Saturday, February 20, 2010

John R. Brinkley, I Salute You!

Heading out from Cullowhee, NC, I get lost in the winding roads of the Smoky Mountains around Tuckasegee.  I'm not sure which way is east, west, up, or down.  Jolene is no help; she just keeps "recalculating."  Coming around a creekside curve, I spot a highway marker, and do a double-take.


I've stumbled across sacred ground.

In a land renowned for its hucksters, charlatans, and snake-oil salesmen, John R. Brinkley was the greatest quack of them all.  Con man extraordinaire, "Dr." Brinkley used radio (the 'new media' of his age) to loudly tout a cure for male impotence that entailed surgically implanting 'goat glands' into the male generative organ.  Thousands of men - too pooped to pop, and lured by his radio tales of rejuvenation - traveled miles to Brinkley's clinic in the hope of becoming "the ram what am with every lamb."  Preying on masculine insecurity, Brinkley soon became a millionaire.

When the newly-formed FCC and the AMA finally wised up and cracked down on Brinkley's quack broadcasts, the doc moved his operation across the Texas border into Mexico.  Blaring 150,000+ watt AM signals into homes across America, Doc's border radio broadcasts were renowned - if only for being so powerful that they made bedsprings hum and car headlights flick on.

Eventually the Feds caught up with Brinkley, exposing his bogus operation and stripping him of his medical and broadcasting licenses.  Doc became a national laughingstock.

It's a classic American story of a man who went from rags to riches by exploiting the fear in men's britches.  But who suspected that John R. Brinkley's humble beginnings would be found by a traveling filmmaker lost in the Tuckasegee hills?

Doc: I stand proudly erect, and salute you.