John Romulus Brinkley. J.R. Brinkley. “Doctor” Brinkley. The Goat Gland Man. Brinkley is definitely one of the more fascinating quacks, a man who rose to fame in America in the 1920s by claiming he could cure impotence! How? Well that’s easy, he’d just slice you open and insert a goat gland into your, ahem, gentleman’s area and that would cure you! After all, aren’t goats always ready and raring to go? Don’t they say “randy as a goat”? Well then! Stick a certain bit of goat in you and your body will magically absorb it and you’ll be good to go. Or, at least, so claimed Dr Brinkley.
And the cost? A mere $750 – almost $10K in today’s money! But isn’t it worth it put some pep in your pecker? Some lead in your pencil? Plenty of men thought so, judging by the mansions and yachts and world travel that Brinkley and his family indulged in. It didn’t last, of course, and by 1938 Brinkley’s fortunes were dwindling as the American Medical Association moved to put him out of business. He died a few years later, bankrupt and disgraced, but he left a legacy on medicine, politics and in American country music that still echoes down through the years to today.
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Writer/director Edward Einhorn and the Untitled Theater Company #61, based in New York, bring us a four part audio drama, available as a podcast, called The Resistible Rise of J.R.Brinkley, chronicling the man’s rise and fall. Each thirty-ish minute episode is part drama, part documentary. It shows how he made his name, how he nearly won the Governorship of Kansas, and how his methods of campaigning and information dissemination are eerily echoed by a certain 45th President of the United States.
Trump has Twitter, Brinkley had the radio, with his station KFKB where he could not only encourage them to come in for surgery, he could regale them with his thoughts on corrupt local government, how the Jews were out to ruin society and how that Mister Hitler was actually a really nice man and just the sort of leader America needed. The podcast blends both things that Brinkley himself said and did as well as spicing it up with a smattering of current era Trump hyperbole that works disturbingly well with Brinkley’s particular brand of self-aggrandisement and antisemitism.
It’s a powerful mix, and the voice talents of Tony Torn as Brinkley perfectly capture how both these men were able to worm their way into public consciousness in ways that the mainstream establishment didn’t realise and didn’t expect until it was too late. Additional insight into Brinkley’s shenanigans is provided by Dr Seth Cotlar, who helps add historical context and clarity to the outlandish tale of this self-important self-made millionaire.
Each episode also looks at the history of country music and the impact that Brinkley had on bringing it into the mainstream, with additional insight from country music experts Dr. Sam Parler and Dr Tracey Laird. He used the music to encourage listeners/potential clients to his station, broadcasting far and wide and taking it to audiences that otherwise might never have heard what had been considered “hillbilly music”.
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Really the only negative I have to give here is that there are only four episodes. The podcasts are very timely, and both entertaining and informative, switching from drama to documentary and back again while never ending up too dry or too boring. While not a particular fan of country music, I’ve certainly learned an awful lot about the genre’s history thanks to the interviews included here. This is a podcast we can wholewheartedly recommend. It costs nothing, it’s massively entertaining and informative, it’s beautifully produced and acted and it leaves me both hoping and looking forward to the next offering from Edward Einhorn and Untitled Theater Company No.61.
The Resistible Rise of J.R.Brinkley is available to listen to for free from Untitled Theater Company #61.