Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 70: Zindler's Zany Zeal pt. 4

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. This is the final installment of the five broadcasts, and I'm offering my thoughts, two decades removed.

This one starts with a recap of the previous videos. Nothing really new here, although there's a rare photo of Austin County Sheriff Truman Maddox at the 1:06 mark (Sheriff Maddox didn't take Zindler's media circus as personally as Sheriff Jim Flournoy did, which is probably why few people remember him today. But Sheriff Maddox was a colorful character in his own right). There's also a brief image of La Grange clergy in the recap, which I'm assuming was included in the fourth retrospective segment, which was cannibalized for the new "43 years later" segment. Obviously, KTRK did not believe enough material remained to make it worthwhile to post the original Zindler piece online, but I find that reasoning disappointing, from a historical perspective. And I have to say, using Charles Durning's "Sidestep" dance number as filler is entertaining, but doesn't bring anything new to the subject. Of more interest is Governor Briscoe's press conference. Bits and pieces of it exist here and there, but I've not been able to find a complete recording of it. The next segment is interesting. It shows Zindler visiting the (closed but still-intact) Chicken Ranch in December of 1974 after it'd been closed for a year. The caretaker made the KTRK crew leave the property as soon as he realized they were there. I like the fact Zindler's puffing on a big cigar and gets a closeup shot of his finger ringing the doorbell. That's a nice touch. Of course, their next stop was downtown La Grange and a fateful encounter with Sheriff Flournoy, one of several events which guaranteed the Chicken Ranch a kind of bizarre, pop culture immortality. Oh! And at the 2:56 mark there's a sign on a gate that says "Closed due to complaints of Marvin Zindler." A screen grab of this image can be found online, attributed to the Chicken Ranch, but this is in fact the sign at the lesser-known Wagon Wheel brothel outside of Sealy. Finally, I find it amusing that Zindler ends this retrospective with a mini-rant about the fact that many people have made money off The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, but that he didn't share in the profits. This is a wee bit disingenuous, as the whole scandal boosted Zindler's profile (not to mention lifting KTRK out of its perennial third-place finish in the ratings) and--if it didn't make his career, certainly cemented his place as a Texas celebrity. Zindler did profit, and profit greatly, but his benefits accrued indirectly.

Watching these videos makes me a little melancholy. Not for the closure of the Chicken Ranch, mind you--that's ancient history and there's no turning back the clock. No, I'm frustrated that the station manager at KTRK I spoke with five or so years back chose not to make any of this archival footage available to me. Zindler's original film broadcasts were stored in a warehouse outside the city, and there was no viewing system set up, etc., which made it impractical, if not impossible, to get me access to them. Clearly, these retrospective videos show that the station did have a significant portion of those broadcasts archived for easy access. It would've been nice had I been able to review and incorporate them when researching my book, but I guess it was easier just to put off the peon writer with a partial truth. The reporters there I've worked with have been great, mind you. I just wish the station had been more generous back before they needed something from me.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com 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:

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