Mrs. Chadwell had been one of the most generous philanthropists in Fayette County, donating to the local hospital and sponsoring a youth baseball team — the Demons. She and her “girls” were regular customers at local hairdressers, clothing stores and grocery markets, but after the Chicken Ranch was closed, the town became the subject of jokes on late-night talk shows. When Mrs. Chadwell tried to buy a house in La Grange, her down payment was returned because of the negative publicity.
King, a Washington-based writer, adapted his Playboy article into a musical play, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which debuted on Broadway in 1978 and was nominated for several Tony Awards. Dolly Parton played a character based on Mrs. Chadwell in a 1982 movie version.
According to the Associated Press, Mrs. Chadwell told her nephew, “The only thing in the movie that was correct was that there was a whorehouse.”
Edna Arretha Milton was born Jan. 3, 1928, in Caddo County, Okla. Her nephew said her family lived in sharecropper’s shacks and even in wagons.
At 16, Mrs. Chadwell was living in California, she later told writer Jayme Lynn Blaschke, when she was pushed into a marriage to Elva A. Hutson; they later divorced. She had a son who died in infancy.
With no other resources, Mrs. Chadwell moved to Texas and turned to prostitution.
“She told me she was on the brink of starvation,” said Blaschke, who is writing a book about the Chicken Ranch.
After the Chicken Ranch was shuttered in 1973, Mrs. Chadwell was a hostess at a restaurant in Dallas and briefly ran a bar in Fort Worth. (Both were called the Chicken Ranch.)
She was married four times, including to Glen Davidson, who died in 1982, and to Clayton Chadwell, who died in 1997. Survivors include two brothers and a sister.
Mrs. Chadwell had always hoped to attend college, Blaschke said, but poverty drove her in another direction. She spent her later years largely in seclusion.
In addition to the play and movie, the rock band ZZ Top had a popular song about the Chicken Ranch called “La Grange.”
For years, men kept driving to La Grange, only to find the Chicken Ranch falling into ruins in the Texas countryside.