Hollywood & Chiropractic


Hollywood & Chiropractic

The power of motion pictures to shape our perceptions and to change our society’s consciousness is awesome. Indeed, the more impactful the stories are, the more we love them even when they make us think, flinch, and create in our heart and mind an uncomfortable state of cognitive dissonance, the beginning stage for change.

Such an example is this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Movie, 12 Years a Slave, a powerful reminder of the horror of slavery, just as The Help did a few years ago as a heart-wrenching reflection of racism upon African-American maids in the Jim Crow South during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Both movies tugged at our heartstrings evoking sadness, happiness, anger, and the shock of the human condition—the emotions that all good movies are made of.

Taboo is Good

In this year’s Oscars, Dallas Buyer’s Club also broached many topical themes such as homophobia, AIDS, and the battle with big Pharma, garnering Oscars for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Just a few years ago, these issues were still taboo, negatively cast in the mainstream media and movies, and certainly not the subject matter for popular consumption or approval.

Apparently broaching taboo issues is now good for business in Hollywood that, once it gets on the bandwagon, has the amazing ability to expedite social change. For example, same-sex marriage flipped from being illegal to a human right issue in a matter of a few years once the media changed public opinion.

Indeed, whether it’s Gone with the Wind (1939) or Schindler’s List (1993), there’s no going back to destructive attitudes from yesteryear once public opinion changes.

But where is our champion on the Silver Screen? Certainly chiropractic remains a controversial issue although most people have no idea why. Most folks have heard the ugly rumor mill churned by their MDs, most newscasters suffer the stigma disseminated by the AMA, but few understand that our image is contrived from unfounded and illegal slander as the Wilk trial revealed.

Even Judge Susan Getzendanner mentioned this in her opinion in the Wilk v. AMA trial:

“The [illegal] activities of the AMA undoubtedly have injured the reputation of chiropractors generally…In my judgment, this injury continues to the present time and likely continues to adversely affect the plaintiffs [chiropractors]. The AMA has never made any attempt to publicly repair the damage the boycott did to chiropractors’ reputations.”[1]

Certainly the AMA will never apologize or reconcile with the chiropractic profession as it did in 2008 when the AMA apologized to black MDs for its history of excluding black physicians from membership.

So, where is the definitive movie, the courageous spokesman, brave producer or actor espousing our story of struggle and equality? Presently we have no Fredrick Douglas, Betty Freidan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sidney Poitier, or Steven Spielberg to plead our case.

As a profession, we had hoped the film, Doctored, by producer Jeff Hays and director Bobby Sheehan would do just that for chiropractic, but alas, it failed to become a game-breaker. This film wandered into issues irrelevant to our mission, such as genetically modified foods, vaccines, Lyme disease, among other interesting but secondary issues to our cause.

Although Doctored openly dramatized the q-word epithet, the film failed to disprove that allegation by offering the scientific evidence showing our effectivenss, failing to take that next step from persecution to vindication considering every guideline now recommends conservative care over medical care for the majority of spine-related disorders.

While Doctored showed the emotional harm to chiropractors, it did not show the clinical harm this medical bigotry did to suffering patients.

Chiropractic in the Movies

Chiropractic has been a theme in a few noteworthy movies, the first being Come Back, Little Sheba with Burt Lancaster who played an alcoholic chiropractor and Shelley Booth, 

playing his wife, who remarkably also won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1952.The memorable line is when “Doc” laments that had he not been forced to leave medical school “I might have become real doctor.”[2]

A few other movies have used chiropractors as characters in a humorous fashion, such as Dan Akroyd in Doctor Detroit (1983), or in a bizarre fashion as we saw in a offbeat film with Tim Robbins, Jacob’s Ladder (1990), about a Vietnam war veteran haunted by hallucinations who is helped by his chiropractor, played by Danny Aiello. A lesser known film, Double Whammy (2001), with the gorgeous Elizabeth Hurley portraying a chiropractor went straight to video. Indeed, the real story showing the struggle, importance, and dedication about chiropractic has yet to be told.

The Chiropractor Behind the Stars

Perhaps the most fascinating story about Hollywood and chiropractic was the fact that the famous MGM Studio also had a in-house chiropractor, Dr. Terry Robinson.

Louis B. Mayer, the legendary Hollywood mogul at MGM, apparently had a very bad back. At his original MGM headquarters, (not to be confused with the casino in Las Vegas) he installed a chiropractic clinic on the third floor that was reserved exclusively for Mayer and his A-level producers, actors, and executives.

Dr. Robinson, a body-builder himself, not only treated the staff and stars, but was also involved in keeping the stars in shape; after all, MGM can’t have a flabby sex symbol. Under his care were such notables as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Mario Lanza, Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor, George C. Scott, and Glenn Ford.[3]

Knowing Mayer’s high regard for Dr. Robinson makes one wonder why he never made a film on the fascinating plight of chiropractic. Perhaps the timing was bad since the influence of Morris Fishbein, the Medical Mussolini, was very strong from the 1930s until 1950.

The damage Fishbein did to chiropractic in public perception can only be estimated, but it was huge. One chiropractic historian calls Fishbein “the most important non-chiropractor to influence the chiropractic profession.”[4]

Some believe it was Fishbein’s influence upon the producers of the New York stage version of Come Back, Little Sheba to portray the chiropractor as a loser.[5] The loser theme is still evident with the TV sitcom, Two and a Half Men.

From the early 1960s until 1980, the Committee on Quackery kept the medical demagoguery well entrenched in the public consciousness by using the media as its third-party albeit paid spokesmen. Just as Sen. Joe McCarthy kept Red-baiting alive by blackballing progressive Hollywood types as “un-American” until Gen. Eisenhower labeled him “evil and unmatched in malice,” the medical trolls remain active in the media and on the web to snub any accolades for chiropractors as we’ve seen repeatedly on CNN.

Chiropractic as Cause Célèbre

Like racism, the discrimination against chiropractors is well woven in our society on many levels. The medical discrimination against chiropractors remains embedded in our society as an “acceptable prejudice” because no one has ever explained the origin of this bigotry nor does the public understand the impact it has had upon their own lives.

Nor does our government health agencies understand the reason why back pain is the #1 disabling condition in our nation at a total cost of $300 billion annually is principally due to the medical boycott of chiropractors.[6]

Sadly, we’ve never had a Sidney Poitier as our champion to confront this “medical racism,” if you will, as he bravely confronted racial bigotry in our society. In 1964, Poitier won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lilies of the Field to become the first Oscar win by an African-American actor. He broke more racial barriers as a Northern detective in the Southern crime drama In the Heat of the Night, and in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, he played a young black man engaged to a beautiful white woman in this groundbreaking look at interracial marriage.

If Hollywood wants a great “chick-flick” with a similar shocking romance, let me suggest my novel, “Poisoned Love: when a chiropractor and an orthopedist fall in love,” This is a Romeo and Juliet story when lovers from opposing camps fall in love and are forced to discuss their ideological and clinical differences. Every chapter in this meta-fiction is a true story that I have encountered over my career; the only fiction is the romance itself, unfortunately.

On the other hand, if the Hollywood producers want a “message picture” to showcase the plight of chiropractors as a cause célèbre, I believe another movie called 112 Years a Chiropractor would be a powerful film that would combine the themes of three recent movies, 12 Years a Slave, The Help, as well as “42—the Jackie Robinson Story”.

The story of Jackie Robinson, the great Brooklyn Dodger, who broke the “color barrier” in MLB in 1947 reminds me of the struggle facing chiropractors; just like Jackie, being a chiropractor requires a thick skin, a strong backbone, and a resolute purpose.

When Jackie Robinson opened the door of apartheid in sports, he showed sport fans that equality and fairness produced better results than racism and segregation, and all American sports have followed in step.

Obviously integrating sports has been more important to some than integrating healthcare despite the federal laws and the need to do so considering back pain is the most disabling condition in the world. Just as black baseball players were segregated to the Negro Leagues until Robinson broke that barrier, chiropractors are still segregated in TRICARE, at the DVA, in local hospitals as well as workers compensation programs. Until every American has a “family chiropractor,” we cannot rest in our quest for integration and equality.

Chiropractic Documentary

The American public would be just as moved by such an in-depth documentary if they knew the heart and soul of our profession and understood how this medical war against chiropractors also affected their own health.

Let me give you a short preview casting chiropractors in the role as the most prominent fighters for freedom of choice in healthcare and, for nearly a century, it was a war chiropractors were to fight alone.

Unquestionably, the American Medical Association (AMA) has fought many so-called “wars” against cancer and heart disease, but its longest, most aggressive, and most illegal war was against chiropractors.

Certainly a conflict of ideas between these different approaches was inevitable, but this medical rivalry turned malicious from the beginning because it was never fought in a professional manner with scholarly seminars, comparative clinical research studies, or inter-professional debates.

Let me put this role into historical perspective. According to historian Russell W. Gibbons, chiropractors felt the brunt as one of the first grass roots movements in America:

…like abolitioinists, chiropractors were systematically persecuted and driven from town to town. Like the feminists and suffragettes, chiropractors were made objects of ridicule. And like the civil rights workers of more recent times, chiropractors were intimidated and subverted by agents and provacateurs. In the finest tradition of reform movements, they were imprisoned for their beliefs. [7]

From New York to Louisiana to California, chiropractors were routinely harassed, extorted, arrested, often ran out of town, and beaten up by the local police at the urging of the medical society. During the first half of the twentieth century, over 12,000 American chiropractors were prosecuted over 15,000 times, and some 3,300 were sent to jail for practicing medicine without a license.[8]

Until 1922, when a referendum was passed in California to protect chiropractors, roundups were used to jail chiropractors en masse as this account testifies:

In just one year [1921] 450 of approximately 600 chiropractors were hauled into court and convicted of practicing without a license. They were given jail sentences or the alternative of a fine. They chose to go to jail.[9]

If incarceration didn’t deter these stalwart DCs, then the medical goons resorted to more drastic tactics. Dr. Evon Barvinchack, a second-generation chiropractor, told me of a childhood event in the 1940s when the “Juice Man” from the local police department in Binghamton,

New York dragged his father out into the front yard and publicly beat him to squeeze him for extortion payoff.[10]

Instead of peaceful coexistence, the Medical Mussolini made his goal perfectly clear:

“Eight years ago [in 1932] officials of the American Medical Association met in secret conclave in Chicago and adopted the slogan ‘Chiropractic must die.’ They gave themselves ten years in which to exterminate it.”[11]

Political medicine used the courts to prosecute chiropractors, lobbied the state legislatures to resist licensing of chiropractors, fought against chiropractic educational improvements, and influenced the media to disparage the reputations of chiropractors. No leaf was left unturned in this campaign to destroy the chiropractic profession’s image and status.

Don’t tell me this war against chiropractors wouldn’t make for a shocking story if a movie producer knew of this predicament. Replete with the verbal abuse, epithets, beatings, and segregation from the omnipotent medical society, chiropractors could easily be portrayed as the oppressed minority despite our value to help millions of Americans and save billions of dollars.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance this revelation would make in the minds of viewers to realize they have been lied to for over a century about chiropractors as well as deceived about the best form of spine care. This revelation could flip our image overnight.

Instead, millions of patients were led down the medical path to opioid addiction that is only getting worse with stronger forms of synthetic heroine. Certainly the Hillbilly Heroin epidemic remains rampant as the so-called “pill mills” dispense opioid painkillers like Halloween candy, creating an unchecked epidemic of narcotic addiction to the point that Thomas Frieden, MD, director for the CDC, minced no words when he said, “physicians have supplanted street corner drug pushers as the most important suppliers of illicit narcotics.”[12]

Imagine the millions of patients who now suffer from failed back surgery that was never needed in the first place, based on the debunked “bad disc” theory still used by unscrupulous surgeons who fail to tell patients that “bad discs” often appear in pain-free patients.

Imagine the billions of dollars chiropractors could have saved the payers by improving outcomes if the medical boycott had never existed in hospitals, workers’ comp, and private insurance programs.

I daresay until this type of movie exposé is done, all other efforts will fall short to remove the stigma. Patient testimonials, aka, the Wonders of Chiropractic stories, the occasional newspaper articles or ads, the rare TV appearances, or the silly roles on TV may persuade some individuals, but they will not compare to the wholesale social change that one movie will accomplish that broaches the storyline I’ve outlined. Until we overcome the medical stigma that has besmirched our collective reputation, all else will fall short.

Until we have a champion to fight our cause for equality, until we produce a profound documentary or movie exposé that exceeds more than having a minor role with a chiropractor, or just appear as another issue in the long litany of issues illustrating the need for healthcare reform, we will remain embroiled in a contrived image unsuitable to reposition public opinion.

Until this nut is cracked, we DCs will continue to be the odd man out and the public will continue to suffer from inefficient medical spine care. Indeed, we must tell our story to help a suffering society and Hollywood is the best way to do so.

PS: If you have an idea for a storyline, please drop me a line. In the meantime, if you have time, you might enjoy my infomercial on YouTube. Let me know what you think, but keep in mind I am not an actor nor did I have the luxury of a big budget.

[1] Getzendanner, Memorandum Opinion and Order p. 10

[2] Russell W. Gibbons, From “Quacks To Colleagues?” Viewing the evolution of orthodox tolerance of deviant medical practice, Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, 1994;4(1):61-71.
[3] Terry Robinson, Iron Game History, July, 1992

[4] Russell W. Gibbons, From “Quacks To Colleagues?” Viewing the evolution of orthodox tolerance of deviant medical practice, Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, 1994 ;4(1):61-71.

[5] Russell Gibbons, “From Quacks to Colleagues,” p.4

[6]The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States Bone and Joint Decade, Copyright © 2008 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. ISBN 978-0-89203-533-5, pp. 21.

[7] R Gibbons, ibid. p. 67.

[8] Russell W Gibbons, “Go to Jail for Chiro,” Journal of Chiropractic Humanities 4 (1994): 61–71.

[9] B Inglis. The Case For Unorthodox Medicine, New York: GP Putnam (1963)

[10] E Barvinchack via private communication with JC Smith, 9-9-10.

[11] Wardwell WI. Alternative medicine in the United States. Soc Sci Med 1994;38:1061-1068. (Citing Reed L. The healing cults. Chap 3, Publ No.16 of the Committee on the Costs of Medical Care, p 5. University Press, Chicago, 1932)

[12] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Press Release, CDC Vital Signs: Overdose of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers—United States, 1999-2008; 2011: www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2011/t1101_presecription_pain_relievers.html .