35. Monkey Gland cocktail

8 Oct

“Naomi! Dr. Artz!” “Well, I know nothing about him.” “But he’s becoming almost as famous as Voronoff. I suppose you’ve heard of Voronoff?”  “Yes, of course. The monkey-gland man.” “Well, Dr Artz claims to have discovered a means of restoring youthful vigor to the old; especially—” she looked very feminine—“a certain kind of vigor.” “What kind?” asked Miss Vyvyan innocently. “Intellectual vigor?”

— Robert Hichens, Dr Artz (New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1929), p. 23.

“Then Raoul turned to me as though with an afterthought. ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘what was that cocktail you were describing to me—the one the man makes in the American bar at the Ambassador?’ I told him; it is a particularly devilish concoction called, I believe, a monkey gland. “Well, then, do me a favour, will you?” he said. “See the bar steward here and show him how to make them. Get him to mix me a shaker of them. I’m expecting a man on something very important tonight . . .”

John Dickson Carr, It Walks By Night (New York, Harper, 1930), pp. 60-1.

Death comes too soon, ‘tis said. That’s why human beings have always dreamed of prolonging their brief stay on this earthly round. That’s why Alexander the Great and Ponce de Léon searched for the fountain of youth and why sages sought the elixir of life. And that’s why modern-day Dorian Grays spend billions of dollars on moisturizers, lotions and unguents, inject themselves with neurotoxins and have their faces “lifted” and turned into caricatures of their former selves.

In the early 1920s Dr Serge Voronoff, a director of the Laboratory of Physiology at the Collège de France, thought he’d finally solved “the agonizing problem of our precocious decline” (Serge Voronoff, Life: A Study of the Means of Restoring Vital Energy and Prolonging Life [New York: Dutton, 1920], p. xix). His theory was bollocks, both literally and figuratively. Observing the effects of castration on eunuchs, he concluded that the essence of life resides in the testicles: these “pour into our organs a liquid stimulating the vitality of our tissues” (p. xix), and, when they are removed, or their function is impaired, the body ages and degenerates. Since the testicle was “the distributor of energy” (p. 52), he reasoned, the human machine could be recharged by replacing its run-down batteries—by testicular transplant, in other words.

Voronoff first hit the headlines in 1914 when he reported to the Académie de Médicine that he had undertaken the “radical cure of a cretin”. He grafted on to the neck of a 14-year-old boy suffering from myxoedema (hypothyroidism) the “right lobe of the thyroid gland of a large baboon”. The patient improved immediately: where before he was “apathetic and stupid he became active and quick witted” (“Monkey Gland Cures Cretin”, Washington Post, 5 July 1914, p. ES4). Emboldened by that success, Vornoff began experimenting on goats and managed to turn frail, decrepit beasts into bright-eyed, shiny-coated, frisky critters. How? By removing the male “interstitial gland” from a younger adult, cutting up the testicle into segments like an orange, opening the scrotum of the older male and applying the testicular segments to the scarified surface of the tunica vaginalis membrane. Then the scrotum was sewn up and, as soon as the graft took, signed of renewed youth and vigour began to show.


Soon Voronoff began to work on human subjects, removing the shrivelled nuts of older men and inserting the fresh plums of sexually mature apes, convinced that he was thereby able to arrest and even reverse the ageing process. The monkey glands, by the way, were a necessary evil: ideally, he conceded, he would replace like for like, but few donors ever came forward, and those who did charged a king’s ransom for their crown jewels. Although chimpanzees were a scarce resource in Europe (they hardly grew on trees), Dr V. nevertheless proposed harvesting their organs:

Hard though it be to obtain apes, it will always be a task less arduous than that of inducing young men to give up one of their glands. We might undertake to raise apes as we raise our domestic animals, the more so since they are extremely prolific.

The ape as the guardian of vital energy transmissible to man will be looked upon as a most valuable animal, which will unfailingly be accorded the most attentive care.

Men who have reached the age when their intellectual and physical faculties begin to decline, when the memory becomes unreliable, thought is slow, effort more difficult, fatigue more prompt, when all the ardors of life are blunted and dulled and some are extinguished, may borrow from their young relatives of the virgin forests a new source of vital activity (Voronoff, pp. 112-3).

Despite scepticism in the medical establishment, an outcry from the clergy, and the public’s worries that human beings would start looking and acting like their simian cousins, Voronoff’s experiments appeared to work. He had a long waiting list of flagging seniors wanting to stiffen their resolve, and “only the scarcity of chimpanzees has prevented him from performing daily operations in his Paris laboratory . . . He is using chimpanzees faster than they can be caught in Africa.” (Raymond Fendrick, “Wizard Surgeon Plans Renewing All Vital Organs, Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 June 1922, p. 4)

Testimonials poured in from grateful patients. The New York Times interviewed the London actor and manager, Arthur Evelyn Liardet, who, a few days shy of his seventy-sixth birthday, possessed the “appearance and physique of a man of about 55 years”. Before the therapy he was bald, wrinkled, listless and senile. Eighteen months later a transformation had taken place: “Today, it is said, Liardet rises every morning at 6 o’clock and feels full of energy, more so every day. He is able to take physical exercises given up twenty years ago. His face is full and ruddy, and the wrinkles have almost disappeared. His head is covered with hair. ‘Feel this,’ he said, proudly, exhibiting biceps which any man of 30 might envy.” Promised by Voronoff that the operation could be repeated three times in all, Liardet confidently expected to reach the age of 150 (“Voronoff Patient Tells of New Life”, New York Times, 7 October 1922). Two and a half years later, though, this would-be Methuselah was dead (“Arthur E. Liardet Dead”, New York Times, 5 September, 1923).

It didn’t matter: Voronoff’s procedure was a sensation. Within months he and his monkey glands had entered the lexicon. The American Economist magazine called protective tariffs the “monkey gland” needed to stimulate the dye and tinplate industry (“Protecting the Dye Industry”, American Economist, vol. 67 [15 April, 1921], p. 115). The mayor of Gotham decried proposals to “rejuvenate” the state transit commission as a scheme “to make New York City the fianacial [sic] monkey or goat to furnish the glands for the operation” (“Hylan Sees a Transit ‘Monkey Gland’ Plan”, New York Times, 24 June 1922). And a writer in Forward magazine wrote of the Conservative Party: “It is suffering from senile decay; it needs a new monkey gland and Churchill is the man to do it” (quoted in Emrys Hughes, Winston Churchill: British Bulldog [New York: Exposition Press, 1955], p. 194).

Surely there could be no better name for a cocktail, a class of drinks already known for their bracing and aphrodisiacal qualities? Credit for the alcoholic monkey gland usually goes to Harry MacElhone, whose ABC of Mixing Cocktails (1922) is the first bar manual to include a recipe for the potation (where it appears in the possessive as “monkey’s gland”). This 1923 report by the Washington Post, however, belatedly claims another Paris-based mixologist as the originator:

Preparing for a busy tourist season, Frank, the noted concocter behind the bar of the Ritz, has devised a new series of powerful cocktails, favourite of which is known as the “monkey gland”.

Like Frank’s “soixante quinze” gloom raiser, the “monkey gland” requires absinthe to be perfect, but its amateurs have found anise a substitute with a sufficient kick.

For the benefit of friends over in America, who have not exhausted their cellars, here is the recipe: Half and half gin and orange juice, a dash of absinthe, and a dash of raspberry or other sweet juice. Mix well with ice, and serve only with a doctor handy. Inside half an hour the other day Frank purveyed 40 of these, to the exclusion of manhattans and martinis.

— “New Cocktail in Paris is the Monkey Gland”, Washington Post, 29 April 1923, p. 43.

Whether or not the report is accurate (and it also ascribes authorship of the “75” to “Frank”, when Harry, again, supposedly created it in 1915), it’s worth noting that an identically-named cocktail was already being drunk in 1919: an Associated Press cable dated 10 December of that year mentions a “Monkey Gland” as an example of the choices on offer at the Forum, a women’s club in Grosvenor Place, which boasted “one of the best lists of cocktails in the west end of London” (Mixer and Server, vol. 29:1 [15 January 1920], p. 32). The monkey gland—not just for men! (After conducting tests on she-goats, Voronoff determined that he could “not advise women to undergo the graft of the male sex gland”; he did, however, recommend plastic surgery, which “has made such progress that it is easy for us to repair the outrages which the years have committed upon the faces of our friends”, and hold out the possibility of ovarian transplants to restore the maiden’s blush to postmenopausal women [Voronoff, pp. 113-4].)

The half-and-half measure of gin and juice mentioned by the Post follows the recipe in Harry’s ABC. Later publications, such as the Savoy Cocktail Book and Café Royal Cocktail Book, call for a ratio of 2:1 in favour of gin, which I can’t help but think is a more rejuvenating combination:

3 Dashes [i.e. 1/4 tsp] Absinthe.

3 Dashes Grenadine.

1/3 Orange Juice.

2/3 Dry Gin.

Savoy Cocktail Book (London: Constable 1937 [1930]), p. 107.

From: Judge, vol. 81 (17 December 1921), p. 30.


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