Friday, May 8, 2020

Max Brand’s Dr. Kildare

New York hospital, a model for the Dr. Kildare stories?
In the 1930’s, Max Brand, prolific author of Westerns, started a modern series. It featured James Kildare, a young doctor working as an intern at a large city hospital.

The Secret of Dr. Kildare, the third novel in the series, sat unread on my shelf for years. I took it down recently when looking for something light to read. It did not grab me. But it did send me looking for the origins of the Kildare series.

Brand introduced Kildare in “Internes Can’t Take Money,” a short story in the March 1936 issue of Cosmopolitan . It is in The Collected Stories of Max Brand.

“Internes Can’t Take Money” is far from a great story, but it has some good things in it. The best thing is the character of bright, strong-minded Kildare who will bend hospital rules.

Most of the story does not take place in the hospital but in a nearby saloon in the tenement section of the city. Kildare patches up a thug wounded in a fight. A local tough guy insists on giving the doctor a lot of money for his work and for not reporting it. Kildare refuses the money. Instead, he convinces the man to put it to better use, paying off the gambling debts of a fellow doctor.

Brand was an expert at moving a story along. But some of his story strains credulity. For instance, Kildare, alone in a crummy apartment, performs a difficult operation.

In a 1934 letter, quoted in The Max Brand Companion, he called his writing “improvisation rather than composing.” I like that. It sounds like jazz.

Missing from this short story is the brilliant, cranky and demanding head of diagnostic medicine, Dr. Leonard Gillespie. He shows up in future stories.

Brand is far from my favorite author. But his first novel in the series, Young Dr. Kildare, hit a homerun with me. Next time, I will post about that book.


  1. I've heard of the TV series, I never knew Max Brand wrote books that pre-dated it greatly. I always thought he was just an author of Westerns

    1. I did not know he wrote the Kildare stories until I found a used paperback of the third book.