History I Never Knew: From the Annals of Mixology and Medicine

The Monkey Gland

The Monkey Gland

Hey guys – looking for a “potent” cocktail to order the next time you’re out on the town?

Try the following: 2 ounces gin, 1 1/2 ounces orange juice, 2 dashes of grenadine, 2 dashes of Pernod or Bénédictine, and a twist of orange peel.

Tell the bartender to shake the gin, orange juice, grenadine, and Pernod with ice, then strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish it with the orange peel.

And be sure to order it that way and not by its name, lest you provoke a snicker from a bartender who knows the drink’s history. This cocktail is a Monkey Gland. And its history is an interesting one indeed.

Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, mixed the first Monkey Gland in the 1920s. He did it in recognition of the work of French surgeon Serge Voronoff.

Serge Voronoff (1866 - 1951)

Serge Voronoff (1866 – 1951)

Voronoff was born to a Jewish family near Voronezh, Russia in 1866. He emigrated to France at the age of 18, where he studied medicine and learned surgical techniques of transplantation under tutelage of Nobel Prize recipient Alexis Carrel. Between 1896 and 1910, Voronoff worked in Egypt, studying the retarding effects that castration had on eunuchs. That experience led him to his later work that ultimately gave the world the Monkey Gland cocktail.

Voronoff perfected the technique of transplanting testicle tissue from various primates into men. This, he claimed, would increase both longevity and sex drive. His research was bankrolled by a daughter of Jabez Bostwick, first treasurer of the Standard Oil Company. He started off transplanting testicle tissue from younger animals into older ones – sheep, goats, and bulls – and claimed that that the older ones became stronger and more vigorous.

Eventually, Voronoff moved to human male patients and began grafting thin slices of baboon and ape testicles into them. He wrote a book titled “Rejuvenation by Grafting.” The poet e.e. cummings wrote of “a famous doctor who inserted monkey glands in millionaires.” Irving Berlin’s song “Monkey-Doodle-Doo,” featured in a Marx Brothers film “The Coconuts,” has a line, “If you’re too old for dancing/Get yourself a monkey gland.”

About 500 men underwent the procedure in France, and thousands more around the world did too. They included Harold McCormick, chairman of the board of International Harvester and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, military hero of World War I and president of Turkey.

The operation was in such high demand that Voronoff set up a monkey farm on the Italian Riviera. He gained fame and made a lot of money. The procedure was fashionable until the 1940s, when its ineffectiveness became known throughout the scientific and medical communities.

Voronoff was quickly discredited and became the butt of jokes. He died in 1951. His reputation did not recover any ground until the 1990s when discovery that the Sertoli cells of the testes constitute a barrier to the immune system. This makes the testes an immunologically privileged site for the transplantation of foreign tissue. So, in fact, the thin slices of monkey testicles implanted by Voronoff may have survived to produce some benefit.

More recently, there have been successful experiments in reducing insulin requirements in diabetics. The techniques involved implanting into the diabetic patients pancreatic islet cells from pigs. The pig cells were coated in Sertoli cells, which insulated the pig cells from attack by the patients’ immune systems. No immunosuppressive drugs were required.

So maybe we should raise a glass to the good Doctor Voronoff after all. Need I suggest what drink we quaff in his honor?

One Response to “History I Never Knew: From the Annals of Mixology and Medicine”

  1. Tyrell Says:

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