Friday, June 01, 2012

REVIEW: I, The People

Title: I, The People: How Marvin Zindler Busted The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Author: Gary Taylor
Genre: Nonfiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook) / $9.95 (paperback)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1468186620
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

You may have heard of the “Chicken Ranch,” AKA “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” from the musical or the movie of the later name. Well, Gary Taylor, intrepid Texan journalist and survivor of his own “fatal attraction” (chronicled in his book Luggage By Kroger) has the real story. Although not as dramatic as Luggage, his new book, I, The People, is very interesting.

Gary’s story starts in 1972, with the election of a reform-minded Texas Attorney General, John Hill. He took office in early 1973, determined to attack two Texas problems, organized crime and county law enforcement. In Texas, each county’s sheriff and district judge had the final say on what crimes were prosecuted (and not) in their jurisdiction. The Chicken Ranch, a bordello that had been running in La Grange, Texas since 1844, became the test target. It was the most open and well-known outpost of organized crime, and had been protected by generations of Fayette County judges and lawmen.

Hill’s initial assault ran afoul of Texas’ quirky system of law enforcement, in which the local sheriff could stop a state investigation. Enter Marvin Zindler, a character too real for fiction. Marvin was independently wealthy, thanks to his dad’s success as a clothing retailer. This freed Marvin up for a number of pursuits, including being a Houston cop and, when that dried up, becoming a TV reporter for Channel 13, the local ABC affiliate. Stymied by local resistance, Hill turned to Zindler’s PR hurricane to embarrass the Chicken Ranch into closing.

Gary Taylor was contracted to write a book about these events in 1981, about the time that the movie came out. His publisher went bankrupt, but Taylor saved a draft which became this book. It’s mostly a biography of Zindler, who really was the kind of person that, if you put him into a fictional book, people would laugh off as unbelievable. But then the Chicken Ranch was a bit unbelievable, in that uniformed and on-duty sheriff’s deputies routinely pulled duty directing traffic in the brothel’s parking lot.

Taylor has a wonderful eye for character, and the Chicken Ranch story is full of them. This book is a fascinating look at characters from an era when Texas transitioned itself from the Wild West to civilization. I highly recommend I The People.

Rating: 8/10

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