When you’re visit Dollywood you have to visit Miss Lillian Chicken Lady…Before the Dollywood era you might have seen this great actress Connie Freeman Prince in movies like Get Serious and Finding Graceland, commercials, DisneyWorld and Opryland etc.
How come you did began an actress?
Guess you could say it runs in my ‘blood’ :-) I come from a Show Biz family. My Granddaddy tap danced in Vaudeville, and I heard that on the other side of my family folks sang and played in bands. However, the Greatest Influence was my Mother. She is a legendary figure in West TN. I grew up with my 3 siblings on her LIVE Children’s TV Show in Jackson, TN called ‘The Cousin Tuny Show’. And my sister Cindie is a very talented actress in L.A. Through ‘osmosis’ I learned the ‘magic’ of ad lib performing with my Mom on Telethons throughout the years and on the road. She worked with Carl Perkins and Minnie Pearl for many charity events while they were still here. I have been given ‘signs’ that I was born from her for a special reason. I have literally felt ‘performing’ in my DNA since I was born, and have been told even before that. Your next question will help clarify that last statement……
In how many years have you’ve been working as an actress/writer?
My Mama recalls how I began performing around 4 months old when I began to whistle (with no teeth yet- ha! ha!) for whoever would be around us. Before I was born, she recalled how I kept a ‘steady rhythm’ in her belly- kinda like I was ‘dancing to a beat’ – when she was pregnant with me…which prompted her nickname for me, which she Still calls me to this day: ‘Vigerolla Thumper’ ( me thinks it be in reference to that little Thumper in the Bambi movie
Then at Age 1 she brought me on as the ‘New Year Baby‘ on her TV Show….And I performed throughout my childhood since then doing Shirley Temple songs, voraciously studied Judy Garland Shows and tapes, Marilyn, Betty Boop, Mae West, and more Greats of that era, which prompted my Celebrity Look Alike shows in the future. Earned the Best Actress Award in High School, state speech competitions, which led me to College where I got my BFA in Theatre Performance. Interned at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, regional Theatre, many summer stock shows after that to Opryland, working with Bob Eubanks and Cruise Ships from the Islands to Japan, to movies with Ray Stevens and Harvey Keitel to DisneyWorld to numerous radio and TV voice overs and commercials. Better stop here…..there’s more, but I’m afraid I’ll ‘crash’ your computer again, and I may need to re-apply the ‘Lard of Olay’ on my face! LOL! ( Thank you, Betty White, for giving this little show biz veteran Hope to keep moving towards her dreams!)
Tell me about the day you began to work at Dollywood…
Oh My! Now that is a ‘future book’ in itself : “Confessions of The Chicken Spirit Lady” ( LoL!)
I began my first year with with the wonderful Herschend Corporation, performing in Branson in 2003 opening their ‘Celebration City’ park back then many of the characters I mentioned above ( along with my original character ‘Tootsie Rose’ for kids), as well as at Silver Dollar City in their Living Nativity as “Mary” ( where I rode a LIVE donkey on stage….but I digress… that’s another story :-). I always say, God has a Wonderful Sense of Humor: He took me from playing “Betty Boop” to the “Virgin Mary” to “The Chicken Lady” all within one year!
I’ll Never forget that first day at Dollywood as “Miss Lillian”. I had just driven in from Branson, after re-loading my car with belongings from Nashville, as well ( I had been going back & forth doing gigs in Both places), and got lost wondering: So, it’s a CHICKEN HOUSE I’m supposed to be performing in???? LOL! When I turned the corner, and saw that my ‘stage curtains’ of the past were being traded in for Chicken Wire surrounding the ‘coop’, I looked up to the skies and saw the Pearly Gates begin to slowly transform into the ‘Poultry Gates.’…. and I asked God: And You want me to do What? And while they are EATING?? God often has a poignant way of putting one’s ‘ego’ into check ( and ‘chick’..ha ha! ). I did have to do LOTS of praying as to how I was gonna pull this venue off. You see it has always been a kind of unwritten rule in Show Biz to never perform for folks till after they are through eating. And so for Creative Survival, I Had to come up with some new ways to incorporate ‘comedy improv’ with audience participation while their meal was going on. I literally began to PRAY for help. And shore ’nuff: God sent me an Angel – Literally. A little boy named ‘Gabriel’. He was around 4 years old at the time and had some challenges of his own. To make a long story short….. he sang to me Gospel Songs standing right there on the porch, and thanked me for inspiring him, as I thanked Him for ‘saving’ my day. When he left, I immediately went to a store that sold angels at that time, and got the ‘Angel Gabriel‘, which I still wear to this day on my shoulder. And when things get a little too intense, and I could use some ‘Angelic’ help, shore ’nuff: that little boy that grew up at Dollywood ( with me!) mysteriously shows up….as does little ones with the names of ‘Grace’ ‘Hope’ and ‘Faith’. I have in my future memoirs more recollections of such ‘Angelic’ visits through the years…..
And the rest is ‘Chicken House’ history…..
More Lessons in never judging the Path that God has put you on…There is Always a Blessing Behind it. As I tell my little chickees with their Wishing Well Pennies every day ~~~~
Where and when did Miss Lillian Chicken lady born as an character for you?
They had been looking for an Improv Actress to play “Miss Lillian” ( the term ‘Chicken Lady’ kind of evolved later through the years – as I began being called that by our beloved Guests….many young ones, since it was easier for them to say and remember ‘chicken’ than it was ‘Lillian’.) I am grateful in 2004 when they brought me here and gave me some creative license with their character, which eventually kinda ‘cloned’ with my soul. I brought to the mix my little banjolele and a ton of ‘chicken song’ ideas, and they were gracious enough to let it grow into where it is today. I am also So grateful to be performing before the The Valley Theatre’s show, “Country Crossroads.” It has been one of my greatest joys performing for them and their fun audiences before their shows. SO much fun evolving with the material I developed at The Chicken House all those years before!
What are Miss Lillian’s goal at Dollywood?
My Goal as the ‘Miss Lillian’ character at Dollywood (as it is for Whatever God has me play in my life), is be a Light Worker for Joy and Inspiration in this world. One of the reasons I love Dollywood so much is that I have always shared in their goal of ‘Creating Memories Worth Repeating’ for people. I consider each guest who graces our door ( and ‘coop’ :-) step as my ‘Divine Appointments’ for the day. It is my goal to share with them All that I Am, Have, and Pray to Be in my soul on this earth through whatever talent God has given me to express that. ( and sometimes that takes the form of ‘unexpected Outrageous Comedic Spirit Moments’ that surprise me, as well! ) My ultimate dream is to perform in a Live Children’s TV Reality Show ( I share a similar dream with our mentor Dolly :-) I am praying it will be at Dollywood…..but I am not one to say or know just how that is meant to evolve. I am open to Spirit to guide my Path for whatever ‘form’ He/She chooses to use me in. And if that is meant to be elsewhere, as well, I am always praying for Divine Guidance as to where God chooses to use me in this world. In the meantime, I am working daily to perfect my material and playing as much as I can to be ready for whatever Creative Adventure Spirit has for me next!
Tell me about your first meeting with Dolly…
We are all Blessed at Dollywood when each year Dolly takes photos with the employees. One of my first years I was so happy that they put me on the front row with her (where all us ‘shorties’ are usually placed :-) I had my little rubber chicken pet “Chicken Little, Jr.” hiding in my pocket for his big moment to meet Dolly. And while they were getting us all in place, she asked me about my little banjo uke and she took one of my bigger chickens at that time and started playing with it with us. It was So funny! Then another time after they recorded her 25th Anniversary Special there, she was so kind to say she saw me in the 9 to 5 scene. Though time is always very rushed when she is here, as you all know how much in demand she is, Each Moment she spends with any of us is So Very Special and filled with So Much Light! When I did my Dolly Look-Alike work in Nashville, it was such an Honor to experience the feeling of Love and Joy just the resemblance of her Presence is to so many. She is truly a Blessed Beacon of Light in our world.
You have also played in movies like Get Serious and Finding Graceland, what are the different on acting on screen and doing It live at Dollywood?
The funniest and most ironic thing is that in the movie ‘Get Serious’ I danced in a chicken suit and recorded the song “Nobody Here But Us Chickens” with Ray Stevens and little did I know at that time….. that over a decade later I would be playing a little ‘chicken lady’ at Dollywood! LOL! ( Why these critters keep following me in my career is beyond me
The biggest difference between acting on screen and ‘LIVE’ like at Dollywood is that in playing a character who is ‘On’ for so many hours at a time there is no ‘cut’ from the director to re-do or go on to the next scene. In the land of ‘Chicken Improv’ I am having to be Totally ‘In The Moment’ every day. And whenever a human mistake is made ( and yes I have made some very ‘human’ ones though I play a ‘chick’..ha ha!), there is no going back and ‘re-taking’ the scene. I work to live in Total Surrender every moment of every day to a Power Higher than myself. It is staying ‘plugged in’ to that Higher Source that gives me the energy to keep on keepin’ on towards my Dreams each day.
Tell me about your three Chicken spirit records who you can buy at Dollywood…
Thank you for mentioning my ‘Chicken Spirit Records’! They were ‘born’ as a labor of love with the help of my Beloved hubby, Mr. Prince. We recorded them together to document my original parody songs from my first years at Dollywood. Each has a theme. The first “Funny Flavored Classics,” has all the ‘Southern Fried’ versions of many of the country classics they do next door at The Valley Theatre in the Country Crossroads Show. It has been Pure Joy performing their Pre-Show every day! The Second “Songs for My Chickenettes” focuses on many of the songs for my little ones who come to see me at Dollywood, with some ‘Chicken Dancing’ songs included. Some of my original children’s songs I’ve written are on there too. (Of course they are all for ‘Big Kids’, too!) The Third one is my ‘ChickINspirational’ CD which has my ‘Chicken Gospel’ songs with some outrageously fun takes on traditional gospel songs, as well as my Christmas Chicken Songs. A few silly little surprises are mixed in with each one. Little dittys that are a little zany…. but hopefully true to ‘The Chicken Spirit.’
Have worked lots on my little banjolele playing since these were originally recorded, and do hope to record more in the future!
When will MissLillan Chicken lady take over the world with joyfullness and happiness?
Hee hee!!! You are So Dear to ask this question. I do believe it is my favorite :-) Let me just say that my prayer is that God and His Angel Spirits are the Ones to ‘take over’ this little ‘Chicken Spirit Lady’ and work through me to help contribute More Joyfulness and Happiness in this world. It is ALL in His Everlovin’ Hands. And whatever happens in whatever ‘form’ in this lifetime, I will be Forever Grateful for each and every one of You who are reading this right now for being my ‘Teachers’ in this Univers-ity of Life to remind me that we are all Truly One, here together to help remind each other of the Great Love we Truly All Are. Thank you with all my Heart for sharing with me. ‘Chickee Spirit Blessings’!!!!!
By: Diana Falheim
Special thanks to you Connie Freeman Prince “Miss Lillian” for supporting this blog and taking your time to answer my questions. Next time we have to take a photo with us two, when I’m not running for our mentor Dolly