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Friday, 3 July 2015

Painless Parker (Wild West Dentist)

I remember Bob Hope playing the part of Peter "Painless" Potter, a barely trained itinerant dentist in the wild west. He was cast opposite Jane Russell in 'The Paleface'. A role that was so successful that they reprised the roles to a large extent in 'Son of Paleface' and this time with the addition of the singing cowboy 'Roy Rodgers' and 'Trigger' the wonder horse. Ah they don't make them like that anymore.

The Painless Movies

In truth I saw 'Son of Paleface' fairly recently, and its still funny and entertaining, which frankly is more than can be said for many recent 'comedy' offerings from Hollywood (I cite as examples, any UK comedy film that doesn't involve Simon Pegg or the creators of 'The League Of Gentlemen').

Painless Potter And An Unconvinced Customer

However, little did l know that the characters name, if not their capabilities, were derived from a real, larger than life, wild west legend .... no not Doc Holliday, but 'Painless Parker' ... who incidently lived long enough to see the Hope movie (how strange that must be?).

Painless Parker Hung His Shingle Across The West

He was one of those boom or bust characters that the US (and the UK for that matter) threw up during the Victorian era .... born Edgar Randolph Parker, to give him his real, and final name (his daughter didn't share his publicity love and refused to use his popular name on his tombstone), he was a restless character, even in his youth. With tales of his escapades including that having been born in a seafaring area, he attempted to sail to the 'Spanish Maine' in a derelict dory (a type of boat) .... however when that failed, he joined the crew of a barque, and rose to the rank of second mate. Later in life, and harking back to his dory days, he built a yacht called the 'Idelia', which he raced in an organised event from San Francisco to Papeete, winning the boat class.

But that was later, because as a young man he was forced to leave this sailing life by his family, and he then learnt what was to be his lifetime profession, and by 1892 he was a dentist with his own practise in Victoria, British Columbia. However soon after that his wanderlust kicked in and he was on the move, and he went south to California, USA where he set up practice again.

He Is Still Remembered In Some Places

He legally changed his first name to 'Painless' in 1915 but had been using it for years ... but he was eventually forced by his professional body to revert back to his proper name for advertising purposes .... a change he only occasionally accepted. During a career that his profession should have been proud of he:
  • Promoted low cost dentistry, 
  • Instalment payments,
  • Volume business,
  • Evening surgeries,
  • Preventative dentistry,
  • And later 'Educational films on teeth care' 

Throughout his professional life, Painless was a self-promoting dental crusader and also a patient advocate. He sought to gain recognition from his profession but instead, he was largely rejected by his colleagues, mainly because he used the unacceptable practice of advertising blatantly to the public. The ultraconservative profession of dentistry regarded Painless as an outlaw, a renegade, a fraud, a charlatan, a quack, a scoundrel, a thorn in their sides, and above all else, 'unprofessional'. However this rejection not withstanding, his lifestyle facilitated his establishment of 37 dental offices and largely because of  his flamboyant manner of advertising.

Sadly, but for the reference via those two venerable comedy movies, he is almost forgotten now.

For those interested in much more about this icon of dentistry, and the Wild West, there is a book, written by two fellow dentists about his life - 'The Early Adventures of Painless Parker' (aka 'A Dental Renegade's Fight to Make Advertising "Ethical") by Peter M Pronych and Arden G Christen (ISBN: 0889996326, 9780889996328) ~ and it can also be ordered direct from: Dr.Arden G. Christen, D.D.S., M.S.D., M.A., Indiana University School of Dentistry, 1121 W. Michigan St., Room B-19, Indianapolis, IN 46202-5186 or (317) 274-3859. (Price $24.95 plus shipping). There was also a book entitled The Adventures of Painless Parker' written and illustrated by Zoe Piel which may also still be in print.

4 comments:

  1. Your description of Parker's ostracizing reminds me of Country and Western artists who have wide appeal. It must be riling to find yourself in a niche profession with all the perks of elitism and then see someone democratising it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the case of Country and Western artists, if I understand the analogy its surely just jealousy by less popular artists that causes the ostracization.

      Delete
    2. James Smith DMD (Mass USA)28 December 2015 at 09:58

      Actually in the view of Country and Western singers it would better if they remained unknown by the rest of us. 

      More seriously Mr Parker is more well known than you obviously realise as there are a number of sites with accounts of his career and life. Not all are as comprehensive as yours. But while he is gone, he is certainly not forgotten.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the update Mr Smith ... I guess that your right (especially in the US where his inheritance is still there). As for Country and Western singers .... I kinda agree.

      Delete

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