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Seems Legit

Unverified or unverifiable, but seems logical given other things we know to be true.

004 00:01:08 Dialogue: “Like his daddy was”
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Dialogue: “Like his daddy was”

We can’t verify that Brinkley’s daddy was a doctor, but he always said he was. Brinkley cited his father’s profession as inspiration for his own. If he was a doctor at all, Brinkey’s daddy would have almost certainly been the sort of poor “country doctor” common in the 1800s.  At that time, being a doctor …

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We can’t verify that Brinkley’s daddy was a doctor, but he always said he was. Brinkley cited his father’s profession as inspiration for his own. If he was a doctor at all, Brinkey’s daddy would have almost certainly been the sort of poor “country doctor” common in the 1800s.  At that time, being a doctor wasn’t the distinguished profession it later became (largely due to the efforts of the American Medical Association).  On the other hand, sometimes Brinkley claimed his daddy had a medical degree from Davidson College in Charlotte.  As Lee wrote, “(t)his is highly unlikely, however, as attending college in the antebellum South was expensive and confined largely to the plantation and urban aristocracy who could afford it, not poor mountain folk.”

009 00:1:44 Dialogue: “An old soda fountain”

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Dialogue: “An old soda fountain”

Apparently, they came to Milford because of an ad saying that the town needed a new doctor. It would make sense that Brinkley’s “office” would be a kind of soda fountain / drugstore stocked with patent medicines. They rented it from the former doctor (now retired) for $7/month.

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Apparently, they came to Milford because of an ad saying that the town needed a new doctor. It would make sense that Brinkley’s “office” would be a kind of soda fountain / drugstore stocked with patent medicines. They rented it from the former doctor (now retired) for $7/month.

024 00:04:57 Text: “Population 300”

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Text: “Population 300”

Several sources report the 1917 population of Milford in 1917 as being even lower than what we depicted here: less than 200. On the other hand, all those sources cite The Life of A Man for their information. We haven’t done any additional work to confirm this, but the point is: it was a very …

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Several sources report the 1917 population of Milford in 1917 as being even lower than what we depicted here: less than 200. On the other hand, all those sources cite The Life of A Man for their information. We haven’t done any additional work to confirm this, but the point is: it was a very small town. We’re not sure where we came up with the number 300; we must have seen it somewhere, or misremembered. (See also: notes 38 and 62 on Milford’s population.)

028 00:05:27 Image: Goat testicle

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Image: Goat testicle

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. However, we have no reason to believe that’s not a goat testicle, …

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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. However, we have no reason to believe that’s not a goat testicle, so… seems legit.

050 00:07:35 Dialogue: “At first they came bringing their own goats”

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Dialogue: “At first they came bringing their own goats”

This photo of a “patient holding his own goat” is from a newspaper, which doesn’t mean it’s true (especially since the photo accompanies an article claiming that gland transplantation has been made mandatory by Japan – !!!). It seems possible that patients brought their own goats; however, some sources say that Brinkley had been raising …

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This photo of a “patient holding his own goat” is from a newspaper, which doesn’t mean it’s true (especially since the photo accompanies an article claiming that gland transplantation has been made mandatory by Japan – !!!). It seems possible that patients brought their own goats; however, some sources say that Brinkley had been raising goats himself for experimental purposes long before Stittsworth ever showed up, so it’s not clear if this is just another cute PR story.

073 00:09:49 Image: KFKB radio album

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Image: KFKB radio album

We only had fragments of this album scanned from different sources, so we Photoshopped all of them together to reproduce what we think the album might have looked like.

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We only had fragments of this album scanned from different sources, so we Photoshopped all of them together to reproduce what we think the album might have looked like.

074 00:10:09 Dialogue: “Really the first guy to blast country music”
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Dialogue: “Really the first guy to blast country music”

It might be an exaggeration to say he was the “first guy,” but he was certainly a key figure in the popularization of country music.

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It might be an exaggeration to say he was the “first guy,” but he was certainly a key figure in the popularization of country music.

098 00:14:24 Dialogue: “A blatant quack”

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Dialogue: “A blatant quack”

Fishbein’s words throughout this section are paraphrased from his actual writing. Here is the first time we bring the word “quack” into this film. It’s worth taking a second to define it. We like Stephen Barret’s definition of quackery as “anything involving overpromotion in the field of health. This definition would include questionable ideas as …

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Fishbein’s words throughout this section are paraphrased from his actual writing.

Here is the first time we bring the word “quack” into this film. It’s worth taking a second to define it. We like Stephen Barret’s definition of quackery as “anything involving overpromotion in the field of health. This definition would include questionable ideas as well as questionable products and services, regardless of the sincerity of their promoters. In line with this definition, the word ‘fraud’ would be reserved only for situations in which deliberate deception is involved. Unproven methods are not necessarily quackery. Those consistent with established scientific concepts may be considered experimental. Legitimate researchers and practitioners do not promote unproven procedures in the marketplace but engage in responsible, properly-designed studies. Methods not compatible with established scientific concepts should be classified as nonsensical or disproven rather than experimental. Methods that sound scientific but are nonsensical can also be classified as pseudoscientific. Folk medicine, even when known to be erroneous, is not generally considered quackery so long as it is not done for gain. Thus, self-treatment, family home treatment, neighborly medical advice, and the noncommercial activities of folk healers should not be labeled as quackery. However, folk medicine and quackery are closely connected because folk medicine often provides a basis for commercial exploitation. For example, herbs long gathered for personal use have been packaged and promoted by modern entrepreneurs, and practitioners who once served their neighbors voluntarily or for gratuities may market themselves outside their traditional communities. All things considered, I find it most useful to define quackery as the promotion of unsubstantiated methods that lack a scientifically plausible rationale. Promotion usually involves a profit motive. Unsubstantiated means either unproven or disproven. Implausible means that it either clashes with well-established facts or makes so little sense that it is not worth testing.”

We have already established Brinkley as the hero of this story and are trying to keep you identifying with him as such. So we’re doing a lot of manipulative things to make you think that he is not a quack, and to ensure that even if you already know that Brinkley is a quack, at this point you may think he is at least not a fraud (maybe he’s just a bit of a weirdo who believes this stuff works.) Later, we will make it as clear as possible that we think he is both a quack and a fraud.

Conversely, we are now introducing Morris Fishbein as Brinkley’s nemesis. So we’re doing what we can to make him as unappealing and unreasonable as possible. Later, we will make it clear that Fishbein was hardly perfect, but when it comes to Brinkley he was entirely correct.

103 00:15:09 Dialogue: “The common man”

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Dialogue: “The common man”

We’re definitely pushing Fishbein to speak his prejudices a little more blatantly than he typically would have done; i.e., that “common man” line. But the spirit of what he is saying here is accurate to what we have read of his writings during this time. (See also: note 98.)

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We’re definitely pushing Fishbein to speak his prejudices a little more blatantly than he typically would have done; i.e., that “common man” line. But the spirit of what he is saying here is accurate to what we have read of his writings during this time. (See also: note 98.)

104 00:15:27 Dialogue: “Alternative practitioners”

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Dialogue: “Alternative practitioners”

This term “alternative practitioners” is not historically accurate, but it’s more legible to a contemporary audience than “irregular doctors.” (That’s what they called alternative practitioners back then!)

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This term “alternative practitioners” is not historically accurate, but it’s more legible to a contemporary audience than “irregular doctors.” (That’s what they called alternative practitioners back then!)

124 00:19:17 Dialogue: “Doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis”

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Dialogue: “Doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis”

As far as we know, Brinkley did not actually reference Semmelweis in this hearing. However, Semmelweis was a real person and his story is more or less as Brinkley describes it, and quacks absolutely love to tell this story. Why? Because it is real example of a “paradigm shift” in science, one of those rare occasions …

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As far as we know, Brinkley did not actually reference Semmelweis in this hearing. However, Semmelweis was a real person and his story is more or less as Brinkley describes it, and quacks absolutely love to tell this story. Why? Because it is real example of a “paradigm shift” in science, one of those rare occasions about which it is accurate to say, “Everything we thought we knew was wrong!” Because Semmelweis was persecuted for his beliefs, the quack can also place his inevitable trouble with authorities into a much more beneficial “underdog” narrative framework: from “he must have done something wrong to be in so much legal trouble” to “he is a persecuted genius ahead of his time.” Note how much exciting a story the latter is.

In the libel trial that comes later in our film, Brinkley’s counsel really did force Fishbein “to agree it had taken many years for the medical profession to accept the theories of Harvey, Jenner, Koch, Semmelweis, and other medical giants.”

125 00:20:25 Image: Testimonies from patients

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Image: Testimonies from patients

Patient testimonials are the bedrock of the quack’s claim to legitimacy, and Brinkley indeed had many patients testify for him at this hearing (we don’t know their exact words). “‘Testimonials’ are personal accounts of someone’s experiences with a therapy. They are generally subjective: ‘I felt better,’ ‘I had more energy,’ ‘I wasn’t as nauseated,’ ‘The …

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Patient testimonials are the bedrock of the quack’s claim to legitimacy, and Brinkley indeed had many patients testify for him at this hearing (we don’t know their exact words).

“‘Testimonials’ are personal accounts of someone’s experiences with a therapy. They are generally subjective: ‘I felt better,’ ‘I had more energy,’ ‘I wasn’t as nauseated,’ ‘The pain went away,’ and so on. Testimonials are inherently selective. People are much more likely to talk about their ‘amazing cure” than about something that didn’t work for them. The proponents of ‘alternative’ methods can, of course, pick which testimonials they use. For example, let’s suppose that if 100 people are sick, 50 of them will recover on their own even if they do nothing. So, if all 100 people use a certain therapy, half will get better even if the treatment doesn’t do anything. These people could say ‘I took therapy X and my disease went away!’ This would be completely honest, even though the therapy had done nothing for them. So, testimonials are useless for judging treatment effectiveness. For all we know, those giving the testimonial might be the only people who felt better. Or, suppose that of 100 patients trying a therapy, 10 experienced no change, 85 felt worse, and 5 felt better. The five who improved could quite honestly say that they felt better, even though nearly everyone who tried the remedy stayed the same or got worse!” (Common Questions about Science and “Alternative” Health Methods, Gregory L. Smith)

126 00:20:50 Dialogue: “20 goats a week”

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Dialogue: “20 goats a week”

Not only did Brinkley apparently receive 20 goats a week, but by 1930 it was probably more accurate to say 40 goats a week! We had invented the number 20 in the writing phase, and only later did we find a reference to 40. A rare case where we didn’t engage in puffery but rather …

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Not only did Brinkley apparently receive 20 goats a week, but by 1930 it was probably more accurate to say 40 goats a week! We had invented the number 20 in the writing phase, and only later did we find a reference to 40. A rare case where we didn’t engage in puffery but rather its opposite. On the other hand: who knows if 40 is accurate, either.

158 00:28:22 Dialogue: “He bought a plane from Charles Lindbergh”

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Dialogue: “He bought a plane from Charles Lindbergh”

We found two references to the fact that Brinkley’s bought a plane from Charles Lindbergh, but one source calls it “The Romancer” (Reardon) and one called it “The Romance” (Lee). However, both cite Wood, and obviously Wood is not the most reliable source. In other words: maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t, but …

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We found two references to the fact that Brinkley’s bought a plane from Charles Lindbergh, but one source calls it “The Romancer” (Reardon) and one called it “The Romance” (Lee). However, both cite Wood, and obviously Wood is not the most reliable source.

In other words: maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t, but Brinkley was rich enough to buy a plane from Lindbergh, so… sure, why not? We can’t find anything about a plane named “The Romance” or “The Romancer” owned by Lindbergh, and have now spent way too long on this pretty trivial note.

176 00:31:53 Dialogue: “56,000 votes”

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Dialogue: “56,000 votes”

“It is unknown how many Brinkley ballots were discarded. It generally is conceded that a plularity of voters inteded to elect Dr. Brinkley . . . Brinkley estimated that he got some 239,000 votes; that about 56,000 had been thrown out. Reporter W.G. Clugston estimated the figure at between 25,000 and 50,000 votes” (Reardon 25-6).

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“It is unknown how many Brinkley ballots were discarded. It generally is conceded that a plularity of voters inteded to elect Dr. Brinkley . . . Brinkley estimated that he got some 239,000 votes; that about 56,000 had been thrown out. Reporter W.G. Clugston estimated the figure at between 25,000 and 50,000 votes” (Reardon 25-6).

179 00:32:16 Image: Headline, “Election stolen”

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Image: Headline, “Election stolen”

“Had Kansas voters really elected Dr. Brinkley in 1920? Harry Woodring, the man sworn in as governor, some 18 years later told researcher Francis W. Schruben: ‘If you would ask my honest opinion, I would say, yes. . . ‘” (Reardon 26). However, in our opinion, Reardon may be overtstating the certainty of the issue; …

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“Had Kansas voters really elected Dr. Brinkley in 1920? Harry Woodring, the man sworn in as governor, some 18 years later told researcher Francis W. Schruben: ‘If you would ask my honest opinion, I would say, yes. . . ‘” (Reardon 26).

However, in our opinion, Reardon may be overtstating the certainty of the issue; Shruben himself wrote that this question has been debated “for six decades” and is far from settled (236).

198 00:37:25 Dialogue: “Lengthy commercials”
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Dialogue: “Lengthy commercials”

I don’t know that Brinkley really invented this format, an early version of both infomercials and simple corporate sponsorship, but he was certainly an early adopter/pioneer. Previous to his Border Radio days, he only ran ads for his own hospitals, but during this period realized that companies would pay a lot (he apparently charged $1700 …

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I don’t know that Brinkley really invented this format, an early version of both infomercials and simple corporate sponsorship, but he was certainly an early adopter/pioneer. Previous to his Border Radio days, he only ran ads for his own hospitals, but during this period realized that companies would pay a lot (he apparently charged $1700 an hour) to advertise products on his powerful station that U.S. stations wouldn’t advertise.

200 00:37:36 Dialogue: “Astrology lessons”

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Dialogue: “Astrology lessons”

Fowler is giving examples throughout this sequence of the kinds of things that Brinkley and other “Border Radio” pioneers might have sold on their stations. These products may not be exactly the products that XERA was offering up. Also, unless otherwise indicated, the snippets of radio ads you hear in this sequence are scripted reenactments, …

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Fowler is giving examples throughout this sequence of the kinds of things that Brinkley and other “Border Radio” pioneers might have sold on their stations. These products may not be exactly the products that XERA was offering up. Also, unless otherwise indicated, the snippets of radio ads you hear in this sequence are scripted reenactments, not real archival broadcasts.

212 99:39:45 Dialogue: “Radio commission”

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Dialogue: “Radio commission”

The Federal Radio Commission had its hands full during this time dealing with Brinkley and his legions of border radio imitators. They received hundreds of letters of complaint about XERA and its ilk. They wouldn’t have needed a complaint from Fishbein specifically to take action, although some sources suggest that it was once again the …

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The Federal Radio Commission had its hands full during this time dealing with Brinkley and his legions of border radio imitators. They received hundreds of letters of complaint about XERA and its ilk. They wouldn’t have needed a complaint from Fishbein specifically to take action, although some sources suggest that it was once again the relentless pestering of Fishbein that forced the FRC to take action.

Brock for example said of this period: “All the while, Morris Fishbein was watching, metaphorically at least, through binoculars” (166). Mainly though we wrote this scene because in earlier versions of the film, audiences had forgotten who Fishbein was when he re-enters the story for real in the third act.

Oh also we made up the name Doris.

214 00:40:00 Dialogue: “Pressured Congress”

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Dialogue: “Pressured Congress”

We don’t know that this bill was passed because the FRC “pressured Congress.” Certainly the FRC was involved; but most likely, it was a confluence of events and incentives.

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We don’t know that this bill was passed because the FRC “pressured Congress.” Certainly the FRC was involved; but most likely, it was a confluence of events and incentives.

220 00:41:17 Dialogue: “He employed thousands”

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Dialogue: “He employed thousands”

“Thousands” seems like a pretty big stretch! We have no idea how many people he employed, nor how “endless” his charitable contributions were. However, all sources indicate that just as in Milford, Brinkley was indeed responsible for bringing some prosperity to the region, and that he engaged in charitable activities.

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“Thousands” seems like a pretty big stretch! We have no idea how many people he employed, nor how “endless” his charitable contributions were. However, all sources indicate that just as in Milford, Brinkley was indeed responsible for bringing some prosperity to the region, and that he engaged in charitable activities.

221 00:41:25 Dialogue: “Its first library”

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Dialogue: “Its first library”

Actually, he only gave Del Rio “matching funds” to build a library. Close enough.

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Actually, he only gave Del Rio “matching funds” to build a library. Close enough.

228 00:45:34 Image: Headline: “Brinkley’s Formula 1020”

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Image: Headline: “Brinkley’s Formula 1020”

We created this article in Photoshop; we’re certain Formula 1020 was advertised in some similar manner, but we didn’t find anything good to show. Brinkley and his PR team were early adopters of what we’d now call “advertorials,” or paid advertisements designed to look as much like articles as possible.

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We created this article in Photoshop; we’re certain Formula 1020 was advertised in some similar manner, but we didn’t find anything good to show. Brinkley and his PR team were early adopters of what we’d now call “advertorials,” or paid advertisements designed to look as much like articles as possible.

235 00:46:00 Dialogue: “I shall be the one to bring you true happiness”
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Dialogue: “I shall be the one to bring you true happiness”

What we have Brinkley saying here is really only a slight exaggeration of how he really cast himself (he did, after all, compare himself to Jesus and Moses sort of frequently).

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What we have Brinkley saying here is really only a slight exaggeration of how he really cast himself (he did, after all, compare himself to Jesus and Moses sort of frequently).

241 00:47:11 Image: Fishbein

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Image: Fishbein

This is a true story, sort of. Fishbein really was aboard the Normandie at the same time as the Brinkleys, who departed Europe for home on August 11, 1937. As far as what actually happened when the two men crossed paths – if they crossed paths at all – there are conflicting accounts. None of the …

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This is a true story, sort of. Fishbein really was aboard the Normandie at the same time as the Brinkleys, who departed Europe for home on August 11, 1937. As far as what actually happened when the two men crossed paths – if they crossed paths at all – there are conflicting accounts. None of the sources we consulted said Brinkley winked at Fishbein; we made that up. We based our encounter mostly on Brock’s version of the story, but we added the wink to make it more visual. Here is how Brock describes it:

“There was nothing left now but for the principals to meet. In all these years, the two great foes had never laid eyes on each other, and Fishbein wanted to keep it that way. Brinkley had other ideas. Scouring the deck he found Fishbein in a lounge chair and his face to the sun. Brinkley approached . . . Fishbein pretended he wasn’t there. After a minute or so of this queer pantomime, Brinkley made a strangled noise, turned, and stalked off” (215-16).

There is also come confusion in the historical record about whether Brinkley snubbed Fishbein, or Fishbein snubbed Brinkley – this “snub” inexplicably became an issue in the libel trial of 1939.

247 00:49:28 Image: Courthouse

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Image: Courthouse

This is a photo of the Val Verde Courthouse in Del Rio; we aren’t sure of the date.

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This is a photo of the Val Verde Courthouse in Del Rio; we aren’t sure of the date.

249 00:49:33 Dialogue: “A lot of women”

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Dialogue: “A lot of women”

We have no idea if this is true. Seems legit, though.

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We have no idea if this is true. Seems legit, though.

260 00:53:24 Dialogue: “One could simply make a slit”

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Dialogue: “One could simply make a slit”

We came to believe that probably this is all Brinkley really did, after a while. If he knew it didn’t work, why would he bother actually putting goat testicles in there? Why not just say he did?

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We came to believe that probably this is all Brinkley really did, after a while. If he knew it didn’t work, why would he bother actually putting goat testicles in there? Why not just say he did?

265 00:54:36 Dialogue: “I see an article”

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Dialogue: “I see an article”

The name of the real chemist who testified that Formula 1020 was just colored water was Dr. Eugene W. Schoeffel; we re-cast him (and a few other minor characters throughout the film) as a woman because… well, because we wrote barely any parts in this film for women, and Penny thought it was important to …

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The name of the real chemist who testified that Formula 1020 was just colored water was Dr. Eugene W. Schoeffel; we re-cast him (and a few other minor characters throughout the film) as a woman because… well, because we wrote barely any parts in this film for women, and Penny thought it was important to do what we could to add a few female voices to the film, so long as doing so didn’t seem too historically inaccurate.

266 00:54:41 Image: Headline: Brinkley’s Formula 1020

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Image: Headline: Brinkley’s Formula 1020

We created this article in Photoshop; we’re certain Formula 1020 was advertised in some similar manner, but we didn’t find anything good to show. Brinkley and his PR team were early adopters of what we’d now call “advertorials,” or paid advertisements designed to look as much like articles as possible.

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We created this article in Photoshop; we’re certain Formula 1020 was advertised in some similar manner, but we didn’t find anything good to show. Brinkley and his PR team were early adopters of what we’d now call “advertorials,” or paid advertisements designed to look as much like articles as possible.

271 00:55:56 Dialogue: “Have you ever met John R. Brinkley?”

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Dialogue: “Have you ever met John R. Brinkley?”

Yes, Fishbein said they’d never met (his real quote is actually better: “In 26 years of investigating charlatans, I have never met one personally”). However, sources differ on whether or not Brinkley and Fishbein had ever met, or whether whatever happened on the Normandie (see note 241) counts as “meeting” one another.

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Yes, Fishbein said they’d never met (his real quote is actually better: “In 26 years of investigating charlatans, I have never met one personally”).

However, sources differ on whether or not Brinkley and Fishbein had ever met, or whether whatever happened on the Normandie (see note 241) counts as “meeting” one another.

276 01:00:38 Image: Courthouse

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Image: Courthouse

This is a photo of the Val Verde Courthouse in Del Rio; we aren’t sure of the date.

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This is a photo of the Val Verde Courthouse in Del Rio; we aren’t sure of the date.

314 01:15:01 Text: Only interview

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Text: Only interview

This is the only filmed interview that we know of. Also note that the interviewer is James Reardon, one of our expert interviews; the interview was given in March of 1976. “Johnny Boy” (aka John Brinkley III) committed suicide about six months later.

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This is the only filmed interview that we know of. Also note that the interviewer is James Reardon, one of our expert interviews; the interview was given in March of 1976. “Johnny Boy” (aka John Brinkley III) committed suicide about six months later.