How far would you go to resemble your idol? That’s the question I pondered in my Monday column. The inspiration was the remarkable length of the president’s neckties, but it could have been any idiosyncratic look.

Reader Mike McGill of Alexandria said the column reminded him of when he was in elementary school in the early 1950s.

“One of my classmates, who was really a clothes horse, suggested to several of us guys that the look we should affect was to wear a pink, button-down dress shirt with bowed out collars and a narrow, dark blue knit tie,” wrote Mike.

The classmate explained this was the outfit of “Mr. B.”

Mike was anything but a fashion plate back then. He favored a daily outfit of blue jeans, T-shirts and black-and-white Keds.

“However, I dutifully went home and told my father about the kinds of clothes I would like to get,” Mike wrote. “He laughed uproariously, and he told me to forget trying to look like Billy Eckstine, the great jazz singer.”

Mike had never heard of Billy Eckstine — or jazz, for that matter.

Wrote Mike: “Subsequently, I became a devoted jazz fan and have remained so all my adult life, but I have never tried to look like Mr. B!”

Eleanor Herman author of such books as “Sex With Kings” and “The Royal Art of Poison” — directed me to an entirely different sort of imitation. It involved France’s Louis XIV. The court of the Sun King already followed his lead on certain fashions — things like wigs and breeches — but the most bizarre act of imitation involved a medical ailment called a fistula that afflicted the monarch.

The pain was so great Louis had trouble sitting for any length of time. Riding a horse was out of the question.

Wrote Eleanor, of McLean: “A courageous barber-surgeon named Charles-François Félix agreed to operate, but only after experimenting on 75 human guinea pigs: ‘volunteers’ from prisons, as well as men from the countryside who wanted to help their king. Not surprisingly, some of them died. Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain.”

After much trial and error, Félix fashioned a surgical instrument he felt would help with the procedure. It was known as “le bistouri royal” — the royal probe. The operation took place on Nov. 18, 1686. It was a success, greatly relieving Louis XIV’s agony.

Félix was rewarded with a title and a castle. What’s really odd is the operation itself became cool. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be like the king.

According to a 2016 article in a Norwegian medical journal, “The court was in line to perform the same procedure, with or without a fistula. Those without fistula were rejected by the surgeons.”

Or, as a 1926 letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association put it: “Many of Louis’ courtiers desired the same operation that they might share some of the king’s distinction.”

While Félix retired from the surgery game — no need to jeopardize his riches and castle — the next most prominent surgeon, a man named Dionin, “stated that he angered more than 30 members of Louis’ court by refusing their request to do this operation when he saw there was no need whatever for it.”

Still, some noblemen, even though they hadn’t undergone the surgery, took to wearing bandages around their backsides in honor of what Louis had endured.

All that makes the fake limp of Princess Alexandra’s acolytes seem almost normal.


These area schools are planning reunions:

Calvin Coolidge High Class of 1960 — Oct. 3. Email or call 202-965-3535.

Albert Einstein High Classes of 1980 and 1979 — May 2. Email

High Point High Class of 1960 — June 15. Email or call 703-777-3611.

Holy Trinity High Class of 1960 — April 25. Email or call 703-827-0137.

Northwood High Class of 1960 — Sept. 25. Email or visit

Oakton High Class of 1970 — Oct. 2-4. Email

Robert E. Peary High Class of 1970 — Sept. 11-13. Email or search for “Robert E. Peary High School Class of 1970” on Facebook.

Missed it by that much

Kensington, Md., is a lovely place, but Vickie Baily does not live there, as I wrote in my Tuesday column. The birder and fan of RedGate Golf Course lives in Garrett Park, Md.

Doctor's orders

The Marine Hospital Service doctors who helped diagnose yellow fever in Archie Miller, the subject of yesterday’s column, weren’t in the military, as I suggested. They were part of the U.S. Public Health Service, a federal agency whose employees continue to battle public health crises.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit