Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Texas Icon Is No More

A major Texas historical figure passed away a few days ago. Her death received little comment, but she deserves recognition for the services she provided to a grateful public for many years.

Farewell, Miss Edna.
Edna Milton Chadwell, the last madam of the Chicken Ranch — the infamous La Grange brothel that inspired a ZZ Top song, a Broadway hit and a movie starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton — has died in Phoenix.

She was 84.

The Chicken Ranch, which received national infamy after the staging of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” on Broadway, reportedly was the oldest continuously operating brothel in the nation when it closed in August 1973 after an exposé by consumer reporter Marvin Zindler of Houston's KTRK-TV.
I used to see Marvin Zindler on the Houston news. He was a nosy busybody - a self-important puffed up caricature of a meddler that fancied himself as an investigative reporter. He unwittingly served as a prototype for the talking heads that currently befoul the airwaves.

Miss Edna, as she was known, joined the brothel's staff in 1952 when she was 23. But with owner Miss Jessie Williams in declining health, she soon found herself assuming more of the day-to-day managerial responsibilities, said Jayme Blaschke, who's writing a book on the Chicken Ranch.

In 1961, after Miss Jessie's death, Chadwell bought the establishment for $30,000 from her heirs and ran it for the next 12 years with a firm hand.

Chadwell proved as adept at public relations as she was at running a brothel. She established a good working and personal relationship with T.J. Flournoy, the Fayette County sheriff who put in a direct line to the Chicken Ranch so he could be easily apprised of any criminal activity, Blaschke said.

According to the Handbook of Texas, Chadwell also forbade any contact, other than that of a professional nature, with the citizens of La Grange. She also insisted on weekly visits by the girls to a doctor, shopped with local merchants on a rotating basis, and gave generously to local charities.

The business flourished. Generations of students at nearby Texas A&M University discovered that a visit to the Chicken Ranch was a rite of passage for freshmen. Legend has it that a nearby military base ferried clients in by helicopter.
Legend also has it that for years the winning team of the annual Texas - Texas A&M football clash was treated to a night of celebration there.
But in 1973, acting on a tip, Zindler aired the report that led to the brothel's demise.

By Aug. 1, Zindler's pressure resulted in Gov. Dolph Briscoe ordering law enforcement to close the two “bawdy houses,” as Zindler called them. The next day, Flournoy reluctantly complied.

But the legend of the Chicken Ranch lived on in ZZ Top's “La Grange,” released that year. It's a rock radio staple to this day.
Crank it up!!!

In the late 1970s, Chadwell sold the rights to her story to Texas writer Larry L. King, who wrote a piece for Playboy magazine that was adapted by Peter Masterson for the stage as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
King's story was in keeping with the tradition of journalistic accuracy and integrity that continues to this day. Miss Edna said about it: “There was nothing about it right except that it happened in a whorehouse.”

I used to drive through La Grange quite often when I was going back and forth between Houston and Central Texas. I'm not going to say whether or not I ever frequented the place, but I did know where it was. Back then, every young Texas lad did.

Miss Edna should have run for public office. She had plenty of experience serving the public. And just like the government, people got screwed by the Chicken Ranch. The difference is that the Chicken Ranch employees knew what they were doing and the customers went away satisfied.

When's the last time you were satisfied by the government?

(Here's an Oct. 1973 Texas Monthly story on the Chicken Ranch - check it out.)


Pascvaks said...

There's a very special place in Heaven for whores and, I hear, many get the biggest wings. There's a very special place in Hell for Zindlers, Pimps, Pushers, and most Politicians, and I hear their persecutors are unmerciful.

If it ain't true, it otta' be!

kerrcarto said...

Yall come back now. Ya' Hear.

CenTexTim said...

Pascvaks - Amen!

Kerrcarto - More than once...