Connecting the dots between
Five years later, the Chicken Ranch inspired the smash Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and four years after that, the film starring Dolly Parton in only her second film role. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which co-starred Burt Reynolds as Dolly’s love interest, premiered at
In the wake of the blockbuster success of the 1980 comedy 9 to 5, Parton was signed to play Miss Mona Stangley, the shapely madam who runs the Chicken Ranch, with Reynolds as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. While the stage version had been extremely popular, logging nearly 1,600 performances on its initial run, getting the film made was notoriously challenging, with Parton, in her 1994 autobiography, labeling it “a miserable, spirit-numbing ordeal,” in stark contrast to the positive experience she had making 9 to 5.
“It was as if had been my first lover,” she wrote, “sweetly seductive before, and gentle and caring during our lovemaking. Whorehouse, then, was a rapist.” In addition to numerous firings on the set, Reynolds was still reeling from his breakup with girlfriend Sally Field (with whom Parton would later co-star in Steel Magnolias). Their efforts to console each other led to countless rumors that Parton and Reynolds were romantically involved, but, as she often joked at the time, “Burt and I are too much alike. We both wear wigs and high heels, and we both have a roll around the middle.”
That little extra weight Parton carried at the time also proved a health hazard for her co-star. After filming several takes of a scene in which he had to lift her, Reynolds was admitted to a hospital to undergo a double hernia operation.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas also endured marketing challenges, with some theaters refusing to reference the full title on their marquees. In spite of mostly mixed reviews, the film earned enough on its opening weekend in late July 1982 to knock E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial out of the top spot, eventually taking in nearly $70 million.
Initially planning to include four of her own original songs in the film, along with the established score by songwriter Carol Hall, only one of Dolly’s songs eventually made it into the film and it was, by that time, an oldie. In her tender breakup scene with the sheriff, Parton, as Miss Mona, sings an updated version of the 1974 hit “I Will Always Love You.” With this new version, she became the first country artist ever to hit Number One twice with the same song. Later in the year, Parton had a Top Ten hit with Hall’s “Hard Candy Christmas,” which has since become closely associated with the singer and is now considered a modern holiday classic.
Later this year, Burt Reynolds will appear in Dog Years, featuring music and an onscreen appearance by Nashville songwriters Jamie Floyd and John Martin, as well as a song from Willie Nelson. Parton, meanwhile, will follow the ratings successes of her made-for-TV films, Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors, with a movie based on her 1973 hit “Jolene.”