Frequently Asked Questions
When people learn that I'm researching and writing a book on the Chicken Ranch, they invariably have questions for me. Here are some of the most common:
What's the difference between the 50th anniversary edition and the first edition? As the cover says, the new version is revised, updated and expanded. Since the original publication I've uncovered more information, corrected some inaccurate history and been able to tell more of the story that wasn't known before. The 50th anniversary edition is approximately 4,000 words longer but a dollar cheaper than the first edition. That's a bargain if ever I saw one.
Is there an audiobook version? Sadly, no. My publisher, History Press, has no in-house audibook division. Instead, they license audio rights to audiobook publishers. At this point, the rights still remain available, so feel free to contact your favorite audio publisher and point them my way.
It took six years to research and write? That's a long time! Yes, that's a long time. I spent about three years researching and one year writing the first draft. I finished two subsequent drafts since then whilst pursuing agents and publishers. The delay is fortunate in some ways, because additional sources presented themselves in the interim, which resulted in a more complete and authoritative book. The finished product tips the scales at 110,000 words, with a hundred photos, most of which are previously unpublished.
So, have you talked to any of the women who worked there? I interviewed the last madam, Edna Milton Chadwell, several times. She passed away in 2012 just prior to my completing the book, which saddens me. Nobody supported my efforts to tell the true and complete history of the Chicken Ranch (or, at least as true and complete as my research could document) more than she did. I also interviewed a former employee known as "Penny," who corroborated many details and added many more of her own. As for the rest of the "working girls," well, they're 30-plus years older now, and have moved on with their lives. I can't blame them for wanting to put the Chicken Ranch behind them, but if any happen to read this and want to speak with me, my email link is on the left over there.
Did the madam look like Dolly Parton? No. And Sheriff Flournoy didn't look like Burt Reynolds, either.
Didn't I hear they moved the Chicken Ranch to Dallas? Part of the original building was indeed moved from La Grange to Dallas in 1977 and turned into a restaurant on Greenville Avenue. It failed. Everything inside was auctioned off to cover loan debts the following summer. In September 1978 the property owner razed it and put up a strip mall. No trace of the Chicken Ranch remains in Dallas.
I heard the Chicken Ranch property was flooded when they filled the reservoir for the Fayette Power Plant? Yeah, I heard that, too. People like to make stuff up, especially where the Chicken Ranch is concerned. I ran into a lot of that in my research.
Didn't it burn down? No. A trailer park brothel in Nevada started calling itself the Chicken Ranch in the 70s. Some rival brothels torched the place. There was a big arson investigation and a trial. But that wasn't the brothel in La Grange.
Is the Chicken Ranch in Nevada run by the same people who ran it in La Grange? Nope. They're completely unrelated, although the one in Nevada has a collection of Chicken Ranch memorabilia and plays The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack for people holding on the phone.
Did you know that Linda Lovelace got her start "performing" in Bryan, Texas? Okay, this has nothing to do with the Chicken Ranch, but no, she didn't. She didn't live there, either. You can't believe everything you read on TexAgs (see question seven).
And this is probably the most frequently asked question of them all:
Why in the world did you write a book about the Chicken Ranch? I can't count the number of times I've been asked this over the past... goodness, seven years already. It's a good question. The short answer is, "Because nobody else is." The slightly longer answer is, "Because I don't trust anybody else to do it right." The complete answer is a bit more involved.
I grew up in Columbus, Texas, and can't recall not knowing about the Chicken Ranch over in La Grange. Seeing as how the brothel closed in 1973 when I was just 3 years old, it took me a while to figure out that it was a bit more than a place where they raised a bunch of chickens. When Universal filmed much of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas a few miles down the road in Hallettsville, that was big news amongst me and my friends. Hollywood was practically next door! When I begged my folks to take me to see it, they answered with an unequivocal "No!" When I demanded a reason why, they said the title was reason enough. Puzzled, I looked up just what a whorehouse was, and thus was introduced to a whole other world of vice. I was pretty much a sheltered kid, you'll figure out.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. When KTRK-TV reporter Marvin Zindler died in 2007, Texas media was awash in retrospectives of the crusader's career. The Great Chicken Ranch Scandal was naturally front and center. This got me to thinking that I'd never really learned the real story of what went on. Sure, I'd seen that movie my parents wouldn't take me to, but somehow I didn't think Burt Reynolds' singing had much basis in fact. My wife, Lisa, who'd grown up in Bastrop, Texas, right on the other side of La Grange, was curious as well, and gifted me with what little published literature there was on the subject. To say that the printed matter was lacking would be a kindness.
For such a famous event in Texas history, there was darn little documentation of it. Even the former location of the property was confused and contradicted by various sources. Rumor stood for fact, gossip for truth. For the better part of two years I brooded on the matter. I'd forget about it for a while, then it'd resurface and I'd complain to my wife that somebody, somewhere needed to interview all the folks who were involved first-hand to get their side of the story before they all went the way of Zindler. Sheriff Jim Flournoy, one of the pivotal players in the affair, had already passed away in the 1980s. Governor Dolph Briscoe passed away in 2010. Finally, my long-suffering wife had all that she could take. "Quite bitching about it," she said, "and write the damn thing yourself."
So, here we are, for better or worse. It was never one of my life's goals to write a book on the Chicken Ranch--I'm a journalist and science fiction writer, for crying out loud. But the realization finally sank in that the unwritten book would haunt me until I got it out of my system, so I gave in, put on hold the various short stories and novels I'd been working on, and jumped in with both feet. I've invested more than three years of my life into researching this thing, and have untold hours of recorded interviews to back me up. It's not been easy, but hopefully before too long I'll have the finished product in a bookstore near you. And if you've got a sense of humor and a little time to spare, I invite you to check out some "alternative openings" to my Chicken Ranch book based on the styles of other, more famous authors.