I was watching cable TV the other night, and they were running the usual ads for losing weight, avoiding erectile dysfunctions, the occasional mysterious ailment and the latest patent medicine cures. I will quote none of them, for none of them were memorable enough. Whoever's writing these ads, they don't have the ring of
"Amazing Blue Star Ointment! Cures jock itch, ringworm, tetter, psoriasis! Ask for it by name!" (See the original ad HERE).
But Blue Star Ointment still doesn't cure erectile dysfunction and, amazingly, doesn't even claim to. Not so with three of my favorite patent medicine doctors of all time, if you exclude James Thurber's "Doc Marlowe".
NOTE: Can you imagine the school song for this one?Sorry. (Not really) Anyway, Doc Brinkley's first go at being a professional something-or-other was in Greenville, SC, with a partner who called himself J. W. Burks (one can't help but think he just misspelled "Burke"). They promised to restore men's manly vigor by injecting colored water (which they called "electric medicine from Germany") into their veins for $25 a shot. (To give you an idea of pricing, an average worker made between $200 and $400 a year back then.) Well, sooner or later the chumps catch up, and our physicians had to move on.
We could sell ice in the arctic!
Doc shed his partner, and went back to Kansas City, while Brinkley took a job as the doctor for the Swift and Company meat plant, patching minor wounds and studying animal physiology. When he learned that goats were the healthiest animals slaughtered there, he did a little study, then set up a clinic, and started implanting the testicular glands of goats in his male patients for $750.00 per operation. The surprising thing is the number of men willing to undergo such a process. Even more surprising is that some men claimed it worked wonders. When the wife of his first goat-gland transplant case had a healthy boy... Well, the ad's on your left. What's less surprising is that there were a number of patients who got infected, and some died. Brinkley would be sued over a dozen times for wrongful death between 1930-41.
Meanwhile, he made a lot of money and built his own radio station, KFKB ("Kansas First, Kansas Best" or sometimes "Kansas Folks Know Best"). Brinkley was KFKB's lead DJ, speaking for hours about his treatments (for which a lot of goats gave up their testicular glands: As a contemporaneous joke put it, What's the fastest thing on four legs? A: A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital!") and giving medical advice (which were always to undergo his treatments and take his medicines). He also featured other entertainment: French lessons, astrology, storytelling and music ranging from military bands to gospel and early country. And the customers came. In 1924, a San Francisco grand jury handed down indictments for fake medical degrees and doctors operating with them, including Brinkley (he'd illegally applied for a California medical license). But when agents from California came to arrest Brinkley, the governor of Kansas refused to extradite him because he made the state too much money.
But in 1930, the pressure was on for cutting back on fake medical degrees, and Brinkley lost both his medical and broadcasting licenses. So he did the logical thing and ran for governor of Kansas. He damn near won. He got over 29% of the vote on a write-in campaign. (He lost to Harry Hines Woodring, who was later FDR's Secretary of War.) Four years later, he ran again, and won over 30% of the vote. This time he lost to Alf Landon, future GOP Presidential candidate.
But, debts and irate patients were hounding him, so Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas, just across the bridge from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. He set up a clinic and a "broadcast blaster", radio XER-AM. the "Sunshine Station Between the Nations".
He sold airtime to other advertisers (at $1,700 an hour), who sold stuff like "Crazy Water Crystals", "genuine simulated" diamonds, life insurance, and all sorts of religious paraphernalia and beliefs.
NOTE 1: Among them was Dr. Mel-Roy, Ps.D and Ms.D, the "Apostle of Mental Science," who, with his Book of Dreams and his cape and turban, explained the secrets of the sub-conscious world. Sam Morris, a 1940s "Radio Temperance Lecturer" told Americans about the evils of alcohol and explained the true reasons why nations fell from positions of prominence and power... Rev. George W. Cooper, a former moonshine runner from North Carolina, cowboy evangelist Dallas Turner and Rev. Frederick Eikenreenkoetter II (better known as Rev. Ike preaching "get out of the ghet-to and get into the get-mo!") who called himself unreal and incredible to those with limited consciousness all made rounds on XERF and the rest. Dr. Gerald Winrod pushed cancer cures, scripture and attacks on communism, and Brother Mack Watson and Brother David Epley sold holy oil, prayer cloths and even "the hem of His garment."
"If there was a sick person between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains who wasn't listening in to Doc, it was because he had no radio set." Furthermore, "the new radio powerhouse had enough juice to blanket any United States or Canadian station operating within fifty kilocycles of its wavelength." (History of XER-AM)
NOTE 2: All I can say is that Reverend Ike must have been a child when he was on XER-AM, because he was just getting started, metaphorically, in the 1970s, when I caught a broadcast of him on Atlanta's own Ted Turner channel TBS, sitting on a golden throne, draped in ermine, while telling his listeners to "send me your money today." I had to hand it to him; at least he was honest about it.
Doc Brinkley also gave a start to up-and-coming country and roots singers, including Patsy Montana, Red Foley, Gene Autry, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, the Pickard Family, and more. (See Wikipedia). Del Rio became known as "Hillbilly Hollywood".
"We can all thank Doctor B.
Who stepped across the line.
With lots of watts he took control,
The first one of its kind.
So listen to your radio
Most each and every night
'cause if you don't I'm sure you won't
Get to feeling right."
Finally, under pressure from the US, Mexico revoked Brinkley's broadcast license in 1934. But he still practiced "medicine": the traditional goat gland transplant, as well as "slightly modified vasectomies" (I don't even want to know...) and prostate "rejuvenations". But eventually the times - and the regulations - caught up with him. In 1941 he was sued for being a charlatan, lost, and got hit by a multiple malpractice lawsuits that stripped him of every penny he had. He died the next year, penniless.
I'm happy to announce that Penny Lane has made a documentary about Doc Brinkley called "Nuts!" Here's the official website: http://www.nutsthefilm.com/#film. And here's the Trailer! (WARNING: Definitely rated "R")
And a little Mexican Radio, just because...
Next blog post! Radium and Dr. Blood!!!!!