Masters and Johnson Treated Presidential Candidate, Gov. George Wallace, After 1972 Assassination Attempt

Excerpt from "Masters of Sex" by Thomas Maier

Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama wanted the White House in the worst way. In 1963, Wallace became the face of the Old South when he attempted to prevent de-segregation at the University of Alabama. “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Wallace promised in his inaugural, after having sworn privately to “outnigger” any political opponent. Like a proud little rooster with slick, black hair, Wallace stood in front of the school, as nationwide television cameras rolled, defiantly blocking the entrance of two black students into the all-white public institution until federal marshals finally intervened. The publicity allowed the one-time boxer to launch a 1964 brief bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, appealing to the prejudices of a nation. When Alabama law prevented him from running for another gubernatorial term, he prompted his wife, Lurleen, to succeed him but she died in 1968 of cancer while in office. That same year, Wallace ran for President as a “law and order” candidate on an independent party ticket, winning five states and 14 percent of the total vote. By 1970, Wallace was preparing for another presidential run when he fell in love with Cornelia Ellis Snively, the young, shapely niece of former Alabama Gov. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom. Although aides warned him to keep the romance under wraps, Wallace married his raven-haired Cornelia in January 1971. At the time, a Gallup poll listed Wallace as one of America's most admired men, placing seventh just ahead of the Pope. “There was a lot of physical attraction, very passionate kind of love between us,” Cornelia later explained. “I had known him all my life.”
Wallace’s presidential ambitions were cut down by a bullet, however. In May 1972, as Wallace campaigned in the Maryland primary, a would-be assassin named Arthur Bremer pumped five 38-caliber bullets into his body, covering Cornelia in blood as she tended to her husband’s wounds. One shot severed Wallace’s spinal chord, leaving him paralyzed. Meanwhile, Wallace had won both the Maryland and Michigan primaries. Some wondered if his presidential quest could continue as a cripple, just like Franklin D. Roosevelt after suffering a polio attack. But Wallace’s body never fully recovered. His presidential dreams were dashed and his personal life in tatters. By the time he contacted Masters & Johnson, Wallace worried if he could perform sexually ever again.
“Cornelia was trying so hard to do anything she could do to help him,” Virginia recalled. “He was a good old boy, but he was a sweet man. I liked him. He wouldn’t have been good to be married to, though -- a downhome Alabama boy who was very difficult. Cornelia had a hell of time with him because he was not dealing terribly well with his condition.”
George Wallace’s sad case was exactly the kind that Bill Masters wanted to study as his next scientific mission – the neurophysiology of human sexual response -- if only he could somehow find the money. With the advent of computers and other high-tech medical equipment in the 1970s, Masters felt such medical research would be a worthy successor to their previous published work with heterosexuals as well their upcoming book on homosexuality. Understanding the brain’s role in sex -- the symposia of nerve endings and synapses in reaching physical fulfillment and the accompanying mental functioning behind it – seemed a natural next step. “He felt that it would have great applicability in terms of stroke victims, neurologic disease and spinal chord injured patients,” recalled Kolodny, who often heard Masters mention it. “ I’m sure he was quite right, if we had been able to get the funding, we would have been able to do very important work there. We never did get that funding. It was constantly a struggle to come up with money.”
After the call came from Wallace’s personal physician in Montgomery, both Masters and Johnson agreed to visit the Governor’s mansion, offering their assistance. The sense of desperation with the Wallaces was great enough that they wanted only the best known sex therapists in the land. “Wallace sent a state plane for us and we went to Alabama – he wasn’t traveling at the time,” Johnson recalled. “We went down there twice and then Cornelia came up once by herself” to the St. Louis clinic.
Bill later explained to Kolodny the severity of Gov. Wallace’s spinal chord damage and concluded there was little he could do as a physician. Masters said the Governor was impotent, with the bullet having claimed his sense of manhood. “The rates of sexual dysfunction are way high with spinal chord injuries,” Kolodny explained. “It was clear that there was no magic wand that was going to rescue the situation. It was a case of helping them cope, to do the best they could.” Even Gini’s therapeutic touch didn’t seem to help the Governor and his First Lady. “He was willing to do anything,” she recalled, who instructed them on the most basic “sensate” movements designed to stimulate. “There was just no possibility – it was physiologically impossible. But she [Cornelia] was willing to do anything for him. She was a superb human being and she was just lovely, one of the best.”
Despite their braveness in seeking medical help, the Wallaces became increasingly frustrated with each other. “He began to accuse her of having affairs with state troopers,” recalled Alabama journalist Wayne Greenhaw, in a PBB television documentary later made about the Governor’s troubled life. “She accused him of talking to his old girlfriends on the phone all the time, uh, and trying to lure them over to the mansion. They, uh, tapped each other’s phones. And then sooner or later, you know, it just turned so nasty.” In 1978, the Wallaces filed for divorce. Cornelia moved his belongings out of the Governor’s manson and told the press that she’d done everything she could to save her marriage.
In St. Louis, Masters and Johnson reminded their staff to keep quiet about this special case involving the wounded presidential candidate. While sometimes the tape-recordings and files about celebrity couples from Hollywood, television or local politics were given discreetly to Kolodny to compile in the statistical profile of their patients, it wasn’t so in this case. “Whatever was done with the Wallaces, a file was never compiled,” Koldony recalled. “It didn’t fall into any of the ordinary categories.”