Larry L. King, the man whose article in Playboy about the flamboyant campaign to shut down a Texas brothel inspired the Tony Award-nominated musical, and movie starring Dolly Parton, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas died Thursday at the age of 83.
The Chicken Ranch had, in one form or another, been in operation for 129 years. When Marvin Zindler (Melvin P. Thorpe in the musical and film) and Texas Attorney General John Hill attacked the Chicken Ranch it suffered a tragic defeat. The (secretly) much-loved institution was scrutinized and finally forced to close its doors… much like the fictional account depicts.
King’s article caught the attention of a Texas actor, Peter Masterson. Joining forces with King and local songwriter Carol Hall, the trio teamed up to create the smash musical and on June 19, 1978 it opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre where it ran for 1,584 performances under the co-direction of Masterson and Tommy Tune with choreography by Tune and Thommie Walsh. The show received seven Tony nominations including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical (for King and Masterson). Henderson Forsythe won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd while Carlin Glynn won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the inimitable Miss Mona Stangley. Carol Hall won two 1979 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Lyrics and Outstanding Music, while Marterson and Tune shared a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical.
The movie version (a personal favorite) was released to less applause in 1982 and featured Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. Critics were not impressed and King was disappointed because he felt that Hollywood had taken away the heart of the story by turning it “into a sex romp.”
It is always sad to see someone leave us and in this case it is particularly sad to see someone who has left such an indelible mark on my musical upbringing. For those of you who have not yet enjoyed it, I leave you with this moment from the film. If you don’t enjoy it, you simply have no heart. Goodbye Mr. King.