ROCKWELL: Well, good morning. This is the Lew Rockwell Show. And how great to have as our guest this morning, Mr. Bill Birnes, William J. Birnes.
Bill Birnes is — I could take up the whole show talking about his qualifications, all the books he’s written, the TV shows he’s hosted, his work as a literary agent. But I want to talk today about his really extraordinary book that he’s co-authored with Richard A. Lertzman. It’s called Dr. Feelgood: The Shocking Story of the Doctor Who May Have Changed History By Treating and Drugging John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Other Prominent Figures.
So, Bill, Dr. Max Jacobson was John F. Kennedy’s doctor. He injected him with methamphetamines, right, and a lot of people with methamphetamines. And this had a huge effect, for example, as you pointed out, on the first Kennedy/Nixon debate.[amazon asin=1629145661&template=*lrc ad (right)]
BIRNES: Yes. Our contention in the book is that here’s the story of how a drug managed to get itself addicted with various very high-profile individuals and actually changed the course of American history, probably world history. And had it not been for Max Jacobson’s treatment of JFK in 1960, especially prior to the first debate, but also during the campaign, Nixon, who was ahead in the polls going into that first debate in 1960, would probably have remained ahead in the polls and possibly won the presidential election. That would have been very likely. But when Kennedy walked into Jacobson’s office, he was a candidate and he was completely wiped out, totally fatigued, in unbelievable pain in his back. He was walking on crutches for most of the time and had a whole constellation of symptoms. He had irritable bowel syndrome. He had digestive issues. He certainly had severe back pain because he had injured his back. But he was also heavily fatigued. He was drained. He had Addison’s disease. And what Jacobson’s injections did — they were 30 milligrams of methamphetamine. What they did was give Kennedy an enormous amount of perceived energy, covering up a lot of his symptoms. When he came back to Jacobson before that first debate, he had no voice. He was hoarse and sick. And what Jacobson did was he injected Kennedy directly into his larynx, directly into his voice box; and immediately, within minutes, Kennedy’s energy returned, his voice returned, and he really overpowered Nixon in that first debate. And the polls shifted after that first debate, from Nixon’s being slightly ahead to Kennedy’s being slightly ahead. And the polls never changed after that first debate, even though Nixon won the subsequent debates.
ROCKWELL: Well, very interesting. And of course, he continued to inject Kennedy and inject a lot of other people. Tell us a little bit, before we go on, about other famous people and what maybe the consequences of these injections were, tell us about Jacobson’s background.
BIRNES: He got his medical degree in Berlin, all the way back right about the time of World War I. And he had done his residency in surgery. And at that time — we’re talking 1919, 1918 — at that time, antiseptic procedures in operating rooms were very lax. In fact, one of the things Jacobson said — because we have a lot of his quotes — one of the things Jacobson said was that even minor operations were successful but the infection rate was so high that a lot of patients died. So the old statement, “The operation was a success, too bad the patient died.” And that was because of the antiseptic procedures. They just didn’t exist. Patients died of all kinds of infection. So Jacobson tried to avoid surgery as much as possible. And he focused on a movement in Germany in the medical profession that said that when treating a neuromuscular disease or a blood issue, if you could affect a cure to someone’s blood, add rejuvenating components to a person’s blood, then the blood itself — as ludicrous as it sounds — that the blood itself would affect the healing. So it’s kind of a strange version of homeopathic healing.
So what Jacobson did was he was using all of these regenerative tissues from other animals. He would use human stem cells. He would use eel glands. Eels are great because they’re like earth worms; cut an eel and the eel simply grows a new part that you cut off. So he thought, hmm, maybe I can apply that to human beings. He was using the sexual organs of sheep and goats and things like that, as well as human placentas. So imagine this guy experimenting with that kind of material, those kinds of chemicals. To test the effectiveness of how these drugs would make a person feel, Jacobson began injecting himself and got phenomenally sick but then recovered. And he thought, since I recovered, if I covered up the ill effects, the instant shock effects of these drugs with methamphetamine, which was heavily in use in Germany right about the end of World War I, if I could do that, maybe my patients will not feel the ill effects of my drugs; they’ll feel good while the other elements, the other chemicals are affecting the cure. And that’s how he concocted his special vitamin injections. They weren’t vitamins at all. They were methamphetamines. And he began injecting himself.
But the problem with methamphetamine is that the methamphetamine molecule — and this is why it works — that the methamphetamine molecule mimics the shape of a chemical called dopamine, and that’s a neural chemical. Dopamine hits the pleasure centers of the brain, and when it does, it makes somebody feel good. That’s the whole point of Dr. Feelgood. So what Jacobson decided to do was use methamphetamine to cover up the ill effects of the chemicals and, in so doing, he thought, while the person’s body is rejuvenating, they would feel good. That’s how Jacobson discovered this particular drug and he began using it on his patients in Germany. And then after the Nazis came to power and Jacobson fled to Prague and Vienna and then Paris, he began using it as a regular drug.
Now remember, this is the same drug that’s in chemicals today, Ritalin and Aderal, for ADHD, right, because it helps you focus. It’s in much lower amounts but it’s the same drug. So Jacobson began to make people feel good and these were celebrity clients, first in Paris, then in New York. And his reputation grew as a doctor who would give you an injection that would make you feel good; hence, his name, Dr. Feelgood. And that’s what drew Kennedy to seek Jacobson for help when he was fatigued and very, very sick during the fall election of 1960.
ROCKWELL: What was the connection? How did he know to go to Dr. Feelgood?
BIRNES: One of Kennedy’s best friends was his old college roommate, Chuck Spalding. Remember the little pink rubber balls? Spalding balls?
BIRNES: Chuck Spalding, from that family. Well, Chuck Spalding was a patient as well as another person called Mark Shaw. And here’s where the story gets really interesting. Mark Shaw was a photographer. He was a high-fashion photographer. He was the guy who did all those celebrity books on Audrey Hepburn and a lot of great stars; traveled the world photographing stars. But Mark Shaw, who was friends with Chuck Spalding — by the way, Mark Shaw had been in the OSS in World War II as a pilot. He was in the OSS in World War II and, after the war, became what’s known as a non-official cover officer — it’s called a NOC, a non-official cover officer — for the CIA. Basically, he was a CIA asset but he wasn’t one of the analysts, you know, basically covering, doing the work. He was basically like Mission Impossible; he was kind of a spy. Part of the virtue of having somebody in the CIA who was a fashion photographer was he was going all over the world with a perfect, perfect cover. I mean, imagine the cover. You’re photographing all these stars in Switzerland and France and Germany and all over the world, but you really are a CIA agent, so you’re reporting on what you’re seeing. Mark Shaw was also a patient of Max Jacobson and a good friend of Max Jacobson. So the CIA had a guy who was literally in Jacobson’s entourage.
The aspect of Max Jacobson that was also fascinating was that in the 1930s in Vienna, before obviously he went to Paris and then New York, was that he was turned by Soviet Secret Services. This was before the KGB, before the military and the KGB. He became a Soviet operative and he was dealing with Soviet spies in Europe. And one of his reasons was that the Soviets were opposing Hitler and he had to flee Germany because of Hitler so he saw the Soviets as a counter force. But by the time he came to the United States, he was heavily involved with Soviet agents. So you’ve got this doctor who is treating all these celebrities who literally is a Soviet listening post in New York, and one of his patients is a CIA non-official cover officer. So it’s almost like a spy versus spy.
When Kennedy comes into the picture through his college roommate, Chuck Spalding, both the CIA and the FBI, both of whom were surveilling Jacobson, knew that they suddenly had a great asset in Max Jacobson, albeit unwilling; and hence, the spy story begins to move forward.
ROCKWELL: Well, interesting. Do you think either the KGB or the CIA or both of them wanted Kennedy on methamphetamines for their own reasons?
BIRNES: The CIA didn’t want him on methamphetamines because the CIA realized that a person on methamphetamines could be very dangerous. Kennedy’s behavior was behavior that was typical of a meth addict. He gravitated between extraordinarily high mania — see, the thing is the more meth you inject, the more it takes to get that feel-good feeling because your brain is being flooded with dopamine and it becomes, like any other drug, resistant to the effects to methamphetamines, so you need more meth to make you feel good. And that was the problem with Kennedy; he kept on upping his doses. And that worried the CIA. And of course, they knew it was going on because they knew what Max Jacobson was doing; they were surveilling his office; and they had their own guy inside Max Jacobson’s office, Mark Shaw. Kennedy began acting out in these bizarre ways. He began running naked through a hotel, through the Carlyle Hotel. He was seeing a lot of call girls and prostitutes. He was having prostitutes come to the White House. He would[amazon asin=0316360678&template=*lrc ad (right)] arrange these acid nations, these trysts with prostitutes in New York. He’d slip away from his Secret Service detail all the time. He was high on meth when he was doing this because one of the effects that methamphetamine has is, besides this feeling of hyper-grandiosity, right — you can rule the world, you’re king of the world, that stuff — it’s also hyper-sexuality. And that is what was affecting Kennedy. And Seymour Hersh writes about this in his book, The Dark Side of Camelot. So Kennedy was heavily affected by that. But he was also taking LSD and he was also taking other drugs. So the CIA was very worried about having a president under the influence of these drugs that were making him behave in bizarre ways.
ROCKWELL: Tell us, Bill, about other important people. I mean, this story, Jacobson and methamphetamine and related items, tells us something about the murder of Marilyn Monroe as well.
BIRNES: Right. Well, Jacobson was very influential within the entertainment community both in New York and Hollywood. One of his patients was Billy Wilder. Another one was Cecil B. DeMille; Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote Camelot and another play, My Fair Lady. Tennessee Williams was a patient. So was Truman Capote, who wrote In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He had a very high literary and show business clientele. And one of the people who was spreading the Jacobson gospel was this publicity agent called Milton Blackstone. Blackstone was Eddie Cantor’s agent. He was Eddie Fisher’s agent. He got the singer Eddie Fisher, who married Debbie Reynolds — Princess Leia’s father, right? Eddie Fisher became quickly addicted and got into that coterie. Jacobson became so influential within the Hollywood community — this was in the 1950s — that his other patients were people like Marilyn Monroe, who was brought to Jacobson by Paula Strasberg, at the Actor’s Studio, and she became a patient in the 1950s. Reginald Rose, Paddy Chayefsky, Rod Serling, all were visiting Max Jacobson — the actor, Bob Cummings. And so his influence was spreading through the entertainment community.
The issue with Marilyn Monroe is that she was already an at-risk individual, extraordinarily vulnerable. She had been raped by her step-father, sexually assaulted by her step-father. Her own father, she didn’t even know who he was. She had been passed from family to family, in foster care. She was extraordinarily moody. Her marriages had failed. She’d married Joe DiMaggio. That failed. Her first marriage had failed. DiMaggio was her second marriage. Then she married Arthur Miller. That failed. I mean, she was really an unhappy, depressed person. So the injections from Max Jacobson made her feel good. But the problem was that the more she had, the more she needed.
So finally, she’s seeing Kennedy. She’s having an affair with Jack Kennedy. And she’s invited to sing Happy Birthday to him at his birthday party at Madison Square Garden. This is 1962. But Marilyn Monroe did not perform live on stage; she was a movie actress, so she is performing before the camera, not before a live audience, which meant you could do any kind of retakes, set up a scene again, do editing. Doing the performance live was a frightening thing for her, as it was for Jackie Kennedy, by the way, who was also a Max Jacobson patient. So Marilyn Monroe, she’s set to go on, she’s in this phenomenally sexy, skin-tight dress, and she refuses to on stage; she refuses to sing. “I can’t do it, I’m afraid.” So what the Kennedy’s did was they got Jacobson to give her a massive injection of methamphetamines that pretty much were part of a stumble-bum stupor. So she goes on stage, sings “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” but she’s not drunk. She’s high on meth at the time. And then in a pit of depression — and she’s being watched by Peter Lawford. Right? She’s back in L.A. She’s being watched by Peter Lawford. She starts making threats against the president: “Oh, I’m going to tell the press about that secret air base you have in Nevada. I’m going to tell the press about how you’re trying to kill Fidel Castro.” And the CIA is taping her. They’ve wiretapped her phone, so they’re taping all this stuff and they’re transcribing it. And they realize, from what she’s threatening Bobby Kennedy with, that Jack Kennedy has been talking out of school. He has been divulging state really highly classified secrets to his girlfriend. Now they’re on alert. Who else is Kennedy talking to? Is he talking to the prostitutes he’s dealing with? Is he doing pillow talk with other women?
Another mistress Kennedy had was Mary Meyer. Mary Meyer had been married to Cord Meyer, who was a CIA agent, and she was a Kennedy mistress, and she was good, good friends with him. Besides having sexual affairs with him, they were good friends. And she’d go back and forth to Harvard, because they knew each other from Harvard, and she was bringing LSD from Timothy Leary to Kennedy. So what was Kennedy telling Mary Meyer about state secrets? Well, whatever it was, she was writing it in her diary. So we know after Kennedy was assassinated, Mary Meyer is killed in Georgetown.
And the CIA, specifically James Jesus Angleton, who was the head of the counter-espionage unit of the CIA — he was a big counter-spy guy — he breaks into Mary Meyer’s house to steal her diary. And who discovers him in the house? None other than Mary Meyer’s sister, Toni Bradlee. But Toni Bradlee is married to Ben Bradlee, of The Washington Post, who strikes a deal with Angleton — this is all fact. This is not supposition — strikes a deal with Angleton, here, take the diary and give it back. Angleton takes the diary, he reads it, he suggests to Ben Bradlee and Toni Bradlee that this diary should really be destroyed. Of course, Toni Bradlee — she was very old when we interviewed her, of course –told us exactly what was in the diary. It was state secrets. Kennedy was talking to her. And intermingling, mixed in with Kennedy’s visions of a progressive, one-world government and things like that, all stuff that we take for granted today, in there were stories about things like the secret air base in Nevada, outside of Rachel, Nevada — now we call it Area 51 — what kind of stuff they were working on — they were building the S.R. 71, the Blackbird, the spy plane — things like that, and other kinds of things. So that’s what was going on with Kennedy and Mary Meyer. I mean, she was killed because they knew that Mary Meyer knew some of the secrets. But that was the extent of Max Jacobson’s influence upon everybody.
ROCKWELL: Also, Elvis was given these drugs. Do you think that helped bring on his early death?
BIRNES: Well, the story of Elvis was that Colonel Parker, who not a colonel, who was not even an American — in fact, he fled from Eastern Europe because he had murdered somebody. That was Colonel Parker. Colonel Parker was a Max Jacobson patient, along with a lot of other people, like Mickey Mantle and people like that. A Max Jacobson patient. Colonel Parker, seeing Elvis Presley’s energy began to flag, suggested Presley get a shot from Max. Well, Presley said that when he got the injection from Jacobson, he felt as though his whole body was on fire. And even though Presley took other stimulants, Presley said he was frightened to death of the effect of methamphetamines on his system. But depending upon who we spoke to, whether it was Eddie Fisher or whether it was this other guy, Mike Semak, who was one of Jacobson’s best friends, Presley was a repeat patient. Other people said, no, Presley took an injection once and that was the end of it. So that’s kind of up in the air. But we know that Presley did visit Max Jacobson because Colonel Parker set that up.
ROCKWELL: Wow. Well, this is an extraordianry book, Bill Birnes, that you are the co-author of, Dr. Feelgood. I hope everybody buys it and reads it because it’s quite a story, quite an amazing — I mean, it seems like high fiction, but it’s actually just the plain truth about one aspect of American government, American entertainment and American medical life.
So thanks for writing it, thanks for all you do, and thanks for coming on the show today.
BIRNES: My pleasure.
ROCKWELL: Thank you, Bill. Bye-bye.
Podcast date, June 25, 2013