originally published September 4, 2014
It makes perfect sense. If a man is having a hard time encouraging his noble groin-soldier onto the battlefield, perhaps his problem is a lack of testicular fortitude. If only he could harness the power of nature’s potential through his impetuous manhood. If only he could possess the unflinching might of goat balls.
That’s right: goat balls. These testicular orbs of revered bleat-meat might cure all your ills, male or female in nature. Such was the reasoning behind Dr. John R. Brinkley’s infamous medical gifts, and such was the foundation of his fortune. If you skim past the wrongful death suits, the federal investigations and the sheer audacity of his backhanded disregard for ethics and common sense, Dr. Brinkley could be seen as the medical luminary of his day.
But we aren’t going to skip those parts. For his lifelong devotion to greed, fraud, and the scrotal strength of the capra aegagrus hircus, we’re going to tell the whole of Dr. Brinkley’s story.
Shortly after the birth of his daughter in 1907, John Brinkley enrolled at Bennett Medical College in Chicago, a school of questionable repute due to its focus on ‘Eclectic medicine’, which is somewhat like modern herbal / homeopathic medicine, except with less Far Eastern wisdom and a lot more guesswork. He never finished, and he failed to pay his back tuition, which prevented him from transferring to another school. Eventually he did what any enterprising young would-be healer would do: he bought a diploma from a diploma mill in Kansas City.
At 28 years old, Doc Brinkley was in jail for practicing medicine without a license and writing bad checks, he was married to two women (though only living with one), and only barely surviving. Then, like a hero he completed his (Eclectic) medical training, divorced his first wife, served a couple months in the US Army Reserves, and even helped to treat the afflicted during the 1918 flu pandemic. But Doc Brinkley wasn’t looking to be a hero. He was looking to be a wealthy hero.
A patient showed up and asked Doc Brinkley if he could help out his “friend” who was “sexually weak”. Brinkley, who had studied animal physiology in his travels, joked that if the guy’s “friend” had a pair of goat gonads down below, he’d have no troubles. Apparently the goat is known for its strong health. The patient didn’t blink; he asked Doc Brinkley to perform the operation.
The strange thing is, it worked. The man who first had the procedure done wound up fathering a son not long afterward. This launched Doc Brinkley down the golden path of success – he was offering goat gland transplantation for men and women, to improve fertility and virility. In reality, the goat-nards would simply absorb into the body as foreign matter; there was no surgical attachment being performed. Doc Brinkley simply plunked the goat-ball into the scrotum or beside the ovaries and let the power of magic (and positive thinking) take its course.
The publicity explosion in the wake of Doc Brinkley’s footsteps was massive enough to attract the attention of the American Medical Association and a man named Morris Fishbein, who made a living exposing frauds. But they couldn’t keep up with the swarm of positive press. Harry Chandler, owner of the Los Angeles Times, invited Brinkley to plop a pair of goat klackers into one of his editors in 1922. If the operation was a success, he promised to make Doc Brinkley the most famous surgeon in the nation. If it flopped, he’d go after Brinkley with both barrels and every font on the shelf.
By some unknown measure, the procedure was deemed a win. Doc Brinkley found himself treating movie stars, music stars and an international clientele. He wasn’t licensed to practice medicine in California, but people had no problem heading out to Kansas to be treated with this wonderful spud implantation.
Around this time, Doc Brinkley started a radio station. Advertising was discouraged on the air at this point, but the good doctor found a way to inject hours of pro-goat-gonad talk between his music and talk shows. He hosted a show called ‘Medical Question Box’, in which he answered listeners’ medical queries, conveniently always pointing them to one of his snake-oil pharmaceutical cures.
Not surprisingly, Doc Brinkley was in a perpetual battle to keep his medical license – Morris Fishbein saw to that. There is no definitive tally of the deaths that arose from Doc Brinkley’s procedures, but the Kansas Medical Board noted that Brinkley had etched his signature onto 42 death certificates at his clinic, many of those for people who were not at all sick when they’d walked through the door. His license was yanked, as was his license to run a radio station. Morris Fishbein was extremely active behind the scenes for the former, and probably just a little bit giddy about the latter.
At this point, Doc Brinkley turned his attention to his next great scam: politics. He ran twice as a write-in independent candidate for Governor of Kansas, promising a vague platform of platitudes, but with the real intention of getting elected so that he could appoint some friends to the Medical Board and get his license back. He lost, but earned around 30% of the vote each time. It was close.
With that, Doc Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas, where he bought a mansion and set about practicing medicine once more. Kansas had yanked his license – he was good to go in Texas.
From Del Rio, Doc Brinkley set up another radio station in Mexico. Free from American regulations, he had the station cranked up to blast at 150,000 watts, which meant that on a clear night his broadcasts could be heard as far away as Canada. His advertisers were a motley lot, pitching “Crazy Water Crystals”, “genuine simulated diamonds”, as well as autographed photos of Jesus Christ. Thanks to Doc Brinkley, Del Rio became known as “Hillbilly Hollywood”, helping to launch the careers of Gene Autry, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family among others.
But as high as Doc Brinkley climbed, he fell even further.
At his peak, Brinkley had a dozen Cadillacs, a boastful garden of over 8000 plants around his estate, as well as wildlife imported from the Galapagos Islands. But Morris Fishbein, still in pursuit of Brinkley’s reputation over a decade later, finally won. Over 30 wrongful death lawsuits were launched. The IRS started investigating Brinkley for tax fraud. The US Post Office went after him for mail fraud. Fishbein published a lengthy tome exposing Doc Brinkley as a charlatan; when Brinkley sued for libel, he lost. The old quack declared bankruptcy and died of heart failure in 1942, penniless and facing potential prison time for his various frauds.
One wonders what went through the minds of Doc Brinkley’s patients as the truth about him flittered into the public eye. “My god,” they must have thought, “I let this man stick a goat-nut into me. What the hell was I thinking?”