By WILLIAM BRYK | September 20, 2005
Not written but posted by Lou Sheehan
By the late 1930s, German refugee Max Jacobson, M.D., had established a general practice on the Upper East Side catering to writers, musicians, and entertainers who nicknamed him “Miracle Max” or “Dr. Feelgood” for the “vitamin injection” treatments that made them happy and gave them seemingly limitless energy. Jacobson’s panacea was 30 to 50 milligrams of amphetamines – the mood-elevating neural energizers also known as speed – mixed with multivitamins, steroids, enzymes, hormones, and solubilized placenta, bone marrow, and animal organ cells.
He could boast with truth that his patients “went out the door singing” – a fact perhaps reflected in the memorable Aretha Franklin hit:
I got me a man named ‘Dr. Feelgood’
And oh yeah, that man takes care of all my pains and my ills…
And after one visit to Dr. Feelgood
You’d understand why Feelgood is his name
Seeing celebrities such as Anthony Quinn, Tennessee Williams, or Eddie Fisher waiting for a booster shot in Jacobson’s office was not unusual. He did business at all hours: When Alan Jay Lerner was working around the clock on a musical, he might see Miracle Max five times daily, sometimes as late as 11 p.m. Truman Capote found Jacobson’s shots caused “instant euphoria. You feel like Superman. You’re flying. Ideas come at the speed of light. You go 72 hours straight without so much as a coffee break.”
Of course Jacobson’s mixtures merely concealed his patients’ symptoms without meeting their emotional needs. Moreover, long-term use of amphetamines in Jacobson-size doses can cause paranoia and symptoms of schizophrenia, and discontinuing it suddenly often causes sudden extreme depression and reappearance of the symptoms that led to amphetamine use in the first place.
Still, short-term relief is better than none to him who suffers, and particularly to him who carries a heavy burden of responsibility. And so it was that Jacobson came to treat the First Patient.
It’s now well-known that John F. Kennedy’s vigorous public image was a facade. In fact, it concealed infirmities that often left him unable to climb a flight of stairs or put on his own socks. His pharmacopoeia was terrifying, as historian Robert Dallek writes: “Steroids for his Addison’s disease, pain-killers for his back, antispasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary-tract infections, antihistamines for allergies and, on at least one occasion, an antipsychotic … for a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed had been brought on by the antihistamines.”
Mutual friends introduced JFK to Jacobson during the 1960 campaign. The first shot elevated his mood. From then on, it was clear sailing. Miracle Max shot up the president before the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the major state addresses, and even the 1961 Vienna summit meeting with Nikita Khrushchev. Secret Service files and the White House gate log confirm that Jacobson saw JFK no fewer than 34 times through May 1962.
Did Kennedy experience any of the impatience, irritability, and grandiosity, an exaggerated sense of personal power, that amphetamines so often produce? Clearly not: Kennedy’s court historians maintain that his illnesses and drug use didn’t affect his presidency. In any case, in June 1962, when Attorney General Robert Kennedy advised his brother to stop using Jacobson’s concoctions, the president replied, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.”
Jacobson himself became increasingly bizarre during the late 1960s. His amphetamine purchases became sufficient for more than 100 strong doses daily. He was buying a weekly average of 1,270 needles and 650 syringes. Favored patients could describe their symptoms by mail or telephone; Jacobson mailed them vials and disposable needles without an examination. According to one of his nurses, “When he gave an injection he would just spill … his medical bag on the table and rummage around amid a jumble of unmarked bottles and nameless chemicals. … He would see 30 patients or more a day. He worked 24 hours a day, sometimes for days on end … he was injecting himself with the stuff.”
As one patient later recounted, “My last shot was a blood-red thing about a foot long. I went blind for two days, and when my eyesight finally came back, I threw away all my speed and hung up my works on the living room lampshade.” When Kennedy photographer Mark Shaw, another Jacobson patient, died in 1969 at age 47, the city’s chief medical examiner concluded Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.”
In early December 1972, Jacobson’s practice was exposed in the city dailies. He was charged with 48 counts of unprofessional conduct, and in 1975 the State Department of Education revoked his license. His 1979 application to regain it was denied, and state spokesmen explained that Jacobson, then 79, seemed unready to enter the “mainstream of practice.” Eventually Miracle Max faded into obscurity.