The Tale Of The '40s Evangelical 'Doctor' Officially Dubbed 'King Of The Quacks'
In the 1940s, Curtis Springer, who had completed a 9th-grade education and nothing more, once convinced everyone (besides the feds, more on that later) that he was a highly trained medical professional. Known to make up college degrees on the spot depending on who he engaged with, Springer went as far as building his own spa and private resort in California's Mojave Desert.
As a self-proclaimed vitamin salesman, his "cures" were his very own concoctions of non-FDA-approved-God-knows-what. He evaded taxes, eventually landing him in jail for a quick 49 days. Countless other acts of lunacy were created by this self-appointed physician who thrived in his misleading identity and corrupt ownership of his famous resort.
So how did this fraud raise funds for his "career?" Yet to be discovered as a total quack in the medical industry, Springer broadcasted his evangelical ideas about health and wellness to the masses on his very own radio show. Syndicated on over 200 US stations and over 100 abroad, he advertised his seminars on health because why sell himself short when he could be, say, a "lecturer" too?
As he grew his phony identity, he made sure to credit himself as a student of places like the American College of Doctors and Surgeons, the Springer School of Humanism, or the extremely vague National Academy, all utterly fictional institutions. He constantly entertained himself with titles such as Reverend, M.D, and Ph.D., often alternating between the three. As he continued his free lectures, he persuaded his guests to gift him donations "while further seeking to interest the attendees in $25 per session private psychoanalysis courses." Perhaps his greatest asset was pulling things from his behind, leading him to earn the title of "King of Quacks" by the American Medical Association in 1969.
This wasn't the only deceitful way Springer cashed in his checks. He had already begun his fraudulent journey when he first snagged the aforementioned Mojave Desert land in 1944, having opened a mining claim. He had officially named his space Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort. While rolling in the dough for the next 30 years, his land contained a library and lecture room, a pool, a dining facility, a goat and rabbit farm, as well as a two-story castle.
Springer had a post office built for him in a surrounding town to keep up with the copious amounts of mail he received as he sold his products across the US. This included his Nerve Cell Food, Hollywood Pep Cocktail, and Antediluvian Herb Tea, all of which mean nothing to the average person other than a potion he came up with from the top of his head. According to an article from the National Park Service, "a former employee described Doc Springer's formula as 10% crust from Soda Lake and 90% Epsom salts." Panic really struck when sick people who visited Zzyzx needed legitimate medical attention and were stuck with a compulsively lying twit in a lab coat.
Eventually, Springer would be accused of tax evasion by the IRS, and the FDA summoned him for false advertising. He was arrested and, in 1974, convicted, leading to his short jail sentence. He died in Las Vegas, his final dwelling, in 1985.
On the bright side, this con man didn't leave the world with nothing. Springer's naming of Zzyzx served as inspiration for the lowest-grossing movie of all time, the 2006 film Zyzzyx Road, starring Katherine Heigl. Earning a whole $30 from six viewers during its run in a Dallas, Texas movie theater:
And despite his lying, deceiving, and obscure character, the parcel of land Springer once used to completely take advantage of people is now a nature preserve. Home to the Desert Studies Center, California State University manages the upkeep of a rare species of fish inhabiting its waters and is home to real researchers and environmental studies students, and desert ecologists. Not too shabby of an unintentional contribution from a 1940s swindler.
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Top Image: Curtis Springer