Matt Damon has signed to take on real-life doctor John R. Brinkley in the independent drama Charlatan. Matt Damon will star as Brinkley, and also produce alongside his longtime partner Jennifer Todd through their Pearl Street Films company, with Kimberly Steward's K Period Media also joining in. Both Matt Damon and Kimberly Steward previously worked together in producing last year's Best Picture nominee Manchester-By-The-Sea.
Variety reports that the project will be based on the 2008 book "Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam," which was written by Pope Brock. The screenplay will be adapted by the writing team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders, Billions). While there is no studio attached for this true story adaptation quite yet, WME negotiated the deals with talent and will oversee worldwide sales for the film.
John R. Brinkley studied for two years at Bennett Medical College in Chicago, an unaccredited school that focused on eclectic medicine. He worked as a telegrapher for Western Union at night, while focusing his studies on glandular extracts and how they affect the human body. He was forced to drop out of the school after mounting debts from tuition and raising his family, so he ended up getting a fake degree from a diploma mill called the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University. After a failed business in Greensville, South Carolina, he finished his studies at the Eclectic Medical University and his real diploma granted him the right to practice medicine in eight states, and in 1918, he set up shop in Milford, Kansas, where he began his great scheme.
John R. Brinkley opened a 16-room clinic in Milford, Kansas, and quickly became a local favorite, after nursing several flu patients back to health after the 1918 flu pandemic. One patient came to him, asking if he could fix someone who was "sexually weak," with the doctor joking that he wouldn't have these problems if he had goat testicles transplanted into him. The patient reportedly begged the doctor to perform the operation, which he did, and as word spread, this impotence procedure quickly made him quite rich. The first patient was able to impregnate his wife, which lead to a rash of publicity, as Brinkley started promoting goat glands as the cure to a wide variety of other ailments like dementia, emphysema and flatulence.
The fraudulent doctor became so rich that he even started his own radio station, but all of this attention eventually put him on the radar of Morris Fishbein, who had made a living by debunking medical frauds like Brinkley. The doctor would be sued for wrongful death more than a dozen times between 1930 and 1941. In 1930, during a hearing to determine whether his medical license should be revoked, it was revealed that Brinkley signed 42 death certificates, many of whom were for patients who weren't even sick before showing up at his clinic. His medial license was ultimately revoked, as was his broadcast license, and in 1939, Brinkley filed a libel lawsuit against Fishbien for a series of articles that highlighted his fraudulent practices. He passed away from heart failure, penniless from all of the lawsuits filed against him, in 1942.