By Diane Jarrett
The doctor stood there looking at his patient with a mixture of compassion and horror. Somehow the treatment had gone terribly, terribly wrong. What had started promisingly as innovative therapy for serious trauma wounds had resulted in the ultimate unexpected side effect.
The patient had been transformed into an alligator.
Perhaps this is not surprising when you consider that the doctor had been possessed by the devil only 15 years earlier. Oh wait — that turned out to be just a bad dream.
In a way, all of the above is a dream, from the standpoint that I’m talking about movies and movie doctors as portrayed by George Macready (1899-1973), a stage, film, and TV actor whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s. Along the way, he was a devil-possessed doctor in The Soul of a Monster (1944) and an awesomely inept endocrinologist in The Alligator People (1959). And you thought you had personal problems, or had treated patients with scaly skin.
What has this to do with Family Medicine, you ask?
My department chair said basically the same thing when I told him that I had just obtained my first national publication, not in Family Medicine or JAMA or any of the journals that classic film fans would call the “usual suspects.” No, my debut was in Films of the Golden Age, and my topic was the life and career of George Macready. Macready is best remembered for playing Rita Hayworth’s husband in Gilda (1946), director Stanley Kubrick’s cruel World War I general in Paths of Glory (1957), and the patriarch Martin Peyton in TV’s Peyton Place from 1965 to 1968.
My Macready publication, which in part addressed his roles as physicians in The Soul of a Monster and The Alligator People, did nothing for my career advancement. Publishing essays about the lives of classic movie actors doesn’t count in Family Medicine for promotion, tenure, or anything like that. Zilch. No matter how often I’m published in film history journals (eight times so far) or how much acclaim I receive in film circles, the medical profession is unimpressed.
I’m not a medical doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. My background is in education and journalism, and I came to work in a Family Medicine residency program long after I diagnosed myself as having a serious case of classic film passion. Writing about clinical topics or education related to clinical topics had never been on my radar. It is now, but my heart continues to compel me to spend some of those hours that might be assigned to Annals of Family Medicine on researching the lives of actors such as William Boyd, Richard Todd, and others.
Being a published film historian is not the same as being published in a medical journal, of course. Still, I can’t help but wish that my avocation could be considered as support for my vocation. Thus far it seems unlikely, though I point out George Macready’s medical “connections” at every possibility.
Since promotion is important to me, I’ll continue to faithfully seek opportunities to publish in periodicals that count, kind of like the group called Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, in their song from the 1970s, sought to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. (That wouldn’t have counted for them either, despite having the word “medicine” in the name of their band.) In my personal time, though, I’ll continue to research and write about actors who might have at least played doctors in the movies.
Meanwhile, I can only hope that someone comes up with a peer-reviewed journal entitled Medicine in the Movies.
Diane Jarrett, Ed.D., is the Director of Education and Communications in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. She is also the Assistant Director of the residency program.