';
Home

Carol Hall, 'Best Little Whorehouse' Composer, Is Dead at 82

Image

The songwriter Carol Hall, in an undated photo. Her Broadway hit, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," grew out of a dinner party conversation. Credit Credit Polk & Company.

Carol Hall, who helped turn an unlikely inspiration into one of the biggest Broadway hits of the 1970s when she wrote the music and lyrics for "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 82.

An announcement from her family said the cause was logopenic primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia.

Ms. Hall was enjoying moderate success as a singer and songwriter when, developing an idea first hatched during a dinner party conversation, she, Peter Masterson and Larry L. King created "Best Little Whorehouse," a comedy based on an article Mr. King had written in 1974 for Playboy. It concerned the moralistic efforts to close down a real-life Texas brothel known as the Chicken Ranch (because some customers paid in chickens) that had operated for years.

The show drew mixed reviews - Walter Kerr, writing in The New York Times, called it "an erratic and ambling, if sleekly produced, business." But the reviews didn't seem to matter much to audiences. The provocative title, the down-home humor and Ms. Hall's amiable songs made for a winning package.

"Best Little Whorehouse" ran for almost four years and toured everywhere. A 1982 film version starring Burt Reynolds (who died in September) and Dolly Parton - though unloved by critics - brought the tale to an even wider audience.

The show was certainly saucy, but Ms. Hall said it wasn't really about sex or prostitution.

"I was talking to a hooker I met one night recently and she asked if I was fascinated with the business," Ms. Hall told The Boston Globe in 1978. "I told her I was fascinated with hypocrisy."

Carol Hall was born on April 3, 1936, in Abilene, Tex. Her father, Elbert, had a music store in Abilene, and her mother, Josephine Grisham Hall, was a classical pianist and violinist and a music teacher. When her parents divorced in 1939, Carol and her mother moved to Dallas, where Carol began studying the piano; at 12 she performed as a soloist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

She graduated from Highland Park High School in Dallas and spent two years at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Her mother had chosen the college, a women-only institution, and Ms. Hall found it to be not a great fit.

"The good news was that at Sweet Briar I found a great way to meet boys from other colleges, and that was to write songs and college musicals," she said.

She transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., graduating in 1958.

She wrote advertising jingles and was accepted into the composer Lehman Engel's BMI Workshop for aspiring musical-theater songwriters. Among the first song of hers that was recorded was "Jenny Rebecca," something she had written for a friend who had just had a baby; Barbra Streisand included it on her 1965 album "My Name Is Barbra."

Image

A scene from "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in 1980 at the 46th Street Theater in New York. Ms. Hall wrote the music and lyrics.

With female singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell becoming stars in the late 1960s, Elektra Records, in search of the next big thing, signed Ms. Hall to a contract, and she released two albums, "If I Be Your Lady" in 1971 and "Beads and Feathers" the next year.

To support her first album, the record company wanted her to do something she had rarely done before: perform live. Her first such engagement, she said, was opening for Kris Kristofferson at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village.

"It gives me the creeps to think about it," she told Women's Wear Daily in 1971. "I mean, I didn't even get a part in the senior play."

Staying behind the scenes remained her preference. She wrote three songs for "Free to Be ... You and Me," the 1972 children's album (and television special) conceived by Marlo Thomas. One was "It's All Right to Cry," performed by Rosey Grier, a former professional football player. She also wrote for "Sesame Street."

Ms. Hall said "Best Little Whorehouse" began to take shape during a dinner-party conversation she had with her friend Mr. Masterson, an actor and fellow Texan. She told him she wanted to write a musical "about where we come from," perhaps an adaptation of "The Last Picture Show." Mr. Masterson, in turn, mentioned an article he had just read by Mr. King about the Chicken Ranch.

"He thought it had possibilities," she told The Globe in 1978.

It certainly did. With a book by Mr. King and Mr. Masterson and music and lyrics by Ms. Hall, the musical opened on Broadway in June 1978 after an Off Broadway run. It ran until March 1982, playing 1,584 performances, then reopened a two months later after a dispute with the musicians' union was resolved. It closed for good on July 24 of that year.

The show, directed by Mr. Masterson and Tommy Tune, received seven Tony Award nominations and won two, for its featured actors, Carlin Glynn and Henderson Forsythe.

A 2001 tour starred Ann-Margret. A sequel by Ms. Hall, Mr. King and Mr. Masterson, "The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public," did not catch lightning in a bottle as its predecessor had; it closed in May 1994 after 28 previews and 16 performances.

In 1960 Ms. Hall married Richard Blinkoff. That marriage ended in divorce. She is survived by her husband, Leonard Majzlin, whom she married in 1973; a sister, Jane Hall; two children from her first marriage, Susannah and Daniel Blinkoff; and a grandson.

Ms. Hall wrote the music for, or contributed songs or lyrics to, a number of other shows, among them "Are We There Yet?," seen in 1988 at the Williamstown Theater Festival, and "Paper Moon," produced at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 1993.

When they were working on "Best Little Whorehouse," Ms. Hall and Mr. Masterson, who had five children between them, shared a house for a time, spouses, kids and all. Despite the subject matter, they also shared the creative process with the children.

"We had to explain everything as we went along," Ms. Hall recalled in 1978. "Children understand reality just fine. It's the lying about reality they don't understand."

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page D6 of the New York edition with the headline: Carol Hall, 82, Who Wrote Music and Lyrics for 'Best Little Whorehouse,' Dies. Order Reprints | Today's Paper | Subscribe


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/12/obituaries/carol-hall-dead.html