Inside the Music & Stories of 'Patsy & Loretta' in Lifetime's Biopic
Country music's now legendary Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn began their friendship in a way that is, to quote a Cline signature tune, "crazy."
As depicted in this heartfelt new biopic — directed by Callie Khouri (Nashville) and written by her stepdaughter, Angelina Burnett — established performer Cline (Megan Hilty) survives a horrifying 1961 car crash in Nashville and, while recovering in the hospital, hears her hit "I Fall to Pieces" sung by up-and-comer Lynn (Jessie Mueller) on Ernest Tubb's Midnite Jamboree radio show. Impressed by the tribute, Cline asks for Lynn to visit her, and they bond instantly.
Certainly, each woman's story has been told in books, in such films as 1985's Sweet Dreams (about Cline) and 1980's Coal Miner’s Daughter (Lynn) and, most recently, in Ken Burns' PBS documentary Country Music.
Patsy & Loretta zeroes in on the two years before Cline's 1963 death in a plane crash at age 30. Says Khouri: "This film is such a narrow window, sadly, of the time they did have together."
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It wasn't Southern hospitality that motivated the strong-willed pro to take the novice from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, under her wing: Born the same year, the two were kindred spirits.
"They were from typical [lower-income] backgrounds, worked hard growing up, and they both had kids and a husband at home," says Cline's daughter, Julie Fudge, a consultant and coproducer on the film (as is Lynn's daughter Patsy Lynn Russell, who is named after Cline).
"Patsy showed Loretta the ropes," adds Khouri. "She really helped Loretta understand the business and how to succeed in it."
Specifically, the Country Music Hall of Famer taught Lynn how to walk in heels, how to get paid for a gig before even stepping onstage, and how to handle a man who didn't fully understand her aspirations. Both Lynn and Cline had volatile relationships with their respective husbands, Doolittle Lynn (Joe Tippett) and Charlie Dick (Kyle Schmid).
To Lynn's credit, she changed the tough Cline in a more personal way. "Loretta's the one person who gets Patsy to open up and soften, even if it's just for a moment," Hilty says. "Loretta broke through the veneer and showed her it's OK to talk about herself and share those feelings."
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Then there are the songs. Favorites such as Lynn's "The Girl That I Am Now" and Cline's "Crazy" and "Walkin' After Midnight" are peppered throughout the movie. "We wanted to choose the songs that were happening in their lives at the moment," explains executive producer Neil Meron.
Broadway vets Hilty (Wicked) and Mueller (a 2014 Tony winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) tackled the vocal challenge with a specific approach in mind. "Neither of us is going to sound exactly like them," Hilty says, "but if you capture the essence [of their music] and make it honest, that's going to be the most successful route."
In researching the roles, the actresses consulted vintage recordings and footage — although Mueller, tasked with singing the Cline ballad "I Fall to Pieces," was missing one piece. "I couldn't find a recording of it as far as Loretta singing it," she says. "Loretta knows really well how Patsy sings it because she loves the song, but she doesn't sing like that.
I had to interpret."
Hilty found her Cline in correspondence that still exists. "One of the most beneficial things was reading the letters people wrote to her, complimenting her behavior and saying things she did that touched others," she says.
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The production was shot in such well-known Music City locations as Ryman Auditorium and Rotier's Restaurant. One spot still awes Mueller, who gushes, "We literally got to walk in [Patsy's] dream house!" (You can too — it's an Airbnb rental.) For one scene, the home's basement hosts a who's who of Nashville musicmakers, as a starstruck Lynn rubs elbows with Dottie West (Natalie Renee Long) and June Carter (Erin Beute). "Just feeling these people were really here, they really hung out in this basement, it gives you juice," Hilty says.
Lynn is now 87 and has yet to screen the film, but daughter Patsy "really wants her mom to see it," says Meron. That leaves one more goal for the project and the legacy of Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Says Fudge: "We hope this really excites a new generation."
They'd be crazy to react any other way.
Patsy & Loretta, Movie Premiere, Saturday, October 19, 8/7c, Lifetime