||June 1, 2012
The real story behind the popular Broadway musical and Hollywood film.
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Taylor's Hole in the Web
“The Chicken Ranch was the one, great festering, frustrating sore on the face of law enforcement in Texas.”
The year was 1973. The State of Texas had just elected a new reform-minded governor and attorney general. And Houston’s ABC-TV affiliate station at Channel 13 had just launched a new consumer-oriented investigative feature by hiring flamboyant former lawman Marvin Zindler to seize the spotlight. The roads from those disparate events crossed quickly in dramatic fashion to national acclaim in the Texas Hill Country village of LaGrange which had harbored the country’s longest continually operating bordello—a little place known as the Chicken Ranch and beloved to generations of Texas school boys.
When Zindler’s sensational TV expose forced the Chicken Ranch to close, it triggered a national controversy that raged for years, highlighted by the creation of a successful Broadway musical called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The movie version starred Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in the fictionalized account that boiled the story down to a basic theme still used in its marketing pitch: “Texas madam Miss Mona and her sheriff boyfriend try to save her chicken ranch from a TV muckraker.”
But lost amid the romanticized singing and the dancing and the nostalgic pining of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas lies an authentic true crime history yarn just as entertaining and as much a part of the Lone Star State’s many fabled legends. In I, the People, veteran Houston journalist and author Gary Taylor recreates the real story behind the closing of the Chicken Ranch and explains the forces that unleashed TV icon Marvin Zindler upon the national scene.
Gary Taylor is a veteran award-winning journalist who has covered crime, courts and legal affairs for newspapers and magazines since 1969. His 2008 true crime memoir, Luggage by Kroger—the story of a true-life fatal attraction—won five national book awards. He lives in Houston, Texas.
Midwest Book Review
The famed film 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' had its roots in reality, but its charm wears thin when it has connections to organized crime. "I, the People: How Marvin Zindler Busted the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" is Gary Taylor's coverage of the story that tells of fellow journalist Marvin Zindler’s personal crusade against the famous brothel the Chicken Ranch and the puppet strings of the Mafia behind it. For those who want the true story behind the story, "I, the People" is well worth considering.
June 1, 2012
You may have heard of the “Chicken Ranch,” AKA “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” from the musical or the movie of the later name. Well, Gary Taylor, intrepid Texan journalist and survivor of his own “fatal attraction” (chronicled in his book Luggage By Kroger) has the real story. Although not as dramatic as Luggage, his new book, I, The People, is very interesting.
Gary’s story starts in 1972, with the election of a reform-minded Texas Attorney General, John Hill. He took office in early 1973, determined to attack two Texas problems, organized crime and county law enforcement. In Texas, each county’s sheriff and district judge had the final say on what crimes were prosecuted (and not) in their jurisdiction. The Chicken Ranch, a bordello that had been running in La Grange, Texas since 1844, became the test target. It was the most open and well-known outpost of organized crime, and had been protected by generations of Fayette County judges and lawmen.
Hill’s initial assault ran afoul of Texas’ quirky system of law enforcement, in which the local sheriff could stop a state investigation. Enter Marvin Zindler, a character too real for fiction. Marvin was independently wealthy, thanks to his dad’s success as a clothing retailer. This freed Marvin up for a number of pursuits, including being a Houston cop and, when that dried up, becoming a TV reporter for Channel 13, the local ABC affiliate. Stymied by local resistance, Hill turned to Zindler’s PR hurricane to embarrass the Chicken Ranch into closing.
Gary Taylor was contracted to write a book about these events in 1981, about the time that the movie came out. His publisher went bankrupt, but Taylor saved a draft which became this book. It’s mostly a biography of Zindler, who really was the kind of person that, if you put him into a fictional book, people would laugh off as unbelievable. But then the Chicken Ranch was a bit unbelievable, in that uniformed and on-duty sheriff’s deputies routinely pulled duty directing traffic in the brothel’s parking lot.
Taylor has a wonderful eye for character, and the Chicken Ranch story is full of them. This book is a fascinating look at characters from an era when Texas transitioned itself from the Wild West to civilization. I highly recommend I The People.
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