Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 69: Zindler's Zany Zeal pt. 3

A few weeks ago, KTRK (ABC 13) out of Houston ran a couple of stories I helped them put together (here and here) about the infamous Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas, which served as the inspiration for the Broadway musical and subsequent film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In addition to the new segments, KTRK's producers dug up old broadcasts from 1993, the 20th anniversary of the closure. I was a young reporter in Temple at the time, so this is the first I've ever seen the broadcasts. I'm going to share them here and then offer my thoughts, two decades removed.

I just love the footage here of clients waiting to access the Chicken Ranch. These clips were filmed by cameraman Frank Ambrose, who was hiding (but not very well) in the back of an "undercover" van he and Larry Conners had driven to La Grange. Now here's where fiction and truth come together: Herb Hancock, who was an assistant AG under John Hill, approached Marvin Zindler on his own. John Hill had no idea he'd done so, and Hancock worked hard to keep it that way. Hancock, for his part, had been convinced by others that the Chicken Ranch was a nexus of organized crime and corruption in the state. Remember that the internet and Twitter and instantaneous social communication didn't exist back then. Heck, long distance telephone calls were generally avoided because of the extra cost involved, so there was no easy way to do quick, wide-ranging fact-checking or investigation of sources. The facts presented to him were either accepted or rejected depending on the perceived veracity of the source, and in this case Hancock had no reason to believe he was receiving biased information (which he was).

Aside from that, it's great to see Larry Conners get some screen time. He's the overlooked hero (or villain, depending on your point of view) in the great Chicken Ranch investigation. Conners did almost all of the actual investigative leg-work, while Zindler presented the material as only he could, in his distinctive, bombastic way. I love Conners' interview with Sheriff Flournoy. Flournoy answers pretty much every question in a mumbling, monotone growl. I imagine he'd have preferred to have been just about anywhere else at that point in time. And it's true that Colonel Wilson Speir, head of the DPS and Texas Rangers, called Flournoy and had the Chicken Ranch temporarily closed down during politically sensitive times, such as elections. That may be hard for people to believe, but Texas really was a different world from what we're used to today. Zindler teases an interview with madam Edna Milton in the next installment, but that's not available online--mainly because KTRK used a bunch of that footage earlier, in ABC13 Revisits the Chicken Ranch 43 Years Later.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both and for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

Now Playing: Postmodern Jukebox Historical Misappropriation
Chicken Ranch Central

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