkwood or Mask all the way through; Mermaids and Mama Mia 2? Meh. I just don’t think we need to drag every movie into the equation, and frankly, that’s being generous to Cher because otherwise Burlesque would be on the table, and that all by itself could sink the SS Mrs. Bono (ditto husbands, as already mentioned.)
Let’s start with Moonstruck. It’s wonderful, it’s sweet, it’s romantic—there’s a makeover scene where Cher transforms from graying Italian-American spinster into herself. Brava. She won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress—well deserved. There are so many things we love: Olympia Dukakis; the music—Dean Martin, Puccini; Nicolas Cage, the gloriously greasy lover; Olympia Dukakis, again. Great effort, but not a knockout.
Next, 9 to 5. What’s not to love? Dolly, Lily AND Jane? Fab—I dare say we love them more than the movie, which, when we get right down to it, is pretty slapstick. Dabney Coleman’s Frank Hart, adorably dastardly; Margaret Foster, the old lush (Peggy Pope;) clueless wife, Missy (Marian Mercer;) even the suck-up, Roz (Elizabeth Wilson.) Holy merde, what a great cast—of mostly women, the 80s answer in the office to 1939’s The Women in the home. All very fun, if a tad prim, even with the weed, and Dabney in bondage. (I blame Jane Fonda’s wardrobe.)
Against Cher’s Oscar and Golden Globe wins, I also submit Dolly’s first Golden Globe nom, and her award-winning eponymous song—one of whose instruments is her own set of acrylic nails!—which holds up to this day as an anthem against the corporate patriarchy. Great opening sequence, too.
It’s tight. Let’s move on.
The Witches of Eastwick. I! LOVE! IT! The full monty: polyamory, before everyone was doing it; Jack Nicholson, in a role no other actor could have played; Susan Sarandon’s flaming cello; Michelle Pfeiffer, that white-gold; SUPERB ending; AND, one of the most hilariously diabolical scenes ever filmed, VERONICA CARTWRIGHT’S CHERRY SCENE!
Where is Cher in all of this? Strangely enough, she plays the level-headed Alex, beautiful and strong, but straight-faced. Notes, notes, lots of notes.
Meanwhile, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was not, shall we say, a serious film. It was a Broadway musical made into a movie, and the music IS wonderful and fun, Dolly IS Miss Mona, and Burt Reynolds was at his most devilishly handsome. But.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning Dolly received another Golden Globe nom for Best Actress-Musical or Comedy, losing to Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria. It’s also worth noting Dom DeLuise’s perfect turn as Melvin P. Thorpe—the loosely closeted, bowl-cut wearing, pants in boots tucking, Southern-drawling, far-right killjoy—delivering the silliest song of the show.
And last but not least, I must confess, the Aggies football team’s locker room/shower scene might be the most pivotal 23 seconds of film in my entire queer formative experience. It’s a delightful movie.
In the end, although it is not entirely fair to judge Cher and Dolly based on other actors in their best films, it is neck and neck, and after careful consideration, we have to go with…
VERONICA CARTWRIGHT CHER
If Liza and Aretha were apples and oranges, Cher and Dolly are peaches and pomegranates. They couldn’t be more different, musically, but it would be sheer nonsense not to include this category for these two iconic musicians.
Cher’s musical repertoire spans folk rock, disco, pop-rock, dance-pop; she put Auto-Tune on the map; and has died and risen from the ashes so many times, she might be our closest living embodiment to a phoenix ever.
Though I don’t normally care about such trifles, she has sold 140 million records (including 40MM with Sonny,) and has had #1 singles in six consecutive decades.
I was a tad young for Sonny & Cher-Cher, and Middle-Cher’s music was a bit of a muddle, so I really didn’t become a believer until Believe, and yet, it is All or Nothing from the same album I’ll probably be screaming at the top of my lungs in The End, from my bespoke handbasket to you-know-where.
Also, my Cher impression is super on-point for this particular song, not sure why, like almost as flawless as my Shelley Winters’ Poseidon Heart Attack, i.e., uncanny.
While versatility is definitely a subcategory worth considering, we can’t fault Dolly for being who she is: Dolly Parton IS country music. She may not be the Queen of County, but when she bleeds, Southern Comfort gushes out.
One big plus for Dolly is that, like Loretta Lynn (and unlike Cher) she writes all her own music. And not only her own, but many other people’s too: Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., Kenny Rogers, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris to name a few. According to this article, she’s written almost 3,000 songs in her career, of which close to 450 have been recorded.
She has sold 100 million records, had music chart in each of the last SEVEN decades, and won 11 Grammy Awards (to Cher’s one.)
Here she is singing my favorite Dolly Parton song, a duet with Kenny Rogers actually, and written by the Bee Gees of all people.
Cher has changed and stayed current; Dolly, bless her heart, has stayed true to her roots but gone a little churchy. You can actually DANCE to Cher; but Dolly writes her own music. Ugh, this is hard.
Like I said, peaches and pomegranates.
(Dear goddess, it’s getting warm in here.)
I confess I thought this might be an easy point for Dolly, she is famously generous, and started one of the most sensible and successful charities ever created, the Imagination Library. Through her Dollywood Foundation, over 200 million books have been gifted to children, firing imaginations, increasing literacy, and single-handedly carrying the torch for drag queen’s reading to children long before anyone even knew that was a thing. 😘
As a writer, and a reader, I can think of no better way to stimulate creativity, and set children on a trajectory toward happiness, tolerance, and resilience in the face of the enormous challenges they face. I’ve said time and again that if we spent as much money on education as national defense, we could solve 80% of society’s problems within a generation. Dolly’s actually doing something about that.
She also donated $1 million to Covid research, and very publicly got vaccinated as soon as possible, setting an example among demographics who might otherwise have foregone this life-saving care (to put it as delicately as possible.) I believe she saved lives, and she is a hero.
But hold on. Turns out, Cher also donated a $1 million to Covid, and also has a long, long list of charitable causes she supports. Children, AIDS-research, poverty initiatives, soldiers and veterans, LGBTQ+s—Cher has not been idle or stingy with her voice, her fortune, or her time. And then there’s the elephant.
I can’t get too into the details because I’ll start crying, but basically she saved an elephant named Kaavan in Pakistan, and it was *sniff* touching, to say the least. There’s a documentary, it was a big deal, and my heart breaks for mistreated animals and especially, for some reason, elephants, but all creatures big and small really. Excuse me for just a moment, I have an onion to chop…
HOWEVER. Then there was the scene of her singing to Kaavan “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella, and…well, it was just a little embarrassing to me. I don’t know why.
Obviously, I love Cinderella (obviously.) I love Cher, I love elephants, I like the song alright, it’s not my favorite from the movie but whatever. I just…I don’t know. It was a bit much. No Auto-Tune, no backing music. I couldn’t watch.
I’m not saying the elephant didn’t love the serenade; I’m not saying she sang poorly; I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve a medal—save one life, save the world applies to elephants too. I am saying that with these razor-thin margins, perception counts. Yay, Kaavan; cringe, Cher.
I’m not sure how this category snuck in here, but it’s not as cut-and-dried as you might think.
This was inspired by Betty White, RIP, who—although better-known for playing bitches and vamps earlier on—actually became the lovable nincompoop Rose Nylund on the Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992, and never recovered from the sweet and silly aura of that role. Living on, and on, and on, to just short of 100, she spent the last thirty years of her life as, essentially, America’s Grandma.
“Who will be our new Betty White?” I asked my sobbing husband, the world’s biggest Golden Girls fan, when she died on New Years Eve, 2021 (obviously the party was canceled.)
“Boo hoo!” he said.
“You’re right!” I said. “Dolly is officially the new Betty White.” And so.
But wait: did you know that Cher and Dolly Parton are the same age? They were born four months apart, in 1946, making them both, as of this writing, 77 years old. Furthermore, of the two, Cher has children, while Dolly has none, and so there is a still a chance that Cher might someday become an actual grandmother. This complicates things.
Regarding “America’s Grandma,” I think, Dolly would be delighted; Cher might be annoyed, and yet she told Graham Norton that when she was cast in Mama Mia 2 as the mother of Meryl Streep, only three years her junior, she really didn’t mind. Hmm.
The thing about true divas is: they don’t care if you love them, but you better respect them or you’re playing with fire.
Deep down, I
am afraid of respect Cher. Meanwhile, I LOVE Dolly, and I see no reason to change the gut call we made when Betty White passed: Dolly IS America’s Grandma, and she would probably be the first to point out how appropriate it is that office is now filled with more silicone and peroxide than a Hooters in Alabama. However—
TRICK CATEGORY! The winner of the title “America’s Grandma” is not the winner of the point—in this case, Cher, diva through-and-through, wins the point while Dolly is tucking us all into bed and singing us gospel lullabies.
While we tally up, please enjoy this reminder that our two divas are class itself.
I don’t know why the counter, or where the laugh track, but I do know this scene from the Cher... Special (1978) is our two contestants at their most gorgeous and adorable. And they clearly like each other.
But speaking of counting, perhaps you have already realized the winner.
This was a tough one, and I’m afraid I’ll be sleeping in the dog house, again, but again, this was very scientific and conducted with complete transparency.
Dolly is still America’s Grandma, but Cher will probably outlive us all and reinvent herself anew as
singer babe mother gypsy tramp thief TV star mother KISS groupie lesbian mermaid service member tarantula infomerical queen witch Italian-American Jewess nightclub owner singing grandmother Empress of the Multiverse.
Let’s take it all the way back to the beginning, and yet not The Beginning, which was 1965 with Sonny in I Got You Babe when she was just 19 years old.
If you can believe, 1971’s #1 hit Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves was from her 7th studio album, the first of many comebacks, at the tender age of 25. This performance was from The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974.)