A Visit to Dr. Feelgood

Doctor Max

A curious side effect of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination is a resurgence of interest (albeit a small resurgence) in New York’s infamous “Dr. Feelgood,” formally known as Dr. Max Jacobson. I grew up in New York in the 50s and 60s, and my mother was an actress there; I remember her speaking fondly of Dr. Max. In fact, his name was a household word around our home. She got me an appointment with him one time – I was probably around 16 – for Mogg only knows what reason, but I remember the experience vividly.

At the time I had no clue Max was so notorious, although an article which came out  some time before 1968 ² in a local publication had made reference to “Doctor A,” “Doctor B,” and “Doctor C” – it was some sort of investigative report on unconventional medical treatments, and I wish I could find it again, because there’s no question in anyone’s mind who ever visited him that “Doctor C” was Max. Scanning the Internet now, I was surprised to find that  a book was written about Max by by Richard A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes, whence the quote and patient list below were extracted. There seems to be no question that he was treating a large range of patients with methamphetamines, which is why they loved his treatments… he made them happy happy happy!  President Kennedy’s visits to and by Max are well-documented, and about the injections Kennedy said, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.” Among Max’s other clients were:

President Harry S. Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard M. Nixon, Rod Serling, Jacqueline Kennedy, Spiro Agnew, Sir Winston Churchill, Cecil B. DeMille, Robert Goulet, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Shapiro, Eddie Fisher, Truman Capote, Bette Davis, Eartha Kitt, Maurice Chevalier, Ludwig Bemelmans, Mike Nichols, Gertrude Lawrence, Burt Bacharach, Sheilah Graham, Margaret Leighton, Rita Moreno, Frank Sinatra, Tennessee Williams, Paul Lynde, Alan Jay Lerner, Howard Cosell, Mike Todd, Hermine Gingold,  Jose Ferrer, Anais Nin, Henry & June Miller, Andy Warhol, Yul Brynner, Arlene Francis, Johnny Mathis, Martin Gabel, Franchot Tone, Igor Goran, Rosemary Clooney, Nelson Rockefeller, Burgess Meredith, Ronny Graham, Roy Cohn, Marilyn Monroe, Josh Logan, Hedy LeMarr, Edward G. Robinson, Emilio Pucci, Billy Wilder, Leontyne Price, Senator Claude Pepper, Paul Robeson, Igor Stravinsky, Cary Grant, Peter Lawford, Bob Cummings, Van Cliburn, Tony Franciosa, Phyllis McGuire, Ellen Hanley, Sam “MoMo” Giancanna, Judith Campbell Exner, Mel Allen, Mickey Mantle, Marion Marlowe, Shelley Winters, Leonard Bernstein, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Morgan, Rosalind Russell, Marianne Anderson, Dr. Niels Bohr, Tony Curtis, Greta Stuckles, Mabel Mercer, Richard Burton, Andy Williams, Ambassador Eusebio Morales, George Kaufman, Mark Shaw, Pat Suzuki, Burton Lane, Alice Ghostley, Felice Orlandi (Alice Ghostley),  Rex Harrison, Eddie Albert, Maynard Ferguson,  Roscoe Lee Browne, Zero Mostel, Bob Richardson, Cicely Tyson, Maya Deren, Milton Blackstone, Elvis Presley, Chuck Spalding, Col. Tom Parker, Stavros Niachros, Gore Vidal, Lee Bouvier Radziwill, Prince Stash Radziwill, Vincent Alo (“Jimmy Blue Eyes”), Katherine Dunham, Peter Lorre, Judy Garland, Franco Zefferelli, Gypsy Rose Lee (Rose Havoc), Otto Preminger, Anthony Quinn, Rebekah Harkness, Edie Sedgewick, Roddy McDowell, Patrick O’Neil, Kurt Braun, Leonard Silman, John Hancock (director), Kay Thompson, Bob Fosse, John Murray Anderson, Hugh Martin, Arnold Saint-Subber, Louis Nizer, Sharon Tate, Barbara Harris, Christopher Plummer, Thelonious Monk, Jim Thompson, Florence Eldridge, Frederic March, Harry Belafonte, Stavros Niarchos, Brigid Berlin, Arthur Laurents, Leo Lerman, Maria Callas, Albert Dekker, Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Andrew Oldham (Rolling Stones Manager), Ruth Yorck, John LaTouche, Don and Phil Everly (Everly Brothers), Louis Jourdan, Jason Wingreen, Mike Nichols, Pablo Casals, Ayn Rand, and Montgomery Clift

Max seemed pleasant and inoffensive, coming across as the absent-minded professor type, and I recall his office well, a jumble of odds and ends, jars of orange solutions with glowing colored stones being “irradiated” with ultraviolet light, and a hodgepodge of other things. Max examined me, drew up a syringe full of I don’t think I want to know, and injected me RIGHT UNDER THE FLIPPING BREASTBONE with a needle that looked big enough to terrify Big Jake. I don’t think I fainted, and in reality the needle was probably a small subq, but I had never had an injection there and it rattled me considerable.  I don’t remember going out singing, as some of his patients seemed to do – maybe I got the low-octane stuff. But I’ll never forget it, and I’m tickled that I had an encounter with one of New York’s more infamous characters.

There was another set of stories that got told frequently at home, and I’m not sure if they are related to Dr. Max or not. In my mind, however, they were – so I’m going to relate them here anyway. I was put in mind of these stories by a delightful article over at “Oh God, my Wife is German” where the author talks about his wife’s love of “King of the Thorns.” Unless I’m totally off the mark, Max had a nurse at one point who was Teutonic in origin, and whose English was often flavored with Germanisms. The three instances I recall hearing the most often are:

  • “I’m sorry, you can’t see the doctor right now – he’s right in the middle of somebody very important!”
  • “Now this may hurt a bit, but don’t worry, you won’t last long!”
  • Patient: “Nurse, I need a vase.”  [1] Nurse: “Ja, and how big is your bouquet?”

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Footnotes:

[1] For the uninitiated, “vase” was hospital parlance for those portable urinals for bedridden patients.

[2] A subsequent search in 2017 turned up the article in question, from New York magazine and actually published on February 8, 1971.

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10 responses to “A Visit to Dr. Feelgood

      • No worries. I went several times at the behest of my mother. He was always very friendly although somewhat “zerstreut,” BTW, if you want me to pull the quoted text and patient list and simply provide links to them, I’d be happy to do that for you.

      • No problem. You can leave it as is. It is quite an interesting post. What did Jacobson treat you for?

      • Probably some form of ADHD, from which I still suffer… but have since survived by channeling it into a form of insatiable curiosity to which the Internet is admirably suited. I have modified the text of the post to more accurately reflect the source of the quoted material.

      • Were you given an injection of his “vitamin cocktail” If so, what was your reaction to it? Did it help your ADHD?

      • Yes, I got one of his “irradiated” solutions, right under the breastbone. He came at me so fast I didn’t have time to panic. I don’t think it really had any effect. My kingdom for a time machine… I’d gladly have tried an “extended protocol.”

  1. Pingback: Doctors: Then and Now. | Playing in the World Game

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