Photo by AP PhotoEdna Milton Chadwell, the last madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel, died last week at the age of 84. The Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas, was the house of ill repute that inspired the Broadway musical, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." It later became a hit movie.
Chadwell's passing inspired a surge of interest in the 1982 film starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. The flick was an enormous success, taking in nearly $70 million. It was one of the biggest musical hits of the decade, despite mixed reviews.
Parton's character wasn't directly based on Chadwell, but Parton clearly drew on Chadwell for her performance. Chadwell served as madam of the Chicken Ranch from 1962 until 1973, when it was shut down after a news exposé.
Photo by Everett CollectionAfter the Chicken Ranch's demise, Chadwell moved to Arizona where she met her husband and remained for the rest of her life. Her obituary from the Associated Press quotes her nephew, Robert Kleffman.
"She was a hard-nosed lady. She was very straightforward, didn't put up with no monkey business, no nonsense," he said. "Hard-nosed. But with a spine of steel and a heart of gold." Kleffman added that his aunt didn't like to talk about her time in La Grange, but she also wasn't ashamed of it.
When Chadwell purchased the property in 1962, she renamed it "Edna's Fashionable Ranch Boarding House." She turned what was already a profitable enterprise into something much more: an institution. She developed a good relationship with the sheriff, gave generously to local charities, and was careful about making sure her employees saw a doctor regularly. The money rolled in, until a TV station got word. The business was then shut down and an epic scandal erupted.
Apparently word about the Chicken Ranch's demise was slow to leak out. According to legend, customers were still showing up at the ranch two years after it shut its bedroom doors.
The Chicken Ranch was also the inspiration for "La Grange," a well-known rock song from ZZ Top. "Rumor spreadin' around in that Texas town, 'bout that shack outside La Grange, and you know what I'm talkin' about..."
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