Dom DeLuise's character, Melvin P. Thorpe was based on the real newsman, Marvin Zindler (born 1921, died July 29, 2007) 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 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 had 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 1,584 performances. The musical, on which this movie 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 television personality Marvin Zindler of Houston to investigate the famous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas, eventually closing it down.
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.
The film went over budget because of the various production problems. Several directors came and went, the script was always being re-written, and Dolly Parton wrote several more songs than were eventually included.
At the time of its release, it had the highest weekend box-office opening for an R-rated movie, with 11,874,268 dollars. A record broken by Beverly Hills Cop (1984), with its 15,214,805 dollar weekend gross.
The scenes shot in the Austin, Texas Capitol Building were filmed from October 6 through 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 eighteen wheelers.
The world premiere of this movie 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 house which was used as The Chicken Ranch. The festivities were chronicled in The Best Little Special in Texas (1982), a syndicated television special.
Dolly Parton's hit "I Will Always Love You" was composed and released ten years before this movie. However, her songs "A Cowboy's Ways" and "A Gamble Either Way" were written specifically for this movie, despite being released on her personal albums, instead of appearing in the movie.
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 YouTube, and a "reconstructed" edit was ultimately uploaded to Vimeo.
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 1930s through the 1950s, as they are today, and were expensive. Children usually got chocolate-covered filled candy at Christmas time as a treat. If their families were experiencing financial troubles, all they would get were the relatively cheap hard candies, which left them disappointed.
Reportedly, the Director's Cut of the film clocked in around two hours and thirty 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.
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.
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.
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 on the wildly successful comedy 9 to 5 (1980), which also starred Dolly Parton.
For its American network tele 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 twenty-first century, when most stations switched to high definition, and needed a higher-quality print, at which point, an edited copy of the theatrical cut was substituted.
For three consecutive years, Dolly Parton was determined to make a hit out of a melody. She penned "Where Stallions Run" as a ballad for Burt Reynolds, but the song neither made it into the theatrical cut of the movie nor appeared on the soundtrack album. Following a little lyrical tweaking, Parton released her own version on her 1983 album "Burlap & Satin" under the title "A Cowboy's Ways". When that failed to chart, she overhauled the lyrics and released it again as "God Won't Get You" in Rhinestone (1984).