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Probable Invention

We are repeating something that we don’t know for sure is true, but suspect is not.

001 00:00:37 Dialogue: “John Romulus Brinkley”

Timecode: 00:00:37

Dialogue: “John Romulus Brinkley”

The name of the protagonist is not John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley’s middle name was Richard.  He claimed to have been born John Romulus and said it was later changed to John Richard, either because a preacher said it was a heathen name or because his schoolmates made fun of him (he told different versions of …

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The name of the protagonist is not John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley’s middle name was Richard.  He claimed to have been born John Romulus and said it was later changed to John Richard, either because a preacher said it was a heathen name or because his schoolmates made fun of him (he told different versions of this story).  Logic suggests he invented the Romulus story – given that he’s named after his father, whose name was John Richard – but we decided to use Romulus exclusively in this film because (1) it’s way more awesome, and (2) it underscores the fact that for whatever reason, Brinkley liked to identify himself with the mythical founder of Rome.

003 00:00:54 Dialogue: “When he stood before the dean of Johns Hopkins”
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Timecode: 00:00:54

Dialogue: “When he stood before the dean of Johns Hopkins”

We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. The language being spoken by the narrator is taken almost verbatim from The Life of A Man, a biography commissioned and paid for by Brinkley (more on that book later). In 1902, Brinkley graduated …

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We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. The language being spoken by the narrator is taken almost verbatim from The Life of A Man, a biography commissioned and paid for by Brinkley (more on that book later). In 1902, Brinkley graduated from high school and he would have been 17 years old on July 8, so it’s feasible that he could have decided to try to enrol in medical school at that time. However, the whole scene feels rather improbable to us, and the “I tried to get legitimate medicine to accept me and they cruelly declined” is also a standard quack cliché.

011 00:01:58 Dialogue: “A farmer named Stittsworth”
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Timecode: 00:01:58

Dialogue: “A farmer named Stittsworth”

This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film …

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This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film made in 1922 or 1923. However, there are many reasons to not believe this version of the story.

Here are some of them:

(1) Bill Stittsworth’s son said that he and his father were on Brinkley’s payroll until 1942. This is strange, because Brinkley stopped doing the goat gland surgeries in 1933 and thus had no reason to pay someone to promote it after that point. Logic suggests they were being paid not to tell everyone that this was all made up. Perhaps the younger Stittsworth lied, or remembered wrong; but the Stittsworths appeared in many photographs from 1919-on, and in person in 1923 with the promotional film, so it makes sense that they would have been paid for this. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that Stittsworth was mentioned by full name in the advertising or public relations efforts. We did find one article referring to him as “Uncle Billy, one of the village patriarchs.”

(2) This story, with photos of the world’s first “goat gland baby” (Billy Stittsworth) only began appearing in newspapers after Brinkley hired H.R. Mosnat, an ad man. Mosnat’s efforts (better classified as pioneering public relations than advertising) included placing this “news item” in papers all over the country.

(3) The story was highly inconsistent; Brinkley sometimes claimed that he had been doing experiments with “xenotransplantation” for many years by this point and was eager to try it out on a human; sometimes it was Stittsworth’s idea and he tried to say no, etc.

(4) The story is ridiculous.

017 00:03:33 Text: “Baby Billy”
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Timecode: 00:03:33

Text: “Baby Billy”

It seems more likely that Billy was named after his father, whose name (Bill) isn’t mentioned in this promotional film. Images taken from a fake science film called “Rejuvenation Through Gland Transplanting” which Brinkley almost certainly paid for and then distributed to movie theaters all over the U.S. Stittsworth and son toured with the film …

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It seems more likely that Billy was named after his father, whose name (Bill) isn’t mentioned in this promotional film.

Images taken from a fake science film called “Rejuvenation Through Gland Transplanting” which Brinkley almost certainly paid for and then distributed to movie theaters all over the U.S. Stittsworth and son toured with the film in person as “proof” of the operation’s efficacy.

019 00:04:01 Image: Brinkley and baby, 3 times
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Timecode: 00:04:01

Image: Brinkley and baby, 3 times

This photo of the world’s first “goat gland baby” (Billy Stittsworth) only began appearing in newspapers after Brinkley hired H.R. Mosnat, an ad man. Mosnat’s efforts (better classified as pioneering public relations than advertising) included placing this “news item” in papers all over the country. (See also: note 11.)

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This photo of the world’s first “goat gland baby” (Billy Stittsworth) only began appearing in newspapers after Brinkley hired H.R. Mosnat, an ad man. Mosnat’s efforts (better classified as pioneering public relations than advertising) included placing this “news item” in papers all over the country. (See also: note 11.)

020 00:04:24 Image: The Life of a Man book
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Timecode: 00:04:24

Image: The Life of a Man book

This is a real book, and sure, it’s a biography. However, there are many reasons to doubt its veracity. It was a work-for-hire: Brinkley paid the author, Clement Wood to write it. It appears that Brinkley basically dictated its contents. Wood was a well-known hack said to “churn out manuscripts nearly on demand” and to …

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This is a real book, and sure, it’s a biography. However, there are many reasons to doubt its veracity. It was a work-for-hire: Brinkley paid the author, Clement Wood to write it. It appears that Brinkley basically dictated its contents. Wood was a well-known hack said to “churn out manuscripts nearly on demand” and to write “at the pace of 80,000 words in 30 days” (not the best pace for careful research and fact-checking). Brinkley used it as a promotional tool, giving it away for free to fans and supporters. Finally, it contains many verifiably false statements.

Is NUTS! really “based on” this book? Not exactly. Some of it is taken directly from its pages, but it’s perhaps more honest to say that we are using The Life of a Man like Brinkley himself used it: as a source of apparent authority. Like Brinkley, we will also use other sources of apparent authority (patient testimonials, “expert interviews”, newspaper articles, etc.) not found in the pages of The Life of A Man.

Clement Wood wrote some other biographies-for-hire, including one for Brinkley’s contemporary in quackery and questionable practices in radio broadcasting Norman Baker with the awesome title Throttle: A Fact Story About Norman Baker (how did Brinkley get stuck with The Life of a Man?). Wood’s list of published works is astonishingly diverse and poor in quality. One of his books, Flesh And Other Stories, published in 1929, was the subject of an important obscenity trial. Wood was a one-time lawyer turned teacher turned Greenwich Village hipster who supposedly hosted orgies as a means of satisfying the sexual needs of his beautiful wife Gloria Goddard; he himself was said to be impotent. He is a fascinating person that we did a lot of unnecessary research on, and his Wikipedia page deserves much more attention.

026 00:05:16 Image: Baby Lenora

Timecode: 00:05:16

Image: Baby Lenora

Images taken from a fake science film called “Rejuvenation Through Gland Transplanting” which Brinkley almost certainly paid for and then distributed to movie theaters all over the U.S. Stittsworth and son toured with the film in person as “proof” of the operation’s efficacy.

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Images taken from a fake science film called “Rejuvenation Through Gland Transplanting” which Brinkley almost certainly paid for and then distributed to movie theaters all over the U.S. Stittsworth and son toured with the film in person as “proof” of the operation’s efficacy.

042 00:06:44 Image: Milford, built up
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Timecode: 00:06:44

Image: Milford, built up

Brinkley’s status as perpetual benefactor to his community is a big part of the image he cultivated, for obvious reasons. There are loads of period newspaper references to how much Brinkley “built up” Milford (“the Milford [Little League baseball] team wears uniforms furnished by Dr. Brinkley” said The Junction City Daily Union in 1922, and …

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Brinkley’s status as perpetual benefactor to his community is a big part of the image he cultivated, for obvious reasons. There are loads of period newspaper references to how much Brinkley “built up” Milford (“the Milford [Little League baseball] team wears uniforms furnished by Dr. Brinkley” said The Junction City Daily Union in 1922, and “[Brinkley] gave the town a $25,000 Methodist church in memory of his mother” claimd The San Bernardino County Sun in 1933) but they’re all pretty hard to substantiate. He certainly made many improvements to his own property, and spared no expense (“Brinkley built electrical, water and sewage systems for his hospital, and soon his power plant supplied Milford businesses, then the Methodist church, then residences. He expanded the water and sewer systems also, and sidewalks were built,” wrote Lee). And there’s little doubt that Milford benefitted from its new status as rejuvenation destination (“trains stop regularly at Milford and electric lights and asphalt streets have supplanted kerosene lamps and mud roads” said the Wilmington News-Journal in 1923, and “the town is planning a new hotel” said The San Bernardino County Sun in 1923).

But remember that he’s got a paid staff of PR people working for him to place stories just like these in newspapers!

053 00:07:49 Dialogue: “Patient would select a goat”

Timecode: 00:07:49

Dialogue: “Patient would select a goat”

“The patient would select a goat with which he had the most connection.” Really though???

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“The patient would select a goat with which he had the most connection.” Really though???

064 00:08:42 Dialogue: “America’s fourth radio station”
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Timecode: 00:08:42

Dialogue: “America’s fourth radio station”

At least one source indicates that KFKB was the fourth “commercial” radio station, but the source that author Lee cites is Shruben, and when we went back to Shruben to fact-check this we didn’t find that claim anywhere in the cited article. So we didn’t make this up, but we also don’t have great substatiation. …

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At least one source indicates that KFKB was the fourth “commercial” radio station, but the source that author Lee cites is Shruben, and when we went back to Shruben to fact-check this we didn’t find that claim anywhere in the cited article. So we didn’t make this up, but we also don’t have great substatiation.

In any case, assuming it’s true, we still left out the “commercial” part because (1) it’s overly complicated and we don’t really know what it means; and (2) we’re not emphasizing what a self-serving action this was. We want to keep the focus on “innovator/pioneer” here.

086 00:12:05 Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes
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Timecode: 00:12:05

Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes

We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. In 1902, Brinkley graduated from high school and he would have been 17 years old on July 8, so it’s feasible that he could have decided to try to enroll in medical school at …

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We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. In 1902, Brinkley graduated from high school and he would have been 17 years old on July 8, so it’s feasible that he could have decided to try to enroll in medical school at that time. However, the whole scene feels rather improbable to us.

088 00:12:24 Image: Brinkley in cap and gown
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Timecode: 00:12:24

Image: Brinkley in cap and gown

Given that Brinkley seems to have purchased all of his degrees, we really don’t understand where this photo of him in a cap and gown came from. Another mystery.

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Given that Brinkley seems to have purchased all of his degrees, we really don’t understand where this photo of him in a cap and gown came from. Another mystery.

089 00:12:27 Image: Diploma
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Timecode: 00:12:27

Image: Diploma

“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25). …

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“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25). So: yes, he had this diploma (and a number of other diplomas and accreditations), but it doesn’t mean what you might think it means.

090 00:12:37 Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes
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Timecode: 00:12:37

Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes

This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film …

View Full Footnote

This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film made in 1922 or 1923. However, there are many reasons to not believe this version of the story. Here are some of them:

(1) Bill Stittsworth’s son said that he and his father were on Brinkley’s payroll until 1942. This is strange, because Brinkley stopped doing the goat gland surgeries in 1933 and thus had no reason to pay someone to promote it after that point. Logic suggests they were being paid not to tell everyone that this was all made up. Perhaps the younger Stittsworth lied, or remembered wrong; but the Stittsworths appeared in many photographs from 1919-on, and in person in 1923 with the promotional film, so it makes sense that they would have been paid for this. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that Stittsworth was mentioned by full name in the advertising or public relations efforts. We did find one article referring to him as “Uncle Billy, one of the village patriarchs.”

(2) This story, with photos of the world’s first “goat gland baby” (Billy Stittsworth) only began appearing in newspapers after Brinkley hired H.R. Mosnat, an ad man. Mosnat’s efforts (better classified as pioneering public relations than advertising) included placing this “news item” in papers all over the country.

(3) The story was highly inconsistent; Brinkley sometimes claimed that he had been doing experiments with “xenotransplantation” for many years by this point and was eager to try it out on a human; sometimes it was Stittsworth’s idea and he tried to say no, etc.

(4) The story is ridiculous.

 

127 00:21:10 Dialogue: “In all my life”

Timecode: 00:21:10

Dialogue: “In all my life”

This testimony is taken verbatim from a book called Shadows and Sunshine (published by Brinkley) purporting to be a compilation of statements by actual patients. The patient testimony quoted here is from the section titled, “Suffered Tortures of the Damned” (page 19). We don’t know if Brinkley just made all these patient testimonials up or …

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This testimony is taken verbatim from a book called Shadows and Sunshine (published by Brinkley) purporting to be a compilation of statements by actual patients. The patient testimony quoted here is from the section titled, “Suffered Tortures of the Damned” (page 19). We don’t know if Brinkley just made all these patient testimonials up or not; it seems likely he did.

132 00:22:09 Dialogue: “A trainful of KFKB”

Timecode: 00:22:09

Dialogue: “A trainful of KFKB”

While we read that Brinkley “planned” to bring 1,000 satisfied patients to DC in a chartered train, we never read that this actually happened.

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While we read that Brinkley “planned” to bring 1,000 satisfied patients to DC in a chartered train, we never read that this actually happened.

139 00:24:08 Dialogue: “None of the board members fared well following the hearings”

Timecode: 00:24:08

Dialogue: “None of the board members fared well following the hearings”

This whole scene is batshit crazy, so we assume it’s a complete fabrication. But believe it or not, it comes straight out of The Life of A Man; we made very few changes to the text. After this litany of terrible fates, Wood added, “Do not think Brinkley did not observe all this, with a sad serene …

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This whole scene is batshit crazy, so we assume it’s a complete fabrication. But believe it or not, it comes straight out of The Life of A Man; we made very few changes to the text. After this litany of terrible fates, Wood added, “Do not think Brinkley did not observe all this, with a sad serene relish. He is a philosopher, as well as so much else; and he is a devout believer in divine justice. He believes that the future of his persecutors still left untouched will be very unhappy, because of the unjust and unrighteous thing they did against him; that their days in this world will be brief, and shortened by what they did” (265).

147 00:27:14 Image: [interjection at this point in the story]

Timecode: 00:27:14

Image: [interjection at this point in the story]

Various stories exist about exactly when and how Brinkley came to this decision.

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Various stories exist about exactly when and how Brinkley came to this decision.

161 00:28:53 Image: Sound truck
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Timecode: 00:28:53

Image: Sound truck

The sound truck was actually used in Brinkley’s 1932 campaign (not in 1930), and it is documented that Huey Long was using sound trucks, to great advantage, as early as 1930. So no: Brinkley didn’t invent the sound truck. But he may have invented the idea that the sound truck would play pre-recorded speeches and …

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The sound truck was actually used in Brinkley’s 1932 campaign (not in 1930), and it is documented that Huey Long was using sound trucks, to great advantage, as early as 1930. So no: Brinkley didn’t invent the sound truck. But he may have invented the idea that the sound truck would play pre-recorded speeches and not just warm-up music. We spent a long, long time on this note before deciding to move on. The point is, he either invented it, or he was a very early adopter/pioneer.

194 00:36:48 Dialogue: “They would fall out of the sky dead”

Timecode: 00:36:48

Dialogue: “They would fall out of the sky dead”

Note that Fowler says, “people said.” The idea that birds would fall out of the sky when encoutering XERA’s antennae isjust one of these things that isn’t verifiable. We suppose we could have asked some kind of radio expert whether this is feasible, but since we’re in Oz now, we’re just going with it.

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Note that Fowler says, “people said.” The idea that birds would fall out of the sky when encoutering XERA’s antennae isjust one of these things that isn’t verifiable. We suppose we could have asked some kind of radio expert whether this is feasible, but since we’re in Oz now, we’re just going with it.

195 00:36:55 Dialogue: “On fillings in their teeth”

Timecode: 00:36:55

Dialogue: “On fillings in their teeth”

Another thing “people said.”

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Another thing “people said.”

196 00:37:01 Dialogue: “June Carter Cash liked to say”

Timecode: 00:37:01

Dialogue: “June Carter Cash liked to say”

Another thing “people said.”

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Another thing “people said.”

250 00:49:47 Dialogue: “He had at least five lawyers”

Timecode: 00:49:47

Dialogue: “He had at least five lawyers”

In this interview, Brock seems to be incorrect; it was Brinkley with only a couple of lawyers, and Fishbein was the one was all lawyered up. The attorneys for the plaintiff were Messrs. William Morriss Sr. & William Morriss Jr. of San Antonio, and Phil Foster of Del Rio. Fishbein was represented by Messrs Loesch, …

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In this interview, Brock seems to be incorrect; it was Brinkley with only a couple of lawyers, and Fishbein was the one was all lawyered up. The attorneys for the plaintiff were Messrs. William Morriss Sr. & William Morriss Jr. of San Antonio, and Phil Foster of Del Rio. Fishbein was represented by Messrs Loesch, Scofield, Loesch & Burke of Chicago; Brooks, Napier, Brown & Matthews of San Antonio; and Boggess, LaCrosse & Lowrey of Del Rio, Texas.

Brock’s version of the story is better, anyway.

252 00:50:18 Image: Stittsworth

Timecode: 00:50:18

Image: Stittsworth

While it was reported there were “twenty old men” ready to testify for Dr. Brinkley, none of them (as far as we know!) were Stittsworth.

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While it was reported there were “twenty old men” ready to testify for Dr. Brinkley, none of them (as far as we know!) were Stittsworth.

296 01:10:32 Dialogue: “The trial lasted 3, perhaps into the 4th”

Timecode: 01:10:32

Dialogue: “The trial lasted 3, perhaps into the 4th”

Brock seems to be incorrect about the number of days; sources we checked (including his own book) indicate this trial went on for about 10 days.

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Brock seems to be incorrect about the number of days; sources we checked (including his own book) indicate this trial went on for about 10 days.