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July 04 , 2009

I, the People: How Marvin Zindler Busted the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas


“The Chicken Ranch was the one, great festering, frustrating sore on the face of law enforcement in Texas.”

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Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom is now widely regarded as a classic of contemporary philosophy. This book, first published in 1993, sets itself three main aims: the development of a general theory of dialectic, of which Hegelian dialectic can be seen to be a special case; the dialectical enrichment and deepening of critical realism, viz. into the…

The year was 1973. The State of Texas had just elected a new reform-minded governor and attorney general. And Houston’s ABC-TV affiliate station at Channel 13 had just launched a new consumer-oriented investigative feature by hiring flamboyant former lawman Marvin Zindler to seize the spotlight. The roads from those disparate events crossed quickly in dramatic fashion to national acclaim in the Texas Hill Country village of La Grange which had harbored the country’s longest continually operating bordello—a little place known as the Chicken Ranch and beloved to generations of Texas school boys.

When Zindler’s sensational TV expose forced the Chicken Ranch to close, it triggered a national controversy that raged for years, highlighted by the creation of a successful Broadway musical called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The movie version starred Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in the fictionalized account that boiled the story down to a basic theme still used in its marketing pitch: “Texas madam Miss Mona and her sheriff boyfriend try to save her chicken ranch from a TV muckraker.”

But lost amid the romanticized singing and the dancing and the nostalgic pining of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas lies an authentic true crime history yarn just as entertaining and as much a part of the Lone Star State’s many fabled legends. In I, the People, veteran Houston journalist and author Gary Taylor recreates the real story behind the closing of the Chicken Ranch and explains the forces that unleashed TV icon Marvin Zindler upon the national scene.

Gary Taylor is a veteran award-winning journalist who has covered crime, courts and legal affairs for newspapers and magazines since 1969. His 2008 true crime memoir, Luggage by Kroger—the story of a true-life fatal attraction—won five national book awards. He lives in Houston, Texas.

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