It was May 31, 1961, when Air Force One, carrying American President John and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, landed on the tarmac at Orly Airport in Paris. The president was less than five months into his term of office and this was his first European stop. The Kennedys were greeted by French President Charles DeGaulle and Madame DeGaulle. The contrast between the trim and stylist Americans and their “grizzled” counterparts was striking.
“As soon as the crowds pressed against the airport fences spotted Jackie in her navy-blue silk suit and black velvet pillbox hat, they broke into a rhythmic chant: ‘Vive Jacqui! Vive Jacqui!’ (1)
Hundreds of thousands of people followed their motorcade through the streets of Paris, waving little French and American flags as the open limousine carrying Jack and DeGaulle passed by. When the second car appeared, carrying Jackie and Madame DeGaulle, the crowd sent up a wild roar. Later, during an official luncheon at the Palais de L’Elysée, Jackie chattered away in French about Louis XVI, the Bourbons, and French geography. DeGaulle turned to Jack Kennedy and said:
“‘Your wife knows more French history than any Frenchwoman!’ [He then] turned back to Jackie and did not take his eyes off her for the rest of the meal.” (1)
The next night was the big event of the three-day visit: a candlelit supper in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palais de Versailles. Jackie wanted to look extra good. But to look good, Jackie had to “feel good” – and Jackie didn’t. She suffered from migraines and depression since her C-section 6 months earlier. Jack didn’t feel good either. His back pain was agonizing. That’s why, on this trip to Europe, Jack had brought along not just his extra-firm horsehair mattress but New York physician Max Jacobson. Presidential photographer and friend Mark Shaw had referred President Kennedy to Dr. Jacobson. Jacobson’s “miracle injections” instantly stopped Jack Kennedy’s pain. Jack didn’t know what was in the shots – only that they worked.
The night of the Versailles dinner, Max visited Jack Kennedy at the Palais des Affaires Estrangères. Jack occupied a suite of rooms called ”the King’s Chamber” in the elegant 19th Century palace on the Quai d’Orsay. The president soaked his back in “a gold-plated bathtub the size of a pingpong table” (2) then Max gave him his customary injection. Max then ambled down the long hallway to the Queen’s Chamber and was admitted to Jackie’s bedroom.
“Jackie sat in front of a mirror, being fussed over by Alexandre, the famous Parisian hairdresser, and a bevy of his assistants….In another part of the room, Jackie’s maid was laying out two different gowns for the evening – one an American design by Oleg Cassini, and the other a French creation by Hubért de Givenchy. Earlier, Jackie had planned to wear the Cassini [Jack preferred her to wear American clothes], but then she was not so sure.” (2)
Alexandre finished with Jackie’s hair and left the room so she could slip into her gown. But first Jackie motioned to Max. She was ready for her shot. The short, dark-haired man with the red cheeks and German accent reached into his black doctor’s bag and withdrew a syringe.
“He injected his magic elixir into her buttock. She was ready for Versailles. She took one last look at the two ball gowns hanging side-by-side…and chose the one she knew would attract the more favorable reaction from the French press [and play up her French bloodline]. She slipped into the Givenchy….” (2)
Jackie dazzled everyone at the dinner, and it is no wonder. Dr. Jacobson’s shots were a mixture of amphetamines, vitamins, painkillers, and human placenta. (3) The mysterious physician referred to his particular brand of therapy as “miracle tissue regeneration.”
“You feel like Superman,” said writer Truman Capote, one of the high-profile clients who experienced instant euphoria from Dr. Feelgood’s injections of ‘speed.’ “You’re flying. Ideas come at the speed of light. You go 72 hours straight without so much as a coffee break….Then you crash….” (2)
The crash for Dr. Jacobson came in 1969 when his patient and Kennedy friend Mark Shaw died at the young age of 47 due to “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.” The Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs discovered that Dr. Jacobson was buying huge quantities of amphetamines in order to deliver high level amphetamine doses to his clients. “Miracle Max” and many of his clients had become amphetamine addicts. Dr. Jacobson’s medical license was revoked in 1975.
(1) Spoto, Donald. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
(2) Klein, Edward. All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996.
(3) Leaming, Lawrence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of An American Family. New York: Random House, 1994.