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Goat Gland Doctor (1986)

Bill Childs

Sound | 1986

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  •  Brinkley and his wife, Minnie, move to Milford, Kansas, in 1917 
  •  The doctor pioneers a new transplant operation  
  •  Brinkley starts his own radio station, KFKB 
  •  The doctor expands his business by prescribing and selling proprietary treatments 
  •  Questions surrounding the legitimacy of Brinkley’s medical practices arise 
  •  Brinkley recounts stories from his youth 
  •  Brinkley did not earn a medical degree, so much as purchase one from a diploma mill known as the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University. His questionable medical credentials led several states to strip him of his license to practice medicine. The State of California attempted to prosecute Brinkley for receiving a fake medical degree, but the governor of Kansas refused to extradite him.  
  •  Three days after losing his medical license, Brinkley kicks off his write-in campaign for governor. As governor, Brinkley could appoint his own members to the state’s medical board and thereby restore his license to practice medicine there.  
  •  Brinkley runs again in 1932 
  •  Brinkley relocates to Del Rio and starts construction on a new radio station, XER-AM, just across the border in Villa Acuña, Coahulia, Mexico (now known as Ciudad Acuña). By locating the station in Mexico, Brinkley’s broadcast was not subject to American wattage regulations. XER-AM eventually transmitted at one million watts, 20 times the allowed maximum for American-based stations. The signal was so strong that local residents could reportedly hear the station through their metal fences and in their dental appliances.  
  •  In Texas, Brinkley’s practice shifts from goat-gland transplants to prostate “rejuvenation” surgeries, for which he charged up to $1,000 per operation  
  •  Family business 
  •  Lifestyles of the rich and famous 
  •  Returning to Del Rio 
  •  The 16-acre Brinkley estate, known as Palm Drive in Hudson Gardens 
  •  Brinkley relocates the hospital again, this time to Little Rock, Arkansas 
  •  In 1938, Morris Fishbein, doctor and editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, repudiates Brinkley in a two-part series called “Modern Medical Charlatans.” Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel, spelling his ultimate downfall.  
  •  Brinkley takes to the airwaves to preach anti-communism and isolationism 
  •  The jig is up 
  •  Brinkley dies penniless in San Antonio 
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This television documentary chronicles the rise and fall of John R. Brinkley, commonly referred to as the “goat gland doctor.” The program was produced by and broadcast on KTWU, the PBS station licensed to Topeka, Kansas. Brinkley purchased a medical degree from a diploma mill in 1913, first practicing in South Carolina as a general practitioner. Four years later, he moved to Milford, Kansas, and began offering the procedure that would bring him immense wealth and international notoriety. For a handsome fee, Brinkley would implant goat testicles into his patients as a supposed cure for a number of ailments, most commonly impotence and infertility. The procedure received considerable publicity, bringing success to Brinkley and Milford. In 1923, the doctor built his own radio station, KFKB, to further promote his services and proprietary treatments across the airwaves. As Brinkley’s profile and profits grew, he drew the attention of the American Medical Association. In 1930, the Kansas Medical Board revoked Brinkley’s license. Six months later, the Federal Radio Commission revoked his broadcasting license. In response, Brinkley launched a write-in campaign for governor of Kansas, only losing the race after tens of thousands of his votes were disqualified. In 1932, Brinkley left Milford for Del Rio, Texas, operating a clinic in town and a radio tower just across the border. In spite of ongoing repudiation from the medical community, Brinkley’s business continued to grow. It all would end in 1939, when Brinkley sued Dr. Morris Fishbein, an editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, for libel. The trial revealed Brinkley as a fraud, with the jury ultimately siding with Fishbein. The verdict unleashed a number of lawsuits against Brinkley for malpractice, wrongful death, and fraud. The disgraced doctor also became the subject of federal investigations of tax and mail fraud. Brinkley declared bankruptcy in 1941, dying from heart failure a year later. While this production discusses the accusations of charlatanism raised against Brinkley throughout his career, it nevertheless presents a mystifyingly flattering view of the doctor and his success. While Brinkley enjoyed immense popularity, his transplant procedure offered no medical benefit. Quite the contrary, by 1930, Brinkley had signed death certificates for 42 patients, many of whom were not sick when they arrived at his clinic.