The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley

The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley

R. ALTON LEE
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jgtr
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley
    Book Description:

    Tells the story of the infamous "Goat Gland Doctor" -- controversial medical charlatan, groundbreaking radio impresario, and prescient political campaigner -- and recounts his amazing rags to riches to rags career. A popular joke of the 1920s posed the question, "What's the fastest thing on four legs?" The punch line? "A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital!"

    It seems that John R. Brinkley's virility rejuvenation cure -- transplanting goat gonads into aging men -- had taken the nation by storm. Never mind that "Doc" Brinkley's medical credentials were shaky at best and that he prescribed medication over the airwaves via his high-power radio stations. The man built an empire. The Kansas Medical Board combined with the Federal Radio Commission to revoke Brinkley's medical and radio licenses, which various courts upheld. Not to be stopped, Brinkley started a write-in campaign for Governor. He received more votes than any other candidate but lost due to invalidated and "misplaced" ballots.

    Brinkley's tactics, particularly the use of his radio station and personal airplane, changed political campaigning forever. Brinkley then moved his radio medical practice to Del Rio, Texas, and began operating a "border blaster" on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. His rogue stations, XER and its successor XERA, eventually broadcast at an antenna-shattering 1,000,000 watts and were not only a haven for Brinkley's lucrative quackery, but also hosted an unprecedented number of then-unknown country musicians and other guests.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5865-5
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Chapter 1 Humble Origins
    (pp. 1-28)

    The Appalachian Mountain area of North Carolina, into which the Brinkleys migrated during the colonial era, has a rugged terrain but a pleasant, mild climate. Observers have long described the area as a “make-do” land. The inhabitants, both Indian and white, had to become jacks-of-all-trades and make do with the meager resources the land provided. Its harsh nature made its people tough and independent-minded. In this environment, most mountain folk married each other and raised numerous children, continuing unabated a cycle of grinding poverty. The milieu imbued a chosen few with ambition; infrequently, one with good intelligence, lofty goals, and...

  6. Chapter 2 Toggenberg Goats
    (pp. 29-60)

    In 1968 the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Republican River twelve miles north of the point where it joined with the Smoky Hill to form the Kansas River at Junction City, the county seat of Geary County (near the geographic center of the United States). This created the largest lake in Kansas and inundated most of old Milford so that modern visitors cannot find the remains of the Brinkley Hospital. The old town the Brinkleys visited in 1917 did not have a high school. It did not have traffic lights, traffic, or paved roads. It did not have water...

  7. Chapter 3 Radio Advertising
    (pp. 61-89)

    John Brinkley was first introduced to the magical world of radio when he visited California in 1922. TheLos Angeles Timeshad just established its wireless station with call letters KHJ. The letters represented three canaries named Kindness, Health, and Joy, a logo that accompanied all of its broadcasts. Brinkley immediately sensed the vast potential of the relatively new medium and decided to build a station in Milford in order to entertain his hospital patients while they were recuperating, as he described it. John was in debt for his other buildings and this was not a light financial undertaking. When...

  8. Chapter 4 Beset by Enemies
    (pp. 90-117)

    TheKansas City Starattack proved to be only the opening gun in the campaign of the American Medical Association against John R. Brinkley. Morris Fishbein and Arthur J. Cramp of the AMA had been building their Brinkley file with material for several years but bided their time for a propitious moment to take action. In 1928, the AMA journal published Fishbein’s essay on John Brinkley’s background and his goat gland operation, but this circulated only among its members and had no great public impact. When Brinkley began his extensive radio and medical advertising and medicinal prescribing in 1929 and...

  9. Chapter 5 Brinkleyism
    (pp. 118-152)

    W.G. Clugston, political correspondent for theKansas City Journal Postfor several decades during the first half of the twentieth century, was a perceptive observer who knew almost as much, if not more, about Kansas politics as did the principals involved. In his bookRascals in Democracy,the reporter took his main theme from sociologist Herbert Spencer’s 1884 classic,The Man Versus the State.Those who directed the two-party system in the United States threatened the survival of the democratic process, the Father of Sociology claimed. In applying this thesis to Kansas, Clugston argued that although the Republicans almost always...

  10. Chapter 6 Hands Across the Border
    (pp. 153-180)

    When Alexander MacDonald, theStarreporter, asked Brinkley in the spring of 1930 what he would do if Kansas revoked his medical license, John responded that there were several qualified doctors and nurses to carry on his work in Milford. The Brinkley Hospital remained open, he administered it in between trips to Texas, and it continued to be busy and to bring in considerable revenue. There were occasional rifts, however, between the doctor and some of his staff.

    O.M. Owensby, M.D., who graduated from Ensworth Central Medical College of St. Joseph, Missouri, joined the Brinkley organization in 1930 as chief...

  11. Chapter 7 The Old Cocklebur
    (pp. 181-210)

    The first four years following the Brinkleys’ move to Del Rio marked the apogee of John’s medical career, political influence, annual income, and enjoyment of his wealth. Before 1933, he had changed his medical technique considerably and thenceforth specialized in the treatment of the prostate, that “troublesome old cocklebur,” as he called it. Ironically, in his later career he no longer used goats or the Four Phase Compound Operation—unless the patient insisted. He had so publicized this procedure during the Roaring Twenties that he was forever known as the Goat Gland Doctor. As a result, many elderly gentlemen came...

  12. Chapter 8 Decline and Fall
    (pp. 211-230)

    On a late winter day in 1938 in Dallas, Morris Fishbein was handed a summons to appear in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas at Del Rio to defend himself on charges of libel for the article he published inHygeiathe previous month. His defamation of John R. Brinkley, the suit alleged, would result in injuring the doctor’s reputation and medical practice to the extent that his income would drop one-quarter of a million dollars annually, from $1,150,000 to $810,000, and John sought $250,000 in damages as a result. These sums had to include...

  13. Chapter 9 Postscript
    (pp. 231-235)

    With John Brinkley’s death and the breakup of his medical empire, Arfie Condray returned to Milford, H.D. Osborn operated a drug store in Del Rio, Lee McChesney purchased a business in Del Rio, Bill Stittsworth became a businessman in Wichita, and L.D. Brown opened an insurance business in Junction City. Jim Weldon established Continental Electronics, a broadcasting firm, later designed the original Voice Of America transmitters, and built a 2,000,000-watt station in the Saudi Arabian desert to broadcast Islam around the world. Station XERF obtained a powerful nighttime range. During the Korean War it provided a link to overseas American...

  14. Chapter 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 236-244)

    Perhaps this book should be subtitled “The Con Man,” because this term describes John R. Brinkley as aptly as “quack” or “charlatan.” The dictionary definition of a quack is “an ignorant or fraudulent pretender to medical skill.” Morris Fishbein and his colleagues had their own definition of a quack as one who practices medicine without regard to the standards, traditional ethical practices, and customs of their profession. Not for his lack of surgical ability did the AMA determine to drive Brinkley from their ranks, but because of his unorthodox practice and advertising. He had obvious medical skills and, with his...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 245-266)
  16. Sourcess
    (pp. 267-272)
  17. Index
    (pp. 273-284)