Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch makes the San Antonio Express-News

Screenshot of San Antonio Express-News feature story on the Chicken Ranch brothel
My 50th anniversary edition of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse made it into the pages of the San Antonio Express-News courtesy of Deborah Martin's feature article, "The Chicken Ranch has been closed for 50 years, but La Grange brothel's story still has some juice." The timing is perfect, as I have a book signing upcoming at The Twig at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 30 in San Antonio. The Twig is located in the old Pearl Brewery complex, and I had a great time there back in 2016 signing copies when the first edition of this book first came out.

I hope to see you there! If you happen to be in the area--or even if you're not planning to be in the area but decide to head on over anyway--please be sure to stop in and say "H!" I'll be holding forth on all things Chicken Ranch and always look forward to the Q&A sessions!

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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Dolph Briscoe (1923-2010)

On this date in 2010, Dolph Briscoe, the 41st governor of Texas, died. Briscoe, a long-time Uvalde rancher, is generally remembered fondly from his terms as governor for being a decent guy. But his administration did earn some dubious distinctions. Briscoe was the last Texas governor to serve a two-year term and the first to serve a four-year term. He undermined two efforts to rewrite Texas' abysmal constitution (which remains a trainwreck to this day). Briscoe once appointed a dead man to the State Health Advisory Commission, and if what I've heard is true, called a press conference in the aftermath to reassure the press and public that he hadn't lost his grip on sanity.

But what most people remember him for--and which doesn't appear in most official biographies--is that he is the governor who ordered the closure of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange. Ironically, Briscoe had no actual legal authority to order the Chicken Ranch (or any other brothel, for that matter) closed. But he did, hoping nobody would call his bluff. Fayette County Jim Flournoy certainly knew the governor had no authority to do so, but acquiesced to Briscoe and effectively ended a surreal two-week media circus that captured the attention of Texas as well as the rest of the country.

Governor Briscoe died after ignoring myultiple interview requests from me. Way to sidestep this writer, Dolph!

Autographed copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse 50th Anniversary Edition are available now at

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Monday, June 26, 2023

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch marks 50th anniversary of brothel’s closure with new edition

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch 50th anniversary edition cover
NEW BRAUNFELS – The infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas, closed a half century ago and the History Press is marking that historical milestone with the June 26 publication of the 50th anniversary edition of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse.

Revised, updated and expanded, the new edition of the landmark book brings more of the Chicken Ranch’s history to light, including additional interviews and new insights into the lives of Jessie Williams and Edna Milton, the two madams who consecutively owned and operated the brothel as its fame grew throughout much of the 20th century.

“Almost from the moment the first edition arrived in bookstores local historians, genealogists and even eyewitnesses began approaching me at book signings, online or through old-fashioned letters,” said author Jayme Lynn Blaschke. “They shared their research and experience with me freely. They felt a connection with this history and wanted to help me tell more of the story, and tell it as accurately as possible. They understood this is an important part of Texas history. This 50th anniversary edition would not have happened without them.”

Aerial view of the Chicken Ranch brothel, circa 1972
The Chicken Ranch closed on Aug. 1, 1973, on the orders of Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, following a series of broadcast reports by Houston consumer advocate Marvin Zindler. The high-profile closure marked the end of a 58-year run which saw the brothel operating more or less openly with the tacit support of state politicians and law enforcement. At the time of its 1915 relocation outside of La Grange city limits by Williams, the brothel claimed a history dating back to 1844, when Texas was still an independent nation.

“When I interviewed her, Edna claimed the Chicken Ranch had a grandfather exemption, as its operations long predated the criminalization of prostitution in Texas,” Blaschke said. “I’m not sure her claim would’ve held up in court, but the question is moot. Once Edna saw her political allies deserting her—broadcast news really was a disruptive newcomer to Texas back in 1973 and terrified the state’s power brokers—she lost the will to fight it out. I’m sure a great many powerful men in Texas let out a sigh of relief at that point.”

Chicken Ranch madam Edna Milton, circa 1970
For its part, the Chicken Ranch refused to fade away quietly. Zindler and Fayette County Sheriff Jim Flournoy got into a literal street brawl one year later, resulting in hospitalization, lawsuits and litigation for years to come. The Tony Award-winning musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, told the story of the demise of the Chicken Ranch in song and dance for a whopping 1,584 performances and spawned a hit movie of the same name starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. An attempt to develop the property as a museum and tourist attraction in the 1980s ended with lawsuits and acrimony, and a planned Y2K party at the site imploded when the sheriff and county judge arrived threatening mass arrests. The Chicken Ranch’s unparalleled ability to generate controversy continues unabated even in 2023—an adjacent landowner has blocked access to the property, going so far as to change the locks on the gates and threaten trespassing charges against the current Chicken Ranch owner if they so much as set foot on the site.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke, author of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch 50th anniversary edition
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say the site is cursed, but it definitely provokes wildly irrational behavior in some people,” Blaschke said. “Most people I’ve met in La Grange are curious about the history and see it as a part of the overall Texas story. There’s a handful, though, who hate it passionately and are determined to bury it by any means possible.

“That is a fool’s errand. Inside of 10 years the Chicken Ranch went from a minor, local scandal to folklore, then made the leap into mythology,” he said. “These half-baked attempts to cover up this history only serves to bring more attention to it. This particular genie is never going back into the bottle.”

About Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch 50th anniversary edition
ISBN: 9781467153935
Genre: Non-fiction, History
Format: Paperback
Publisher: The History Press
Publication Date: 6/26/2023
Pages: 336
Price: $23.99

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Friday, June 23, 2023

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Wow. Every once in a while I run across a video that just stops me cold. Bob Seger's "Night Moves" is one of those, and it just stopped me cold. Not because it's astounding and great, mind you. There's nothing wrong with it--the video is a lush, well-filmed exercise in nostalgia, filmed in the early 90s when videos were becoming more cinematic and shedding the cheesy excess of the 80s. What stunned me about it is that I'd never seen it before. Look, in the late 80s I was a pretty damn big Seger fan and when this video came out I was still putting MTV on as a default when I wanted something playing in the background. Those of you who know Seger remember that "Night Moves" was a hit back in 1976, before videos were a thing. So this retroactive video was made in 1994 to promote Seger's first greatest hits collection. The video prominently features Daphne Zuniga--of "Melrose Place" and "Spaceballs" fame--along with Matt LeBlanc, who was just months away from hitting it big with "Friends." And I have never, ever seen this video. I didn't even realize it existed. How is that even possible for me, who takes no small amount of pride in knowing absurdly inane trivia like this? Huh. Ain't it funny how the night moves...

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Harry Belafonte.

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