Oct 17, 2013

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

The last place you'd expect to find gay content is in a movie about a brothel for heterosexuals, with no gay characters.  But The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is loaded down with gay symbolism.

The Chicken Ranch is a nice, cozy, down-home whorehouse in rural Texas, run by the heart-of-gold Miss Mona, and ignored by sheriff and occasional customer Ed Earl.  When a crusading tv reporter named Melvin P. Thorpe finds out that "There's a Whorehouse in Texas!" and starts a Moral Majority protest, Miss Mona isn't concerned; she's handled right-wing bigots before.  Besides, she's busy preparing for the annual visit by the winners of the big college football game (who sing "The Aggie Song" with their shirts off).

Turns out that Miss Mona was short-sighted; the tv crusade galvanizes the religious bigots, many of whom are customers "on the downlow."  Eventually the Governor himself, though a master of "the Side Step," calls to announce that the brothel must be shut down.  Defeated, Miss Mona and the girls get on "The Bus from Amarillo" and scatter to new lives.

It's a bit racy for high school and college drama departments, but there have been some productions, In March 2013, the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC, sponsored an all-male version.

When the original play opened on Broadway in 1978, Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign was in the air, and fundamentalists were increasingly abandoning their old bogies of feminism, paganism, and evolution to scream "There are Gays in Our Town!"  Audiences could hardly fail to make the connection.

The movie adaptation arrived in July 1982, at the height of Jerry Falwell's anti-gay Moral Majority crusade, and gay director Colin Higgins made the symbolism even more obvious, with an ongoing romance between Miss Mona (Dolly Parton) and Ed Earl (Burt Reynolds) that must be hidden ("Sneakin' Around").

Plus lots of wink-wink casting: perennially gay-coded Dom Deluise as Melvin P. Thorpe, and open-secret Jim Nabors as sympathetic Deputy Fred.

And an increase in the beefcake.  Burt Reynolds, who previously posed naked in Cosmo, hangs out in a towel, Dom Deluise hangs out in his underwear, and the Texas Aggies sing in the locker room fully nude (lots of rear shots, and even a few frontals if you freeze frame).

See also: 10 Stage Musicals with Unexpected Beefcake.