Marvin Zindler, Houston personality and TV reporter, died tonight at the age of 85. Zindler was one of the first people to catch my attention on TV after moving to Houston over 20 years ago. I saw him reporting on channel 13, with his blue-tinted glasses, his tan, and his shocking white toupee… I went to work the next morning and asked “What was that?” “Oh, that’s just Marvin Zindler,” I was told.
Zindler was best known outside of Houston for closing down The Chicken Ranch:
Though he was proudest of his work championing “the little guy” and helping secure medical care for needy children, he was best known for stories he did a mere seven months after starting the job in 1973 that led to the closing of the state’s best known “bawdy house,” as Zindler called it — a notorious La Grange brothel known as the Chicken Ranch.
The reports not only won him national notoriety but also a public thrashing by Fayette County Sheriff T.J. Flournoy, a Chicken House partisan, who broke two of Zindler’s ribs and snatched his toupee from his head, reportedly waving it in the air as if it were a prized enemy scalp.
Larry King (the Texas author, not the CNN interviewer) wrote an article about it for Playboy magazine in 1974, which was turned into a long-running Broadway musical four years later and which in turn became a kitschy 1982 movie starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds and Dom Delouise.
Delouise played a character based on Zindler, a vainglorious reporter who goes on a crusade to close the brothel.
Though Zindler’s Chicken Ranch stories often were characterized as a moral crusade or a quest for publicity, Zindler maintained that he’d pursued them because he’d been persuaded by state law enforcement sources that the Chicken Ranch and another nearby brothel were making payoffs to local officials and were involved in organized crime.
“I didn’t care that they had a whorehouse,” he’d say in later years. “We had plenty here in Houston.”
I never was much of a fan of Zindler, but I certainly respect his work ethic. Even though he was in the hospital, he was still reporting. I saw him just the other night, filing reports from his hospital bed; he didn’t sound very strong.
Local news certainly won’t be the same without him.