Author and researcher Rick Lertzman and New York Times bestselling author Bill Birnes reveal heretofore unpublished material about the mysterious Dr. Feelgood. Through well-researched prose and interviews with celebrities including George Clooney, Jerry Lewis, Yogi Berra, and Sid Caesar, the authors reveal Jacobson’s vast influence on events such as the assassination of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy-Khrushchev Vienna Summit, the murder of Marilyn Monroe, the filming of the C. B. DeMille classic The Ten Commandments, and the work of many of the great artists of that era. Jacobson destroyed the lives of several famous patients in the entertainment industry and accidentally killed his own wife, Nina, with an overdose of his formula.
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About the Author
William J. Birnes: William J. Birnes, PhD, is an editor, publisher, literary agent, and television producer. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author and a guest host on several network television series.
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The Shocking Story of the Doctor who May Have Changed History by Treating and Drugging JFK, Marilyn, Elvis, and Other Prominent Figures
By Richard A. Lertzman, William J. Birnes
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2013 Richard A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes
All rights reserved.
JFK and Dr. Max Jacobson in Camelot
"If you look backwards, you face the future with your ass."
— Dr. Max Jacobson
"Mrs. Dunn is calling," the office receptionist announced.
A hunched-over, bespectacled man in a dirty, bloodstained lab coat looked up from under a curl of thick black hair, first at the syringe he was holding and then at his receptionist, and nodded. No matter what he was doing, Dr. Max Jacobson would take the call. "Mrs. Dunn" always took precedence.
"Mrs. Dunn" was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States. "Dunn" was the code name concocted by the president and the mysterious doctor from their earliest encounters. Ever since the first televised debate in the 1960 presidential campaign, Max Jacobson had become JFK's unofficial doctor, keeping him upright, functioning, and invigorated. But it was a tightly kept secret, hidden from the American public and — as much as possible — from the press corps that followed the young president everywhere he went. No American could know that his president was calling on a doctor who had fled the Nazi takeover of Germany and worked out of a small, cluttered Upper East Side Manhattan office to summon him to the White House, where from time to time he received "special" injections. And Dr. Max Jacobson, although proud of what he was doing, dutifully kept the secret.
Jacobson was on the radar of both the CIA and the FBI, not simply because of his proximity to JFK, but because in the eyes of these intelligence and counterespionage services, he had become a person of interest. In addition to his association with known communist agents, Jacobson was also treating CIA officers. Among those officers was former OSS officer and JFK family photographer Mark Shaw. Both FBI and CIA interest only intensified when Jack Kennedy's old college roommate, Chuck Spalding, introduced Jacobson to the then-Democratic candidate for president, whom Max began treating in 1960. As a consequence of Max's associations and his new relationship with JFK, his office was placed under surveillance.
FBI surveillance of Max's office noted, as did a reference in the CIA file, that Dr. Jacobson was treating an affluent, highly circumscribed clientele of patients, most of whom were connected to the arts. Although there was no speculation regarding the nature of Max's treatments, both agencies remarked that Max's high-profile clientele were devoted followers of the doctor. However, in at least one note in Max's FBI file, the agency said that although Max described himself as a researcher for treating multiple sclerosis, the FBI noted that the multiple sclerosis society referred to Jacobson as a "quack" and a "charlatan," a complaint that would later be lodged against him by Mark Shaw's ex-wife Gerrit Trotta.
On a Sunday in February 1963, Jacobson's office was nearly destroyed by a "break-in." Papers were removed, medical vials were missing, and the office was completely trashed. It had been assumed that the "raid" came from the FBI. When we acquired the FBI files through FOIA, there was much that was redacted and missing. JFK's orthopedic specialist, Dr. Han Kraus, suffered a similar break-in. His Manhattan office was ransacked once, which President Kennedy and others blamed on J. Edgar Hoover, who was compiling a file on the Kennedys for his own purposes of self-protection. Robert Kennedy had made no bones about wanting to replace Hoover at the FBI, even talking to police chief William H. Parker in Los Angeles about taking over the Bureau. Dr. Kraus wisecracked, "Even if Hoover had gotten his hands on Kennedy's files [which he didn't], all that would have happened is that he would have discovered that Kennedy did exercises."
Ken McKnight recalled, "The Food and Drug Administration was on Max's back the whole time I knew him. After he began treating JFK and he became president, the FBI also began snooping around."
Code-named "Dr. Feelgood" by the Secret Service detail guarding the president, Max Jacobson was an omnipresent figure among those surrounding President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline during the two-and-a-half years they occupied the White House. Jacobson and his wife had accompanied the president to meet Charles de Gaulle in Paris and would also be present at the Vienna summit with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in June 1961. The Jacobsons attended the president's birthday party at Madison Square Garden and were frequent visitors at the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, at the West Palm Beach winter White House, and at other celebrations. But only a select few, including the president's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, actually knew what was at the core of the president's relationship with Dr. Jacobson.
It was the medicine, and the president was addicted to it.
As would be revealed decades later in a nasty hearing before the New York state medical licensing board and an exposé in the New York Times, Max Jacobson's magic elixir was a concoction of different types of blood serum mixed with a powerful methamphetamine stimulant. This mixture of liquid methamphetamines injected directly into the president's bloodstream gave the president, who suffered constant pain from back injuries, a reliable source of energy and a mental high. But, as JFK, Jackie, Marilyn Monroe, and scores of Dr. Jacobson's other patients would ultimately discover, what "Miracle Max," as he was nicknamed by singer Eddie Fisher, touted as his liquid vitamin cocktail actually came at a huge cost. A regimen of methamphetamine resulted in severe neuropsychological reactions, including manic depression or bipolar disorder, hypersexuality, and paranoid hypergrandiosity. In President Kennedy's case, that reaction caused the almost stupor-like depression that he fell into while coming down from his meth high during the Vienna summit with Khrushchev and set into motion the chain of events that would ultimately cost him his own life.
Max Jacobson's connection to the Kennedys began in 1960, when one of Jacobson's patients, Chuck Spalding, Kennedy's former roommate at Harvard, placed a very confidential phone call to him to request a private consultation on behalf of an unidentified friend. This "friend" was in a tight situation, Spalding said, and needed Jacobson's medical advice. Jacobson had been introduced to Spalding by internationally known fashion photographer Mark Shaw, who was another of his patients. Jacobson had in turn met Shaw through his longtime friend, World War II Army Air Force glider pilot Lt. Col. Mike Samek, whose wife was an editor at New York's Mademoiselle magazine. Shaw, like Samek, had been an officer in the OSS during the war and, like most members of the American clandestine services, never left the profession. From the OSS, Shaw had become a nonofficial cover officer, or NOC, for the CIA, a job that required complete anonymity, a "legend," or a cover profession to mask what he really did, and the ability to insinuate himself into critical relationships to send intelligence information back to the agency.
As an internationally recognized photographer, Shaw had almost unlimited access to the popularly termed jet-set of the 1950s by virtue of his acclaimed magazine spreads featuring Audrey Hepburn, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Kaye, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Yves St. Laurent, and countless other high-profile notables in art, literature, and show business around the world. But the 1950s was also the decade of the Red Scare and the blacklist. With Senator Joseph McCarthy's hearings stoking the flames of fear, the American public became obsessively paranoid over the threat of Communist infiltration of American institutions, especially in the entertainment industry and halls of government. Mark Shaw, therefore, was the consummate fly on the wall, snapping away his photos and privy to intimate conversations held in unguarded moments, conversations of which he took very careful note.
Shaw also presented an additional opportunity to his handlers at the CIA. Because of his relationship with friends in high places, Shaw had established a relationship with the Kennedys and ultimately became the official Kennedy family photographer after JFK won the 1960 election. But, before that, Mark Shaw introduced his old friend Chuck Spalding to Dr. Jacobson. Soon Spalding, as well as Shaw, would become addicted to the substance in Max's magic injections. Thus, when Jack Kennedy called and complained of his lack of stamina during the campaign, Spalding placed the confidential phone call asking Max to consult with the then-Massachusetts senator, who was running for president against vice president Richard M. Nixon.
It was in the early fall of 1960, just before the celebrated, first televised presidential Kennedy-Nixon debate, when Spalding made the call. "Can you handle this consultation with utmost secrecy?" Spalding asked before finally identifying his former roommate by name. It was vital that Jacobson take extreme steps to avoid any public scrutiny. The last thing JFK needed was to be spotted visiting this strange Manhattan doctor. JFK had already been outed in the media over his health issues, and his campaign staff had spent time dispelling those potentially harmful rumors. Kennedy-the candidate's Addison's disease, constant back pain, high stress, migraines, and gastrointestinal disorders all had to be kept secret from the public.
There was acute vigilance by the Kennedy staff to keep JFK's illnesses under the radar. JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy, had carefully guarded this secret from the moment his son became a congressman and later passed this duty on to son Bobby. However, in May 1962, rumors swirled that JFK was under the care of Dr. Jacobson. Esquire magazine's managing editor, Harold Hayes, commissioned writer and Jacobson patient Arthur Steuer to do a story about JFK's employing Dr. Jacobson as his physician. Jacobson, who by 1962 felt secure in his position with JFK and was not shy at boasting about his treatment of the president, told Steuer of his relationship and history with the president. This caused a flap in the media that had to be quieted; the Kennedy advisors strongly believed that any leak of the president's illness would weaken the office of the president and strongly derail his influence, and Jacobson was later scolded for his loose talk. The task fell to none other than Mrs. Kennedy's chief of staff and social secretary Letitia Baldrige, who responded to Mr. Steuer's inquiry on White House letterhead, saying that her brother, Howard Malcolm Baldrige, Jr., a former secretary of commerce, was going to use Dr. Jacobson for his Marie-Strumpell disease, implying that it was not JFK who would receive treatment from the doctor. But, despite any cover-ups to the press, it was John F. Kennedy who invited Dr. Jacobson to the White House to treat him and Jackie, and it was he who ultimately asked Jacobson to move into the White House so he could be close at hand.
But none of what was in the future was evident in the summer of 1960 when JFK had his first meeting with Jacobson. At that time, Senator Kennedy was perceived by the media to be a youthful and vigorous naval war hero. The coverup of the senator's poor health was in full steam during the campaign, even though rumors were circulating concerning his wartime injuries and bad back. On July 5, 1960, Kennedy physicians Dr. Janet Travell and Dr. Eugene J. Cohen sent a signed letter to JFK for public dissemination that was created specifically for those they called the "media vultures," in which they flatly denied that the senator was in ill health. The letter stated, "As your physicians for over five years and [with] knowledge of your medical records for over 15 years, we wish to provide you with a straightforward brief medical statement concerning your health. ... As stated to you in our recent letter of 6/11/60 we reiterate that you are in superb physical condition ... you should see your doctors once or twice a year for a routine checkup ... no limitations are placed on your arduous activities ..." This letter was distributed to targeted friends in the press. It was an utter fabrication and a complete cover-up of Senator John Kennedy's physical condition.
With the old-line establishment physicians Travell and Cohen protecting the Kennedy mystique from the press, JFK looked below the radar to find relief from the persistent pain that was draining his strength and causing him great fatigue. Not unlike Michael Jackson, who sought out willing physicians to ease his pain, Kennedy reached out to his friends to find his own sub rosa doctor. And he found him on New York's Upper East Side.
Unlike the upscale and fashionable office of Dr. Travell on West 16th Street, just north of New York's Greenwich Village and only a few blocks away from Union Square, Max's East 72nd Street office in Manhattan was not a typical medical practice. It was more like a research lab with a celebrity waiting room. Actress Alice Ghostley's husband Felice Orlandi, who worked as Max's assistant for several years in the 1960s, remembered that Jacobson's "office was often a complete and utter disaster area. Papers were all over the office, waste cans were overfilled, syringes were strewn across the floor, empty vials were everywhere. He was too cheap to hire a cleaning service. His back lab was like a war zone. Max muttered and mumbled quite a bit. He reminded me a bit like Vincent Price in one of his horror films. His fingernails were just absolutely filthy and he reeked of tobacco and formaldehyde." Jacobson's close friend Mike Samek concurred about the office: "I tried to impress upon Max to clean up the office. In fact, I spent a weekend with a neighborhood kid and we built a wall of shelving in his lab to restore order. It even had slots where he could label the ingredients. Max had a perverse sense of humor and enjoyed the clutter. He claimed that there was an organization to the disorganization. There was very little regulation by the state in that time."
A frequent Jacobson patient, singer Eddie Fisher, later recalled that "the office looked more like a chemist's laboratory than a doctor's office and Max looked like a mad scientist, I guess. I remember noticing at our first meeting that his fingernails were filthy, stained with chemicals. He was nothing like any other doctor I'd ever met. He was a German refugee, with big thick glasses, a big thick accent, and a completely commanding personality."
Jacobson, who was sixty years old when he met Senator Kennedy, was still a robust man. He was a dedicated swimmer who stayed in good physical condition by doing multiple laps every morning. He had been an amateur boxer and studied jujitsu. He was barrel chested and quite muscular but had a prominent pot belly and cut "a hulking, disheveled figure ... [with] large horn-rimmed glasses with thick lenses [that] magnified roaming, unsettled eyes."
After taking the phone call from Chuck Spalding, Jacobson became anxious. A promised relationship with a politically prominent patient was as mysterious as it was exciting. Late that same afternoon, the senator showed up. The office, which was usually jam-packed with celebrity patients such as Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Alan Jay Lerner, and Anthony Quinn, was now deserted. Jacobson had cleared all of them out.
Just as Spalding had promised to his former roommate, the doctor was gracious, but he stared at the young Democratic presidential candidate through the eyes of a physician as well a civilian basking in the glow of the senator's charismatic presence. Jacobson stared long and hard because he believed that by looking directly into someone's eyes, he could learn everything there was to learn about the person. He was impressed by Kennedy's earnestness and what he perceived to be the candidate's clarity. He noted every aspect of Kennedy's physical condition even before they spoke. In his own records, Jacobson remembered JFK as especially thin, with long fatigue lines in his face and sagging cheeks.
The candidate said that he had given the slip to his security personnel because, as he made clear, he wanted complete anonymity. Jacobson reassured him that he would absolutely keep all their conversations confidential.
Although Senator Kennedy tried to be affable as he stood uncomfortably in Jacobson's office, the doctor could tell he was put off by the cramped space and Jacobson's disheveled appearance. To break the tension, Kennedy began by making small talk about Mark Shaw, who had just been put on a special assignment to photograph Kennedy and his family. Kennedy said that both Shaw and Chuck Spalding had spoken very highly of Jacobson's medical procedures, which had helped them overcome the intense strain of their professions. Both of them had recommended that Kennedy pay Jacobson a visit after a brutal primary campaign against senators Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson that left him in need of a jumpstart now that the general election campaign was in full swing.
Excerpted from Dr. Feelgood by Richard A. Lertzman, William J. Birnes. Copyright © 2013 Richard A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 JFK and Dr. Max Jacobson in Camelot 7
Chapter 2 A Kosher Butcher's Son 25
Chapter 3 Setting Up Shop in Berlin 45
Chapter 4 A New Life in Czechoslovakia and Paris 55
Chapter 5 Coming to America 61
Chapter 6 Milton Blackstone, Eddie Fisher, and the Tragic Undoing of Bob Cummings 75
Chapter 7 The Vienna Summit 91
Chapter 8 Max, Mel, and "The Mick" 105
Chapter 9 Marilyn 111
Chapter 10 Dallas 121
Chapter 11 The Whistle Blower 141
Chapter 12 The Final Days 147
Chapter 13 Miracle Max or Mad Max? 165
Max Jacobson Patient List 175