Loretta Lynn‘s incredible success story is deeply entwined with her marriage to Oliver Vanetta Lynn Jr., affectionately known as Mooney, Doolittle, or simply Doo. Despite the complexities and challenges posed by Doo’s struggles with alcohol, his abusive tendencies, and his reputation as a notorious philanderer, he played a pivotal role in shaping Loretta’s musical journey and served as the muse behind many of her timeless hits.
Interestingly, it was Doo who bestowed upon Loretta her very first guitar – a $17 Harmony acoustic purchased from a Sears Roebuck store in 1953. Despite her lack of prior experience with the instrument, Doo, enchanted by Loretta’s melodious tunes around the house, urged her to pick up the guitar and learn to play. Reflecting on those early days in her 2002 memoir, “Still Woman Enough,” Loretta candidly admitted, “I could never have done it on my own. Whatever else our marriage was back in those days…without Doo and his determination to create a better life, there would have been no Loretta Lynn, the country singer.”
Loretta and Doolittle’s Early Years
Doolittle swept into her life like a force of nature, a bold storyteller brimming with grand dreams and larger-than-life tales of the world beyond. Born on August 27, 1926, in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, he earned the moniker “Doolittle” at the tender age of 2, reasons for which have faded with time. It’s essential to note, however, that the nickname had nothing to do with laziness, a point his wife was always quick to clarify.
His family relocated to Washington state in pursuit of employment when he was young. As World War II erupted, his mother brought the children back to Kentucky, only for Doolittle to enlist in the Army. Although Loretta confessed to having scant knowledge about his military service, she was aware that he served in France and Germany.
Loretta’s first glimpse of Doolittle in his military uniform occurred upon his return from overseas. Fondly recalling her future husband as a “toy soldier,” she harkened back to their initial encounter at a pie social she had organized for her school. The event involved local boys bidxding on pies baked by the girls, winning the right to walk the girls home. Doolittle clinched victory by placing a hefty $5 bid on Loretta’s pie, and that very night, he bestowed upon her the gift of her first kiss.
Loretta Lynn: A Child Bride
One month later, on January 10, 1948, the couple exchanged vows. Loretta, a child bride, was merely 15 years old at the time. However, due to confusion surrounding her age, she was often believed to be as young as 13. Such unions were commonplace in the Appalachian region during that era, and remarkably, they remained legally permissible in Kentucky until 2018.
Loretta’s parents had concerns about her defiant partner, a well-known womanizer involved in moonshine activities rather than pursuing employment in the coal mines.
Looking back, Loretta recognized her youthful innocence. In her autobiography, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” she portrayed herself as merely a child when she got married. Doolittle, during their courtship, even presented her with a children’s doll. Reflecting on it, she remarked, “He just about raised me since I was a girl,” Throughout her life, there was always a man, be it her father, Ted Webb, or her husband, guiding her path.
Moving on to Motherhood
She grew up fast. Despite her folks urging Loretta to stick around, especially with the coal mining jobs dwindling post-war, Doolittle made the call to head back to the Pacific Northwest and settle in Custer, Washington, close to the Canadian border—almost 3,000 miles away from Butcher Hollow. By then, Loretta was already expecting. At just 16, she didn’t even know what “pregnant” meant. As she shared with NPR in 2010, “We just called it having a baby.”
Doolittle found work in logging, but it didn’t exactly lift the family out of their Kentucky days. Meanwhile, Loretta spent the next ten years as a full-time mom, bringing four kids into the world in just six years. She wore many hats—cooking, cleaning, farming, and preserving her own veggies. She even whipped up lunches for Doolittle’s entire 30-person crew every workday. If not for Doolittle, that might have been the whole story.
Getting Started in the Music Industry
In the late ’50s, he finally persuaded his reserved young wife to step into the spotlight. Securing her an audition with a nearby honky-tonk group, she soon found herself performing regular Saturday night gigs in the vicinity. Her debut took place at the Delta Grange Hall in Custer, a notable event with the governor of Washington rumored to be among the audience. Following stints with established acts like the Pen Brothers and Westerneers, she took the initiative to form her own modest ensemble, the Trail Blazers. Notably, her younger brother, Jay Lee Webb, joined her in Washington after following her there in 1959.
A Troubled Relationship
In the years when Loretta’s career soared, Doolittle shifted his focus to caring for their eventual six children and managing their estate in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee—overseeing the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch. Despite his continuous infidelity, their marriage endured for 48 years until his demise due to complications of diabetes in 1996. The relationship, marked by turbulence, was vividly described by daughter Cissie Lynn to CBS News as a “lonely life” for both Loretta and her father. Loretta confessed there were moments when she hesitated to return home, knowing she would have to confront the repercussions of his drinking.
Even in the face of Doolittle’s abusive behavior, Loretta never shied away from standing up for herself. “He never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice,” she proudly asserted. On one occasion, she even knocked out his two front teeth. Reflecting on the incident in the 2016 PBS documentary, “Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl,” she recalled, “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m dead.’ But, you know, he laughed. He went around forever with two teeth missing. He was kind of proud of it.”
A Mother’s Sacrifice for Her Children
One of the intriguing paradoxes in Loretta’s life was her unwavering loyalty to someone like Doolittle, especially considering her outspoken advocacy for women’s independence. In her own justification, she explained, “I didn’t need him, but he was my kids’ daddy. Why leave hearts laying on the floor for me? I had to think of my kids.” Beyond practical considerations, she never ceased to believe that she owed everything to him. In her words from “Still Woman Enough,” Loretta expressed, “He thought I was something special, more special than anyone else in the world, and he never let me forget it.” This belief proved difficult to dismiss. Doo represented her security, her safety net. She clarified, “And just remember, I’m explaining, not excusing.”