On the surface, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn were sort of the same.
They had worn fringed cowgirl suits and worked the fringes of show business. Lynn did juke joints and grange halls; Cline once sang atop the concession stand at a drive-in theater, drawing honks and boos.
Both found Nashville fame. Still, said Callie Khouri, “they were two extremely different people.”
That’s what Khouri savors in movie characters, whether fictional (she wrote “Thelma & Louise”) or real: She directed “Patsy & Loretta” (shown here with Megan Hilty as Cline and Jessie Mueller as Lynn), debuting Oct. 19 on Lifetime.
Both films avoid female-feud cliches. “It is a breath of fresh air to (depict) the wonderful aspects of female friendship,” Hilty said.
And yes, Lynn has said, it was wonderful. “Patsy was my closest girlfriend in life,” she wrote in the introduction to “Patsy” (HarperCollins, 1994). “She wasn’t just my girlfriend. She was my protector.”
Cline was only two years older, but seemed far more experienced. “Loretta starts out … not really having a tremendous amount of drive, as far as her career goes,” Khouri said. Cline, by comparison, “had a lot of drive and was very competitive in the business and really wanted to succeed.”
When Cline was born, her mother was 16 and her father was 42. They moved 19 times in 16 years; then the marriage ended, leaving the mom (a seamstress) short of money. Patsy, an 8th-grade drop-out, worked at a poultry place, a bus station and a soda fountain, while racing to singing gigs.
Determined to be a star, she signed a bad record deal. That brought one hit (“Walkin’ After Midnight”) and 16 singles that the world ignored.
That deal ended when she was 27. Cline promptly cut “I Fall to Pieces”; her career soared, she was a confident and vibrant figure … and she was seriously injured in a car crash.
She was listening to the radio in the hospital when she heard a newcomer with a backwoods accent say: “I want to sing this song for Patsy Cline. She’s in the hospital. I love her and I just love her singin’.”
When the song ended, Cline dispatched her husband to find Lynn. The friendship began.
Lynn had married in Kentucky at 15, followed her husband to Washington state and had four kids at 18. When she got to Nashville, she was 26, with little show-business experience. Cline did the rest.
“She taught me how to dress,” Lynn wrote. “She taught me how to get on and off the stage, how to wear make-up, how to start a show and how to leave people wanting more.”
One movie scene (Cline demanding that Lynn get paid before going onstage) is fiction, Khouri said, but Cline did guide her friend … and needed this herself. “I think Patsy was lonely in a lot of ways.”
The next two years were her best, including the classics “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy.” Cline crossed over to the pop charts, with songs she’d been reluctant to do. “What was surprising to me was how resistant she was to most of them …. She wanted to keep true to her country roots,” Hilty said.
This didn’t bring great wealth, said Neil Meron, who produced the film. “They didn’t live big lives.”
Stars might be on the road 300 days a year, often by car. “We’d spend three or four days together and she’d be gone,” said Julie Fudge, Cline’s daughter. Adds Khouri: “Traveling on a bus was a huge deal.”
Then Cline’s manager bought and flew a small plane. In March of 1960, they died in a crash.
“I remember thinking, ‘What’s going to become of me? Who’s going to look after me,” Lynn wrote.
Actually, much would become of her. She’s had 24 No. 1 country songs; her 45th album was released a year ago, when she was 86.
Fresh interest was stirred by movies about Lynn (1980) and Cline (1985). “In the 1980s, her releases reached a whole new generation,” said Fudge. When Cline died, her daughter was 4 and her son was 2; much later, Fudge said, “A lot of people said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize she was your mother.’”
Now they know. “I do meet-and-greets at the Patsy Cline Museum.” There have been two stage shows about Cline … and now a TV movie about two opposite people who became country stars.
— “Patsy & Loretta,” 8 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 19), Lifetime; reruns at midnight