THE BOOTLEG FILES: THE BEST LITTLE SPECIAL IN TEXAS

BOOTLEG FILES 569: “The Best Little Special in Texas” (1982 TV special starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton).

LAST SEEN: It can be found on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Music rights are obviously too much of a burden to pursue.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: None.

In the summer of the 1982, Universal Pictures had invested a great deal of money in the production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” based on the Broadway musical about efforts to close a house of ill repute known as the Chicken Ranch. In fact, the studio put too much money into this endeavor – problems with casting, agreeing on the right director and adapting the screenplay and the score drove up the costs substantially. Making matters worse was the belief that a big-budget musical had no place in the movie theaters of the early 1980s – “Annie” opened in May 1982 and died at the box office, and there had not been a successful Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptation since “Grease” in 1978.

Universal decided that old-school publicity would help raise interest in their film. The studio coordinated a two-day celebration for the film’s premiere to be held in Austin, the Texas capital. But since Austin was not considered to be a major media market, there was a fear that very little of the premiere festivities would be reported at great depth by the national press. Thus, it was decided to create a TV special about the premiere, which could be sold via syndication to TV stations around the country.

And that’s where “The Best Little Special in Texas” comes in. The special did a satisfactory job in covering the festivities surrounding the Austin premiere of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and a less than stellar job in promoting the film itself.

“The Best Little Special in Texas” opens with a concert featuring three members of the film’s cast – Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton and Jim Nabors. Yet the concert is hosted by Jerry Reed, the country music singer and occasional actor who had no connection to the film. Reed introduces Reynolds, whose behavior is a little bit off – whether he was uncomfortable being in front of such a large crowd or whether he had a wee too much to sip prior to the show, he was not in his best form. Reynolds introduces an excerpt of the musical number “Little Ol’ Bitty Pissant Country Place,” which was probably not the best idea since it was the worst-staged number in the film.

Nonetheless, the audience applauds and Dolly Parton is introduced by Reynolds. Parton is her usual charming and funny self, and she in turn brings Jim Nabors to the stage. Nabors turns on the Gomer Pyle charm, though he lets slip that “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” was the first time in his career that he was ever cast in a film. (He would later do two more films, both co-starring Reynolds, before exiting the big screen.)

Then, for no good reason, Jerry Reed returns to perform his comic divorce anthem “She Got the Gold Mine (I Got the Shaft).” Reed follows that with a rendition of “Sugarfoot Rag” while a squad of middle-aged clog dancers high-step their way across the stage. None of this has anything to do with the film being promoted, although it is a lot more entertaining than anything shot at the Universal lot.

Parton finally gets to sing – but not from the film’s score. Instead, she launches into a distinctive rendition of the bluegrass classic “Rocky Top Tennessee” while Jim Nabors stands on the stage with her. That gets followed by another clip from the film: Charles Durning, as the elusive Texas governor, perfoms “The Sidestep.”  (As an aside: Durning did his best, but he was no song-and-dance man and his subsequent Oscar nomination was one of the least deserved in Academy Awards history.)

After that, country singer Mel Tillis (who also had nothing to do with the film) arrives to perform “I Got the Hoss.”  Another clip from the film, with Parton singing “I Will Always Love You,” is shown after Tillis departs.

The second part of the special is the parade through Austin to celebrate the film’s premiere. It is a pleasant, old-fashioned parade complete with marching bands and majorettes, with the visiting celebrities waving to the crowds lining the street. That is followed by a banquet with Jerry Reed as the master of ceremonies (again?). Reynolds gets to the stage and seems more focused and comfortable in front of the audience. He is tasked with screening some bloopers from the production, and there are a couple of amusing moments seen in the outtakes when Parton has problems closing a window shade during the number “Sneaking Around.”

And then comes the only genuinely exciting and spontaneous moment of the special. Reynolds is reading from a cue card to introduce one of the blooper reels when his eyes drift off to the audience and he is visibly taken aback. “Is that Amanda?” he exclaims. “Oh my God, do you know how long it’s been? Come here, lady!” Reynolds tells the full audience, “This is Amanda Blake, the lady I was in love with.” Reynolds then runs from the stage to the audience and rushes to Amanda Blake, his “Gunsmoke” co-star from the early years of his career. The two embrace and kiss, and Reynolds turns to the audience and says, “It’s all right, this is real important.” When Blake returns to her seat, Reynolds praises her by saying, “There was real magic on that show and she was a big, big part of it.”

This brief lapse into sincerity is followed by the mechanical sounds of the Statler Brothers, who meander through their songs “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Whatever.” Another clip from the film, the “Sneaking Around” number, gets shown. And then all of the guests from the special, joined by Charles Durning (who never said anything to the audience, at least not during the footage used in this special), mount the stage to sign off.

Back in 1982, sloppily–made harmless nonsense like this was typical of what was dumped on independent TV stations via syndicated programming packages. Stations would plug this into their line-up whenever they had a hole to fill or a weak evening that needed a quickie shot for the sake of the ratings. The promise of movie and music stars and the vague link to a big movie release was considered enticing enough for many local stations to put this on the air.

“The Best Little Special in Texas” would have been completely forgotten – it was never rebroadcast after its initial appearance in the summer of 1982 and was never released in home entertainment channels – had it not been for Vinnie Rattolle, a self-described “schizophrenic hoarder who’s had a lifelong fascination with TV, movies and music.” Rattolle saved this production from its initial broadcast – complete with original 1982 commercials, including one for the nascent cable network MTV – and shared it with the YouTube audience. Rattolle also gave the special its own online page, noting that the direction of the show was credited to Jack Regas, whose previous accomplishments were anchored in Sid and Marty Krofft epics.

“The director and numerous supporting stars [from the Universal film] are nowhere to be found (not even Marvin Zindler – aka THE REAL Melvin P. Thorpe),” Rattolle writes on his website. “There’s no history of The Chicken Ranch nor of the stage musical. No deleted scenes or behind the scenes glimpses, save for a set of bloopers (a few of which didn’t make it to the DVD). Despite appearances by a handful of stars there’s no interviews or notable anecdotes about the making of the movie. There were a ton of great making-of specials that aired on TV in the ’80s but this certainly isn’t one of them. It’s simply a video-chronicle of the film’s Austin premiere.  If you’re interested in the guests, by all means, seek out a copy of the special.  If you’re a fan of the movie, there’s not a lot here that’s worth your time.”

Hey, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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