By now, the friendship between legends Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn has become an essential part of country music lore. But to their two daughters, it’s also flesh and blood: Cline and Lynn were two real women, strong but struggling, who needed each other.
This is the story that Julie Fudge, Cline’s daughter, and Patsy Lynn Russell, Lynn’s daughter, have made sure is told in Patsy & Loretta, the TV movie they’ve co-produced that airs Saturday on the Lifetime channel.
“I really think that the movie captured every bit of their emotions,” Russell, 55, tells PEOPLE, “but what you walk away with is this feeling that you want to be part of that friendship. You want to be in that club, and it’s not the country music club. It’s the girlfriend club. Everybody needs a friend like Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn. We search our whole life for that.”
Fudge, 61, who was just 4 years old when her mother died, hopes the film helps viewers “see more of a real person. Of course, in the 56 years she’s been gone, we have almost iconicized her, and we don’t know the real person anymore. But she was a mom. She was a young girl. She wasn’t but 30 when she died. And so these were two girls having fun and just trying to learn the ropes and get started.”
The friendship between Cline and Lynn lasted just 19 months, beginning in 1961 when Cline was in the hospital recovering from a serious car accident. After hearing Lynn sing a tribute to her on the radio, Cline — by then an established artist — reached out and invited the Nashville newcomer to make a hospital visit. The scene, of course, is recreated in the film by the two Broadway stars who play the roles, Megan Hilty as Cline and Jessie Mueller as Lynn.
Cline was killed on March 5, 1963, in a private plane crash coming home from a benefit concert in Kansas. Over the decades, however, she has earned an ample measure of immortality through her music and in film. Her timeless songs, such as “Crazy” and ���Walkin’ After Midnight,” continue to attract legions of fans, and her life has been dramatized in two popular movies, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Lynn’s biopic, and Sweet Dreams, based on Cline’s life.
The new TV movie, though, focuses tightly on the Cline-Lynn friendship, which came at a fateful time in both women’s lives, say their daughters.
To Lynn, Cline provided a much-needed mentor. “Mom had learned things from performing,” Fudge tells PEOPLE, “and she shared those with Loretta — how to walk, how to talk, who to talk to, who not to believe, who to work with, all these different things. That’s something that Mom did for several of the young stars, and then they went on to mentor other women, so it started a chain effect.”
In turn, Lynn provided Cline with crucial support as she put her life back together after the car accident. “Patsy changed when she had the wreck,” Russell says. “She stopped drinking. She stopped a lot of things that were bad for her health, and she really devoted that time to getting well and working on herself and her music and being a mom and being a wife. And that was something that they related to. Everything that she got from my mom was just an honest and unbiased and unfiltered opinion. Patsy could be vulnerable with my mom.”
Lynn also helped Cline cope with the severe facial scarring the accident left her with, says Russell. Cline struggled with the fact she was “not going to be the same,” Russell recounts. “And one day Mom told her, ‘Patsy, you’re right. You’re never going to be the same, but you gotta let go of the old Patsy to love the new one, because the new one is pretty great.’ By being there for her like that, I think that was what their friendship was to each other.”
And the friendship continued to live on for Lynn, who’s now 87 and frail from a stroke suffered in 2017. Russell, who was born with twin, Peggy, 17 months after Cline’s death, says her mother raised her on stories about her namesake, as well as on Cline’s music. “It’s kind of like the aunt that lives in Oregon,” she says. “You know, you hear about her all the time, and you hear stories of the sister stuff that they got into, but you just don’t get to see her.”
About four years ago, Russell finally insisted the stories be written down, and mother and daughter have since compiled them into a book, due out in April 2020. Entitled Me & Patsy: Kickin’ Up Dust, it will include several stories that have never been publicly shared. “They’re just adventures or little anecdotes or things that happened,” Russell explains.
Russell reports that her mom still talks daily to Cline, as well as her late husband, Oliver “Dolittle” Lynn, who died in 1996. “Look, she knows that they’re gone,” Russell says. “She knows that they’re dead. But what she refuses to do is to let them die. So when she sees something, especially if somebody’s doing something that reminds her of Patsy, Mom will go, ‘Oh my God, I wish Patsy could see this.’ Or ‘Patsy, are you watching this?’”
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Cline’s memory also endures in the lifelong friendship between the two families. Julie Fudge remembers frequent visits during childhood to the Lynns’ Nashville-area home with her dad and younger brother. Among Fudge’s most cherished possessions is a note to her signed by “Mama Loretta.” Russell recalls Cline’s husband, Charlie Dick, offering her mother pivotal consolation after her dad died. Russell also remembers how Fudge and her husband visited Lynn’s current home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, to plant a rose variety, named after Cline, in Doolittle’s memory.
Working on the TV movie together, Fudge says, has brought the families even closer. “They’ve been a big part of our lives, for sure,” says Fudge, who lost her father in 2015.
Russell says she thinks of Fudge as a cousin. “And I know that Julie feels that way, too,” she says. “It just feels like you’re part of one family. And that’s the way it always will be.”
Patsy & Loretta will air at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Saturday on the Lifetime channel.