Yes, “Painless Parker” did exist. “Painless” was a dentist who practiced in Brooklyn from 1897 until he moved to San Francisco in 1912 where he continued to practice for several more years. Parker was born in New Brunswick, Canada and attended Temple University dental school. He may not have been the best dentist, but he was a pro at advertising. The outside of the Flatbush Avenue building that housed his dental office blazed with the alliterative: “Proclaimed by Public, Press and Pulpit”; “Painless Parker Is Positively Perfect”; “Pains and Pangs Positively Prevented.” The dental association was not amused by his false claims. Born Edgar Rudolph Randolph Parker, he legally changed his name to “Painless” in 1915 because of complaints of false advertising.
Parker was the quintessential snake-oil salesman with goatee, top hat and cutaway coat. Early in his career he hired a former manager for P.T. Barnum and traveled through Canada and Alaska with dancing girls and a tent show.
He established the first and, hopefully, last sidewalk dental show. He employed a brass band, bespangled women and contortionists who would perform a sideshow to drum up patients. Dr. Parker would be on-hand to speak out on the horrors of tooth decay and then he would ask for volunteers to come forth to sit in his portable dental chair. One of his assistants would volunteer, and the doctor would pretend to extract a tooth without causing pain. He would afterwards display a palmed tooth to the astonished audience. But back in his office when Dr. Parker pulled a real tooth, he would tap his foot to signal to the band to play and thereby drown out the screams of the unlucky patient.
Parker founded a dental chain, owned a yacht and made and lost several fortunes in what he called “the noble tooth-plumbing profession.” His life was an inspiration for the character of Painless Potter, the frontier dentist played by Bob Hope in “The Paleface.” Parker died in 1952 when dental advertising was still illegal. Today advertising by professionals is legal. Lets hope that dentists today employ truth-in-advertising.