The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

R | 114 mins | Musical comedy | 23 July 1982

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HISTORY

Voice-over narration by Jim Nabors’ character, “Deputy Fred,” summarizes the history of the Chicken Ranch brothel before the story begins.
       Makeup artist Tom Ellingwood has his last name misspelled as "Eillingwood" in the end credits.
       According to the 14 Apr 1978 HR, Universal Pictures producer Jennings Lang was to visit New York City to determine the possibility of adapting the off-Broadway stage play of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas into a film, since Universal had recently acquired rights to the show. On 14 Jun 1978, Var noted that before the production’s scheduled move to Broadway later in the month, Universal invested over $400,000 to receive full producing credit and obtain all future film, stage, record, and publishing rights. The deal was secured by Stephanie Phillips, who was slated to oversee development of a feature film in her first effort as a producer. Var reported on 5 Dec 1979 that, in addition to working on the screenplay, original stage play writers Peter Masterson and Larry L. King were being considered to direct. Principal photography was scheduled to begin in summer 1980 on a budget of $10-$12 million for a summer 1981 release.
       After six months of complicated casting negotiations, the 25 Jan 1980 DV announced that Dolly Parton committed to the picture for a $1 million-plus salary and Burt Reynolds would join if his busy schedule allowed. The 4 Feb 1980 LAHExam stated the pair of actors insisted that “one wouldn’t do the film without the other” and made demands for $6 million pay between them, prompting Universal to approach country stars Willie Nelson, Barbara Mandell, and ... More Less

Voice-over narration by Jim Nabors’ character, “Deputy Fred,” summarizes the history of the Chicken Ranch brothel before the story begins.
       Makeup artist Tom Ellingwood has his last name misspelled as "Eillingwood" in the end credits.
       According to the 14 Apr 1978 HR, Universal Pictures producer Jennings Lang was to visit New York City to determine the possibility of adapting the off-Broadway stage play of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas into a film, since Universal had recently acquired rights to the show. On 14 Jun 1978, Var noted that before the production’s scheduled move to Broadway later in the month, Universal invested over $400,000 to receive full producing credit and obtain all future film, stage, record, and publishing rights. The deal was secured by Stephanie Phillips, who was slated to oversee development of a feature film in her first effort as a producer. Var reported on 5 Dec 1979 that, in addition to working on the screenplay, original stage play writers Peter Masterson and Larry L. King were being considered to direct. Principal photography was scheduled to begin in summer 1980 on a budget of $10-$12 million for a summer 1981 release.
       After six months of complicated casting negotiations, the 25 Jan 1980 DV announced that Dolly Parton committed to the picture for a $1 million-plus salary and Burt Reynolds would join if his busy schedule allowed. The 4 Feb 1980 LAHExam stated the pair of actors insisted that “one wouldn’t do the film without the other” and made demands for $6 million pay between them, prompting Universal to approach country stars Willie Nelson, Barbara Mandell, and Crystal Gayle as replacements. The following week, however, an article in the 13 Feb 1980 DV confirmed that Parton and Reynolds had both been signed for the lead roles, with the production start date on hold until the actors’ availability could be determined.
       On 11 Dec 1980, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) granted Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune, directors of the original stage production, special permission to co-direct the film despite their lack of screen experience. According to the 25 Mar 1980 LAHExam, Reynolds’ commitment to a project for Paramount Pictures threatened to hold up filming The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but by 4 Apr 1980, DV reported that the issue had been resolved and principal photography would be pushed back to Oct 1980.
       The 14 Aug 1980 Chicago Tribune reported that Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune were to be replaced in favor of a director with more experience. Var confirmed on 8 Oct 1980 that Colin Higgins, who had previously worked with Parton on Nine to Five (1980, see entry), would direct, beginning production in Apr 1981 with a budget of over $20 million. Hank Moonjean, producer of Burt Reynolds’ picture, Smokey and the Bandit II (1980, see entry), was rumored to share producing credit with Phillips, but ultimately did not join the project. Phillips herself was also removed from the film due to her lack of experience, and replaced by Thomas L. Miller, Edward K. Milkis, and Robert L. Boyett. The 22 Dec 1980 DV assured that she would remain involved as an executive producer, though she receives no credit in the final film. The DV article estimated a budget of $17-$18 million, with the majority of filming to take place on the Universal studio lot in Los Angeles, CA, in an effort to control costs. Production was expected to begin in Jul 1981, and on 26 Jun 1981, HR announced 6 Jul 1981 as the start date, provided that an anticipated Directors Guild Strike did not occur.
       The 25 Sep 1981 HR production chart confirmed that principal photography officially began on 21 Sep 1981. Production notes in the AMPAS library stated that The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was the first movie ever allowed to film inside the Capitol Building in Austin, TX. Exterior locations included the TX Governor’s Mansion, the Lavaca County Courthouse in Hallettsville, TX, and a farmhouse near Pflugerville, TX, which was also rebuilt on the Universal lot in Universal City, CA. On 2 Dec 1981, HR announced that Annie Gaybis, Georgine Seraphine, and Lily Bridges were cast in the film, but they receive no onscreen credit and their participation remains unknown. A story in the 28 Dec 1981 Time mentioned that director Higgins had rewritten Masterson and King’s script in order to closer match the characters to Parton and Reynolds’ personas. In an interview for the May 1982 issue of Playboy, King stated that Parton, concerned about her image, originally turned down the role, but was convinced by Burt Reynolds to accept. The story notes that Reynolds and Parton received $3.5 million and $1.5 million respectively, in addition to a percentage of the film’s gross. Although the Time article states that ten songs from the stage musical were dropped and Parton wrote four original tunes, the 2 Aug 1982 People claimed that Parton wrote twenty-nine new songs. Four of these songs were filmed and two were used in the final film.
       The 12 Feb 1982 DV called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas the most expensive film on Universal’s 1982 schedule, with a final cost of $26 million. However, the budget was “virtually…covered by U.S. exhibitor guarantees of $25 million.” A story in the 14 Aug 1980 HR suggested that Universal had originally hoped to book a roadshow-style release for Christmas 1981, but costs were excessive and an actors’ strike at the time had delayed future distribution plans. On 19 May 1982, Var announced that the world premiere was scheduled to take place in Austin, TX, on 11 Jul 1982 as part of a five-day, $250,000 publicity event beginning 9 Jul 1982 that would benefit Austin’s Paramount Theatre For The Performing Arts. The film would open nation-wide on 23 Jul 1982 on 1,400 screens. A 24 May 1982 HR article stated that Universal also planned an hourlong, $400,000 television program called The Best Little Special in Texas, to air nationally between 17 Jul 1982 and 3 Aug 1982, featuring outtakes and eight minutes of footage from the movie. As reported in the 21 Jul 1982 Var, Dolly Parton was set to attend the Nashville, TN premiere at the Roy Acuff Theatre on 22 Jul 1982, while the 17 Jul 1982 Billboard reported another premiere had been scheduled at the Burt Reynolds Theatre Institute in Miami, FL, on 14 Jul 1982. Billboard detailed the film’s additional promotional efforts, which cost Universal $750,000. Although the film received mixed reviews, most critics considered the musical to be an improvement over the source material, thanks largely to the casting of Parton and Reynolds.
       As “The Governor,” Charles Durning received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
       The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas marked Jim Nabors’ motion picture debut and was Colin Higgins’ (1941—1988) final feature film as a director. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Billboard
17 Jul 1982.
---
Chicago Tribune
14 Aug 1980.
---
Daily Variety
25 Jan 1980.
---
Daily Variety
31 Feb 1980
pp. 1, 23.
Daily Variety
4 Apr 1980.
---
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1980
pp. 1, 22.
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1978
pp. 1, 25.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 1980
pp. 1, 18.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1982
pp. 1, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jul 1982
p. 3, 20.
LAHExam
4 Feb 1980.
---
LAHExam
25 Mar 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jul 1982
p. 1.
New York Times
24 Jul 1982
p. 11.
People
2 Aug 1982
pp. 41-42, 45.
Playboy
May 1982
pp. 119, 158, 230-233.
Time
28 Dec 1981
pp. 72-23.
Variety
14 Jun 1978.
---
Variety
5 Dec 1979
pp. 5, 32.
Variety
8 Oct 1980.
---
Variety
19 May 1982.
---
Variety
21 Jul 1982.
---
Variety
21 Jul 1982
p. 20.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Chicken ranch girls:
Aggies:
Dogettes:
[and]
Melvin's crew:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Universal Pictures and RKO Pictures presents
A Miller-Mikis-Boyett Production
A Colin Higgins Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PHOTOGRAPHY
Matte photog
Addl photog
Cam op
Cam op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy elec
Best boy elec
Key grip
Best boy
Dolly grip
Louma crane
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Prod illustrator
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst propmaster
Const coord
Greensman
Greensman
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Ward Miss Parton
Women's ward
Women's ward
Ward Mr. Reynolds
Men`s ward
Men`s ward
Men`s ward
MUSIC
Addl songs wrt
Mus prod and arr
Orig background mus
Mus re-mix
Mus ed
Underscore mus ed
Asst mus ed
Underscore orchestrator
Mus arr
Mus arr
Mus consultant
Mus supv
Mus supv
SOUND
Sd re-rec
Boom op
Playback op
Playback op
VTR op
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Dial replacement ed
Asst sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Spec eff
Title des by
Titles & optical eff by
DANCE
Choreog
Dance arr
Dance orchestrator
Dance orchestrator
Asst choreog
MAKEUP
Make-up Miss Parton
Make-up Mr. Reynolds
Hair Miss Parton
Hair Miss Parton
Hair Mr. Reynolds
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Body make-up
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Casting, Texas
Casting, Texas
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Auditor
Loc catering
First aid
Craft services
Transportation coord
Pre-prod coord
Animal trainer
Animal trainer
Helicopter pilot
Prod assoc
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst to Colin Higgins
Asst to Edward K. Milkis
Asst to Peter Macgregor-Scott
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the stage play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, music and lyrics by Carol Hall (New York, 19 Jun 1978).
SONGS
"Twenty Fans," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Aggie Song," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
+
SONGS
"Twenty Fans," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Aggie Song," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Sidestep," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Watch Dog Theme," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Texas Has A Whorehouse In It," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Hard Candy Christmas," music and lyrics by Carol Hall
"Sneakin' Around," music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, published by Velvet Apple Music--Duchess Music Corp.
"I Will Always Love You," music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, published by Velvet Apple Music.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 July 1982
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Austin: 11 July 1982
Miami premiere: 14 July 1982
Nashville premiere: 22 July 1982
New York and Los Angeles opening: 23 July 1982
Production Date:
began 21 September 1981 in Austin, TX and Universal City, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
20 August 1982
Copyright Number:
PA146252
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
114
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26704
SYNOPSIS

After moving her prostitutes to a secluded country house outside Gilbert, Texas in 1910, madam Miss Wulla Jean ran a successful brothel that flourished for many decades. The establishment was nicknamed the “Chicken Ranch” when poor patrons used chickens as a form of payment during the Great Depression. Three generations passed, and Gilbert Deputy Sheriff Fred recalls the time, seven years past, when he was working for the new sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd. Following the death of Miss Wulla Jean, Mona Stangley assumed ownership of the Chicken Ranch, determined to maintain its status as a respected Texas institution where both prostitutes and patrons abided by strict rules. One day, Mona stops by the Lanville County Courthouse to leave a donation for the local Little League baseball organization and makes friendly conversation with the administrative workers there, who all know and respect her. That afternoon, Ed Earl drives to a house in Merritville, Texas, where he is welcomed by Mona, who waits for him in bed. The two discuss how much they have enjoyed their clandestine, yearlong sexual relationship, but agree that they disapprove of the monogamy of marriage. As they begin to make love, Deputy Fred knocks on the door to inform Ed Earl that Mayor Rufus P. Poindexter wishes to speak with him. The sheriff insists the meeting can wait, but when he returns to the bedroom, he finds that Mona has left. At the police station, the mayor tells Ed Earl that an influential consumer reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe plans to film an exposé on the Chicken Ranch for his television program, Watchdog Report. Although the ... +


After moving her prostitutes to a secluded country house outside Gilbert, Texas in 1910, madam Miss Wulla Jean ran a successful brothel that flourished for many decades. The establishment was nicknamed the “Chicken Ranch” when poor patrons used chickens as a form of payment during the Great Depression. Three generations passed, and Gilbert Deputy Sheriff Fred recalls the time, seven years past, when he was working for the new sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd. Following the death of Miss Wulla Jean, Mona Stangley assumed ownership of the Chicken Ranch, determined to maintain its status as a respected Texas institution where both prostitutes and patrons abided by strict rules. One day, Mona stops by the Lanville County Courthouse to leave a donation for the local Little League baseball organization and makes friendly conversation with the administrative workers there, who all know and respect her. That afternoon, Ed Earl drives to a house in Merritville, Texas, where he is welcomed by Mona, who waits for him in bed. The two discuss how much they have enjoyed their clandestine, yearlong sexual relationship, but agree that they disapprove of the monogamy of marriage. As they begin to make love, Deputy Fred knocks on the door to inform Ed Earl that Mayor Rufus P. Poindexter wishes to speak with him. The sheriff insists the meeting can wait, but when he returns to the bedroom, he finds that Mona has left. At the police station, the mayor tells Ed Earl that an influential consumer reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe plans to film an exposé on the Chicken Ranch for his television program, Watchdog Report. Although the Governor of Texas remains untroubled by the reporter’s interest, Ed Earl worries that the coverage will bring bad publicity to the brothel, so he travels to Houston to speak with Thorpe. Despite their affable conversation, the evening broadcast names the Chicken Ranch and accuses Ed Earl of being corrupt for not shutting it down. Most watching the show are shocked to learn that prostitution has been encouraged and allowed by the government. At the Chicken Ranch, Mona assures Ed Earl that interest will subside, but moments later, Deputy Fred informs them that Melvin P. Thorpe has arrived at the Gilbert courthouse. Thorpe and his camera crew speak to the townspeople with the hope of convincing them that prostitution is disgusting and immoral. Ed Earl furiously confronts Thorpe and chases him away by firing his gun into the air as a threat. That night under the stars, Mona and Ed Earl share their thoughts on religious values. Ed Earl tells her of his dream of running for legislature one day, while Mona says she has never had any luck following her dreams. They both admit that they have remained faithful to each other since their relationship began. Later, Thorpe appears on the eleven o’clock news with footage of Ed Earl cursing and using violence during their encounter in the town square. The next morning, public outrage prompts the mayor’s office to close the Chicken Ranch for two months until the scandal quiets down. But Jewel, the brothel housekeeper, reminds Mona that they must stay open on Thanksgiving Day, when the winners of the state college football game are traditionally treated to a visit at the Chicken Ranch. Following their victory against Texas University, the Texas A&M players arrive at the brothel with Senator Charlie Wingwood, where they dance provocatively and have sex with the prostitutes. That night, Deputy Fred tells Ed Earl that he spotted Thorpe driving toward to the Chicken Ranch. Although Ed Earl believes that the brothel is closed, Deputy Fred reminds him of the Thanksgiving football party and the sheriff realizes that Mona will be caught by Thorpe’s crew. Thorpe breaks inside the house and snaps photos of the football players and Senator Wingwood in bed with the women. Police arrive with Ed Earl to chase Thorpe off the property. Angry with Ed Earl for failing to protect her and losing his temper, Mona accuses the sheriff of being nothing more than an overgrown child who will never amount to anything beyond being a sheriff of a small, worthless town. In return, Ed Earl remains furious that she lied to him by keeping the brothel open and shames her for making her living as a whore. News reports state that the Chicken Ranch has been shut down and interviews demonstrate mixed public opinion on the issue. Senator Wingwood appears on television to deny any association with the brothel, claiming that he unwittingly visited the ranch after being drugged. In Austin, the governor sidesteps any questions regarding the Chicken Ranch uproar, but Ed Earl meets with him to vouch for Mona’s charitable nature and the brothel’s positive impact on the community. However, when polls reveal the public’s ultimate disapproval, the governor votes to close the whorehouse. When Ed Earl calls Mona to tell her she needs to shut down her business, he apologizes for disrespecting her. Upon learning that they have lost their jobs, the prostitutes inform Mona of Ed Earl’s efforts to save the Chicken Ranch, prompting her to realize that she should forgive him. The women lament their uncertain futures and depart to begin new lives. Just before Mona is about to leave, Ed Earl confesses his love for her and proposes. She refuses, believing that things will always stay the same between them, but he insists that she is too important for him to let her go. He carries her to his car and they drive off together into the sunset, leaving the boarded-up Chicken Ranch behind them. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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