9 to 5 premiered in December 1980, quickly becoming a classic and going on to gross over $103.9 million. The film starred Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as three employees who live out their fantasy of getting even with their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss, and it has since been adapted into a television series and a musical.
Fonda and Tomlin were both established stars by the time 9 to 5 was made, but the movie gave Parton her first film role and helped firmly cement her in popular culture. Keep reading for some secrets from the set.
The film was supposed to be a drama
Instead of a comedy, the movie was originally supposed to be a drama. "At first we were going to make a drama," Fonda explained, sharing that she got the idea after one of her friends started Nine to Five, an association of female office workers in Boston. "But anyway we did it, it seemed too preachy, too much of a feminist line."
"I'd wanted to work with Lily [Tomlin] for some time, and it suddenly occurred to [producer] Bruce [Gilbert] and me that we should make it a comedy," she continued. "It remains a ‘labor film,’ but I hope of a new kind, different from The Grapes of Wrath or Salt of the Earth. We took out a lot of stuff that was filmed... I'm just super-sensitive to anything that smacks of the soapbox or lecturing the audience"prevnext
Jane Fonda helped cast the movie
As a co-producer, Fonda helped to create and cast the film, and she knew that she wanted both Tomlin and Parton to star alongside her.
"It was pow, it was a visceral sense that Dolly Parton had to be a secretary in 9 to 5," she said, revealing that she had the idea when Parton's hit "Two Doors Down" came on the radio. "I suddenly [got] an image of Dolly Parton sitting at a typewriter. And I thought that would be something, to have Dolly Parton in her first movie playing a secretary in a movie that, among many other things, is going to touch upon sexual harassment. She's perfect."
Fonda added that she was inspired to cast Tomlin when she saw her in her one-woman Broadway show Appearing Nitely. "It just absolutely knocked me off my feet and I said I’m not ever going to make a movie about secretaries unless she’s in it," she revealed. Tomlin initially wasn't sure due to her work schedule at the time, but her wife, Jane Wagner, convinced her to sign on.prevnext
Parton's role was modeled on her
9 to 5 was Parton's first film role, and she starred as Doralee Rhodes, a secretary everyone thinks is sleeping with the boss despite the fact that she continually turned down his advances. Fonda shared that Parton's role was "kind of modeled on her personality," adding that Parton "grew up poor in the sense of material advantages so she knows what it feels like to be put upon, to be challenged, and I'm sure she’s been sexually harassed in her life."prevnext
The three stars became good friends
In Parton's 2019 Netflix documentary Here I Am, both Fonda and Tomlin were interviewed about their relationship with the country music legend. Sharing that the trio had a number of pajama parties at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Tomlin said that she, Fonda and Parton "liked each other" immediately and had an "instant camaraderie."
Fonda added, "You cannot finish a day with Dolly without laughing so hard that you have to cross your legs." Parton called the film "a joy to make" and said she "wasn't intimidated by [Fonda and Tomlin]" because it was "just like having two new girlfriends."prevnext
Dolly Parton used her acylic nails to play the theme song
One of the most enduring aspects of the movie is its theme song, "9 to 5," which Parton wrote after being inspired by the sound her acrylic nails made while she was "playing" them like a washboard.
"I always play the nails and I’d come up with little things that I would see on the set, like 'I tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of…' And I thought, 'Wow, that sounds like a typewriter,'" she said, adding that the song's credits read "Nails by Dolly."prevnext
Fonda and Tomlin got "goosebumps" when they first heard "9 to 5"
"Lily and I looked at each other and we had goosebumps," Fonda recalled. "And we knew, this is not just a movie song, this is an anthem." Tomlin added, "Jane Fonda and I were just flabbergasted; we thought it was so great. I said to Jane, 'This will make the movie a hit, if nothing else.'"prev