B efore the book, the musical and the film, there was the inspiration. And in this case part of that inspiration came from the life of Edna Milton Chadwell, who passed away last month aged 84 and was the last madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, the oldest continuously operating brothel in the US. Chadwell died on Feb. 25 of complications from injuries she had sustained in a car crash last year.
The book in question, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, which later became a Broadway hit and a film starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, was based on the establishment, which Edna had joined in 1952 and later bought for $30,000, running it successfully for 12 years. Miss Edna, as she was known, established good relationships with the local authorities and residents, took care of the girls’ health and established the Chicken Ranch as one of the most well-known brothels in the country.
In 1973, TV personality Marvin Zindler ran an expose which led to pressure being put on the authorities to close the brothel. After the Chicken Ranch closed, Chadwell moved and got married, and proceeded to sell the rights to her story to writer Larry L. King, who wrote the piece that later was adapted for the stage and the screen and sparked some of the first open portrayals of sex work in the mainstream media.