Dom DeLuise's character, Melvin P. Thorpe is based on the real newsman, Marvin Zindler (b. 1921, d. 7/29/07) who brought down the real Chicken Ranch. The incident where the sheriff snatches the wig off Thorpe's head and holds it high really happened between the Fayette county sheriff and Zindler. Zindler also pioneered "rat and roach" reports about restaurant cleanliness ("Slime in the Ice Machine!"),
The exterior of the Chicken Ranch was erected on the Universal lot where the Bates house from Psycho (1960) originally stood. The Bates house was moved to a more permanent location when filming began on Psycho II (1983). The set is still up on the Universal lot in 2011 and was used in "The Ghost Whisperer".
Marvin Zindler, on which Melvin P. Thorpe is based, liked the play but didn't like the film. Zindler said that his crusade against the Chicken Ranch has been taken out of context. He wasn't trying to get it closed down because of the prostitution, but because of the Ranch's reported ties to organized crime and other shady business dealings.
The original Broadway production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" opened at the 46th Street Theater on June 19, 1978 and ran for 1584 performances. The musical on which the movie version was based was nominated for the 1979 Tony Award for Best Musical and the 1979 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.
Betty Grable's stepson, Tim James, natural son of big band leader Harry James, was an attorney working with the then Attorney General of Texas and became responsible for enticing TV personality Marvin Zindler of Houston to investigate the famous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas - eventually closing it down.
The film went over budget because of the various production problems. Several directors came and went, the script was always being rewritten and Dolly Parton wrote several more songs than were eventually included.
At the time of its release had the highest weekend box office opening for an R rated picture with 11,874,268. A record broke just two years later by "Beverly Hills Cop" with its 15,214,805 weekend gross.
The scenes shot in the Austin, Texas Capitol Building were filmed from October 6-9, 1981. The bulk of the footage was shot at night in order to keep from inconveniencing workers and visitors - though many workers lost their parking spaces that week to make room for the studio's 18 wheelers.
The world premiere of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was held at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. To celebrate the occasion, cast and crew flocked to the area for a two-day celebration which included a lavish parade through the city and a concert held in front of the home which was used as The Chicken Ranch. The festivities were chronicled in The Best Little Special in Texas (1982), a syndicated TV special.
Dolly Parton's hit I Will Always Love you was actually composed and released a decade before The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. However her songs A Cowboy's Ways and A Gamble Either Way were written specifically for Whorehouse, despite being released on her personal albums instead of appearing in the film.
Dolly Parton has a song about "A Hard-Candy Christmas". This refers to being disappointed or down. Filled candies were not as available in the 30s through the 50s as they are today and were expensive. Children usually got chocolate covered filled candy at Christmastime as a treat. If their families were experiencing financial troubles all they would get were the relatively cheap hard candies which left them disappointed.
Journalist Larry L. King wrote a Playboy article which brought the story to international attention, and he went on to pen the stage musical and numerous drafts of the movie's screenplay. However, King was vehemently opposed to the film's story changes, as well as the casting of Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, both of whom he publicly vilified on countless occasions. King went as far as to provoke Reynolds into a fist fight in a subsequent 1982 Playboy article, and Reynolds told a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman that he was game, but ultimately nothing came of it.
The complete version of "The Aggie Song" (as featured on the soundtrack album) included an additional verse in the shower room, as well as an extended dance sequence while the guys were getting dressed. The full number was never included in wide releases, however, it was leaked and went on to be regularly played as a sing-along in a Chicago gay bar. Later, the bootlegged scene briefly blipped on You Tube, and a "reconstructed" edit was ultimately uploaded to Vimeo.
Reportedly, the director's cut of the film clocked in around 150 minutes. This version opened with the Dolly Parton-penned song "Down at the Chicken Ranch" (which is featured in the trailer) and included a subplot involving Shy, a new worker at the Chicken Ranch, as well as additional insight into the relationship between Ed Earl and Dulcie Mae. Ultimately, several scenes were overdubbed with narration by Deputy Fred in an attempt to speed up the story, and a few verses - and complete songs - were left on the cutting room floor.
Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune, who'd helmed the original Broadway production, were initially hired to co-direct the film. However, Universal executives got cold feet due to the duo's lack of film experience. Colin Higgins was later given the job as a result of his writing and directing work in the wildly successful comedy Nine to Five (1980), which also starred Dolly Parton.
Knowing that she'd be starring opposite Burt Reynolds, it was Dolly Parton's idea to have Miss Mona and the Sheriff romantically involved, though she faced harsh criticism from both the screenwriter and critics for this drastic deviation from the real-life story which inspired the film.
For its American network TV premiere, an alternate cut of the film was assembled. Several different shots were seen in "20 Fans," "The Aggie Song" and during Melvin Thorpe's raid on The Chicken Ranch to remove nudity, and it included Ed Earl's ballad "Where Stallions Run," which was omitted from the theatrical version. Variations of this version of the film (oftentimes with further editing) went on to play regularly on television until early in the 21st century, when most stations switched to HD and needed a higher-quality print, at which point an edited copy of the theatrical cut was substituted.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
This was based upon a true story in which investigative reporter Marvin Zindler (who inspired Dom DeLuise's "Melvin P. Thorpe" character) closed down the "Chicken Ranch" brothel in LaGrange, Texas, in 1973. Zindler remained with ABC affiliate KTRK-TV in Houston until his death in 2007.