Friday, June 14, 2024

Risque Happenings


This is my entry in the Seventh Broadway Bound Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room


 "Rumors spreadin' 'round

In that Texas town

About that shack outside La Grange.

(You know what I'm talking about.)

Just let me know

If you wanna go

To that home out on the range.

(They got a lot of nice girls there.) 

  Lyrics to "La Grange" by Z Z Top

It was featured in a movie.  Before that it was in a hit Broadway play.  Before that it was paid homage by a boogie band from Texas, Z Z Top (see above).

And before that it was a REAL place. 

"The Chicken Ranch", as it was known, operated from the early 1900's until 1973. Quite a bit of the folklore behind the actual place became a part of the play (and subsequent movie) that was eventually produced.  Local constabulary were indeed involved in keeping the place open and there was also a crusader, Marvin Zindler, who was behind it's eventual closing, in 1973.

Vintage icon


The historian (and general "in your face" provocative person) in me thinks the place ought to have been made a state treasure and kept as a historical site. To his credit, the owner has been trying to get a historical marker for the site. The building itself is in such disrepair that it's nothing to look at. Part of it was used to build a bar in Dallas and the rest is in shambles.

Breaks the heart, don't it?

The city of La Grange would like to have visitors come for more than just the "less than reputable" historical site, but there are some memorabilia available on their city website which feature "The Chicken Ranch" on it, so it's not exactly like they are trying to sweep the past under the carpet.

Shop La Grange  (just in case you're interested...)

In 1978 a Broadway musical was produced based on the place and the events surrounding it's eventual closing, written by Peter Masterson and Larry L. King (no relation to Larry King, the radio talk show guy, as far as I know...).  The name of the town was changed from La Grange to a fictional town of Gilbert, but the story was basically the story behind the real place. 

In the play, Miss Mona and the local sheriff, Ed, kept the place running on the up-and-up (so to speak), but pressure from an investigative journalist, Melvin Thorpe, caused the place to come under scrutiny. And eventually causes it to have to close down.

The play garnered some Tony Award attention. (The Tony Awards are the Oscar equivalent for Broadway shows.) It won Best Actor and Best Actress (for Henderson Forsythe and Delores Hall, respectively).  It was also nominated in the categories of Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (the story), Best Direction and Best Choreography.

In 1982, the play was produced as a film, with Dolly Parton as Miss Mona and Burt Reynolds as Ed, with Dom DeLuise as the crusading Melvin. The movie also added a new song (which wasn't exactly "new", as Dolly Parton had first recorded it years earlier) "I Will Always Love You" (later to be recorded by Whitney Houston for The Bodyguard). Note: I always thought "Hard Candy Christmas" was an original Dolly song, too, due to the fact that her version is the one I always hear, but it turns out that it was written for the original musical.

The film version had the production team of Miller-Milkis-Boyett. Who are they, you might  be asking (especially if you don't pay attention to the credits)?  Well, under various incarnations of those three we got a plethora of TV shows of the past.  Those three together were behind the Tom Hanks / Peter Scolari TV show Bosom Buddies. But under Miller-Milkis, we got Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork Mindy. And under the Miller-Boyett production label we got Family Matters, Full House (and Fuller House), Perfect Strangers and Step By Step. Surely you've seen one or more of those. (Of course they also gave us Joanie Loves Chachi , but don't hold that against them.) 

This time around, the story was not quite the boffo event that the play had been.  It only made about double it's budget back in ticket sales. Impressive, maybe, but that's only $69 million against a $35 million budget. Musicals, by the early 80's, had become passe', so it's not entirely surprising. I went to see it in it's original theatrical release (mainly for the story; even then I wasn't big on musicals.) But there was also another reason...

Dolly at 36

(Hey, what were you expecting from a 20 year old [at the time] male?) 

The movie did garner some notice in the awards community.  Charles Durning as the Governor got a nod for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.  And the Golden Globes committee gave noms for the picture and Dolly for Best Picture and Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. 

No. I'm serious... 36...

It was rated R, of course.  I mean, what were you expecting in a movie about a whorehouse? Eight course dinners? But there are no overtly explicit scenes in it.  Of course, late in the movie there is a raid on the place and many in attendance are caught in flagrante delicto. But it's pretty tame for the most part.  Of course, you wouldn't want to watch it with the young 'uns in the room, but if I have to warn you of that, you didn't read the title of the movie...

So, was it a good film?  Read on.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982):

Note on the pictures: If the caption has "" on it, the caption is the title of the song being sung in the scene.

The film opens with a shocker.  Deputy Fred looks through an old -fashioned stereoscope and then turns and breaks down the fourth wall and addresses you, the viewer:


It was the nicest little whorehouse you ever saw

And if you can get past Gomer Pyle touting a house of ill repute, you 're halfway home...

The background is told about the original madam and the original sheriff, both of whom moved the base of operations from the back of the town feed store to a place on the outskirts of town.  And through two world wars, and thick and thin, the place managed to survive.  With sometimes other ways of paying the piper when money was tight. Which included trading chickens for services (thus explaining how the place became know as "The Chicken Ranch"... cute, huh?)

"20 Fans"

The action moves to present day (1973), where the whole plot takes place.  The original madam has passed away, leaving the house and it's environs to Miss Mona (Dolly Parton) who runs the house, with the blessing of the town sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd (Burt Reynolds), where everything is under control by Mona, keeping the place on the up-and-up (more or less).

"Little Bitty Pissant Country Place"

Mona and Ed have a romantic relationship outside of the professional relationship, even though Ed sometimes gets on Mona's nerves, due to his unwillingness to actually be romantic about it. And at this point we get Dolly and Burt (Burt sings???) singing about their relationship.

"Sneakin' Around"

The get together is interrupted by Deputy Fred who tells Ed earl that the mayor is looking for him. Business before pleasure... Trouble is brewing.  The mayor (Raleigh Bond) and town bigwig C. J. (Barry Corbin) inform Ed that a Houston news personality, Melvin P. Thorpe, who has an expose' program called The Watchdog Report, is planning an expose' on the Chicken Ranch.  Not exactly the kind of publicity that the town wants. (although it's intimated in the beginning that the existence of the place is already a known quantity, so you'd think it wasn't that big a deal).

But Ed decides to take matters in his own hands and goes to Houston to take care of the "little peckerwood". Melvin (Dom DeLuise) is not a man to shy away from controversy, especially if it means ratings.  Despite Ed's polite democratic chat, Melvin goes on the air anyway.

"Texas Has a Whorehouse in It!"

And that ain't the worst of it.  Melvin takes his show on the road and sets up a live broadcast in front of the county courthouse.  But he may have bit off more than he can chew as Ed runs his oversized butt out of town, with a few choice words to go with him.  But then again, maybe Ed misjudged the power of an egotistical self-righteous publicity hunter like Melvin P. Thorpe.

Ed and Mona go out camping and (Product placement warning) drink Schlitz beer.  Now, why, in God's name, are they not drinking Lone Star?  It is Texas, after all... oh, well...  Anyway, that night Melvin runs the video of Ed chewing him out. Shoulda been a little more discreet, there, Ed.

The city leaders convince Ed to have Mona shut down the place for a couple of months until the storm blows over and Mona agrees.  But she forgot about the annual celebration.  See, after every year's Texas / Texas A&M football game the seniors of the winning team get treated to a party at the Chicken Ranch.  And we can't be breaking tradition, what would we be if we broke tradition...? Savages, that's what!

So she goes back on her promise, but it's only going to be for the football celebration, so things should go all right if she waits until tomorrow. And with A&M the victors, the team is highly anticipating their celebration.

The Aggies Song"

(Just a side note: it's supposed to be a winning present but it's also supposed to be only the seniors. If that's the case, then when this class graduates, A&M may have trouble next year... Because it looks like the whole team is in attendance.)

And, of course, as luck would have it, the Watchdog crew goes through town on it's way out to the Ranch.  And Fred gives Ed the bad news.  Miss Mona is not closed down entirely. Melvin and his crew arrive and take pictures which includes one of the district's Senator (Robert Mandan). Ed arrives just a little too late to put out the fire before it starts. Mona and Ed have some harsh words, and he leaves. 

He leaves town to go to Austin to discuss the situation with the governor. And finally, an hour and 20 minutes into the movie we finally get to see The Governor (Charles Durning).  

"The Sidestep"

Why do I say finally?  Because Durning was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at that year's Oscars.  While admittedly there have been nominees with less screen time in a film (his on screen time only amounts to about 10 minutes, 6 of which is his song and dance number...), I would hazard a guess that it was the latest in a movie for one of those who garnered that nomination to make their appearance.  (And, BTW,  I'm not going to speculate on who SHOULD have won. Louis Gossett, Jr actually took the award for An Officer and a Gentleman, but also in the running were Robert Preston for Victor/Victoria, John Lithgow for The World According to Garp and James Mason for The Verdict. Based on those, I'm guessing that Durning was possibly lucky if he came in fourth in the voting.)

Ed tries to get the Governor to use his power to keep the place open, but being a politician, he refuses to do anything before knowing which way the wind blows. Once he gets the results of a poll that has a majority in favor of closing it, however, he tells Ed he has to shut it down.

Ed calls to break the bad news to Mona, who has to break the news to her girls.  And she finds out about Ed's trip to Austin to try to get the Governor's help in keeping it open.

"Hard Candy Christmas"

The ending of the movie has Ed showing up and repairing the damage as best he can.  He tells Mona he wants to marry her.  Mona, for her part, tells Ed he would be better off, since he has a future in politics, to do without being married to a former prostitute.

"I Will Always Love You"

But Ed is nothing if not determined. He takes Mona's stuff off the truck she had packed to leave town and throws it in his own truck.  And they drive off into the sunset.

So it occurs to me that this movie quite possibly could be rated as a "romantic comedy". If so, it is one more in a very relative few in that genre that I like.

If you made it this far into the review, and haven't decided it offends your sensibilities, I'm going to leave you with a final few tidbits of trivia. All courtesy of IMDb, so take them as you will, depending on your trust in the authenticity of the site:

First, the part of Ed Earl went to Burt, but there were several others who had been considered for the part including Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Gene Hackman.  Miss Mona had her own list of candidates, including Crystal Gayle and Barbara Mandrell. And by the way, does anybody else besides me think Lois (Dulcie Mae) Nettleton looks a lot like Mandrell? I actually though she was until I watched the credits...

And also, in the role of The Governor, Mickey Rooney was considered.  It was Burt himself who suggested that Charles Durning be given a shot at the role.

At the end of the movie Burt picks up Dolly and carries her to his truck.  He supposedly suffered a double hernia as a result.

Despite the prurient subject matter, this movie is a fun movie to watch. 

Really... 36!!!

Well, folks, time to get the old Plymouth on down the road.  I'm going straight home.  Really.  I am NOT going to route a detour through some little pissant country place.  Honest!



  1. Political and moral hypocrisy about sex never goes out of style. Still going strong today, isn't it.

    1. Which is why so many of my posts have been about films that push the envelope. I like tweaking people's noses.

  2. You so gotta love the inspired casting for this... Burt and Dolly!

    1. None of the other ladies mentioned in that possible castings could've pulled out off with the panache Dolly did. I would have been interested in how Willie could have done in the sheriff role though. But I'm pretty sure Willie would have had to have a stand in for the scene when Earl Ed carries Dolly to his pickup.

  3. Have never seen this one, but Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton sound like the best choices for their roles. I was surprised to learn the film didn't make all that much at the box office.

    1. Not all that surprising since, even with the tantalization of scantily dressed women, it was still a musical...

  4. Fun, charming, and kind of corny, despite what the title suggests. And I love Durning's performance!

    1. I'd pay for a ticket for a stage revival if one happened to be around. But I like corny.

  5. Well, I had never heard of that film but it certainly sounds intriguig (plus, I need to see more of Burt Reynolds work outside of Boogie Nights and Deliverance). Thanks a lot for this great review, I especially liked the historical background you provided at the beginning!

    By the way, I also take the occasion to let you know I have nominated you and your blog for a Sunshine Blogger Award! Congratulations!

    1. I thank you for the nom. Hopefully I'll get it done in the next week or so.

  6. I have never seen this one, but Dolly is so cute. Thanks again for joining the blogathon, Quiggy--this was fun. :-)

    1. would have thought this one would be one more people had seen than it seems actually have,


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