HOUSTON – Marvin Zindler, the flamboyant television consumer reporter whose crusade against a rural brothel inspired the play and movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," died Sunday. He was 85.
Zindler died of complications from pancreatic cancer, said officials at KTRK-TV, the station he worked for.
"For nearly 35 years he was welcomed into the hearts and homes of millions of local viewers," said Henry Florsheim, president and general manager of KTRK. "This is a deep loss for me, both personally and professionally."
Zindler landed at KTRK in 1973, soon after being fired at age 51 from the Harris County Sheriff's Department, where he had fought consumer fraud. He wasted little time before making his mark by railing against "a bawdy house" near La Grange that July.
State Attorney General John Hill had seen reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety about how local law enforcers allowed the Chicken Ranch brothel to operate, Zindler said.
"The district attorney over there at that time said it wasn't going to be closed because if people wanted it to be closed they'd close it," Zindler recalled in 1998. "Hill got upset about it. In those days the DPS didn't take action in a county unless the county asked them to. Those were courtesy days."
Hill enlisted Zindler's help and gave him the investigative reports. Zindler followed through with reports exposing the Chicken Ranch and the law enforcement conspiracy.
He showed the evidence to Gov. Dolph Briscoe on a Monday, and the brothel was closed by Thursday.
The TV reports made Zindler a household name statewide. His fame grew when a Playboy Magazine story followed. "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" became a Broadway smash and propelled Zindler to national renown.
He liked the play but hated the Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton movie of the same name, in which Dom DeLuise played him over the top.
Zindler, always seen in a powder-white toupee, colorful suits and colored glasses, also was a proud veteran of more cosmetic surgeries than he could count. Yet he also frequently arranged for badly needed operations for disfigured or deformed children.
Survivors include his wife, Niki; five children; and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending, said Tom Ash, a KTRK spokesman.