Benjamin Sacks, M.D.


“The Sherlock Holmes of Research”
A biography of Dr. Benjamin Sacks, M.D.

By Cory Williams
Benjamin Sacks

Benjamin Sacks was born on August 14th, 1896. He graduated from high school in three years, and began his collegiate career at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, earning recognition as a Phi Beta Kappa for devotion to learning.

Sacks advanced his education at Johns Hopkins in the School of Medicine. After he earned his M.D., he became licensed to practice medicine in 1922 in the State of New York. His career began at The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

In 1923, Sacks, along with partner Dr. Emanuel Libman, discovered an uncommon heart ailment called the Libman-Sacks Syndrome.(1) This particular type of heart ailment is reported postmortem in approximately 50% of fatal lupus cases.

Sacks’ work at The Mount Sinai Hospital earned him respect and praise from the medical community. Louis Gross, M.D., the Director of Laboratories for Mount Sinai, had this to say about Dr. Benjamin Sacks in a letter of recommendation to United States Surgeon General Hugh S. Cumming:

 Dr. Sacks is a man of striking personality. He is what is called a “natural born leader of men.” He is an extraordinarily able teacher and is a constant stimulus to those about him. He is exceptionally well trained for investigative work.(2) 

In the earley 1950’s Dr. Sacks served as a technical advisor on for the movie industry. By 1959, he had moved to Los Angeles. Sacks worked with actors including Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, and Barry Fitzgerald. Dr. Benjamin Sacks was known for his attention to detail, creating sets that were identical to a real hospital or doctor’s office.

 [Sacks] was flattered when a Los Angeles medico visited the set [of ‘People Will Talk’, a medical drama starring Cary Grant], scrutinized everything with a critical eye, and then said, “All right, wheel the patient in. I am ready.” (3) 
Sacks was an essential part of any production team he served. When asked what his job entailed, Sacks said, “I start with the story and make certain the dialogue shapes up correctly from a physician’s point of view. I talk over the backgrounds with the art department, look at costumes for both men and women, and work closely with the property department to see that every detail matches real life.”

In the mid-1950’s, Sacks fell victim to failing health, and was forced to stop practicing medicine. He continued his role as a technical advisor to the film studios. His interests shifted towards the study of history, and Sacks found himself engaged in researching the Southwest, specifically Arizona. He was captivated by the years 1850 to 1875, when Arizona became a Territory after ceding from Mexico as a result of the Mexican-American War. For close to 20 years, he traveled the country and searched in repositories great and small.

Dr. Sacks went about his research much like a detective would go about solving a crime, piecing together new hypotheses and theories while collecting data and pieces of the puzzle. He thought about his work while driving in his car, and even when lying in bed.(4)

In 1959, Dr. Sacks met with Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and Phoenix historian Bert Fireman in Washington, D.C. Out of this meeting was born the Arizona Historical Foundation, an institution “dedicated to preserving Arizona’s rich political, business and legal history.”(5) Goldwater was founder and the original president, Fireman executive director, and Sacks historical consultant.

Sacks’ desire was to see the historical societies in Arizona take a more scholarly approach to analyzing their state’s rich history, and to focus on answering new questions that had yet to be considered.

In 1964, Sacks published his first book about the history of Arizona. Entitled “Be It Enacted: the Creation of the Territory of Arizona,” Sacks delved into the Library of Congress archives and spent countless hours mining the country for information on the pioneers of the Arizona Territory.

His work “will be long remembered in Arizona as a masterpiece of historical investigation and exposition,” believed John Alexander Carroll, then a Professor of History at the University of Arizona.(6) The exhaustive research received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Loral History.

In 1970, Sacks released his second book, “Arizona’s Angry Man: United States Marshal Milton B. Duffield.” In the foreword, Senator Goldwater praised Sacks for his exceptional research. The study was the result of

 relentless research and astute scholarship of B. Sacks, retired physician and Historical Consultant of the [Arizona Historical] Foundation, who for two decades has devoted his entire energies to research into a multitude of problems in the early Territorial history of Arizona. At the same time he has been of willing and erudite assistance to many scholars, both within and outside our universities and state, offering advice and in many instances providing access to the remarkable research material he has accumulated.(7) 

This wealth of knowledge, now known as The Sacks Collection of the American West, is located at the Arizona Historical Foundation in the Hayden Library on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University.

A perfectionist in every sense of the word, Sacks compiled note cards containing bits of information, and filed them by subject in an exceptionally large card catalog. Many of the cards have a stamped number on them, which can be traced to the Manuscript Collection. Sacks often copied primary documents by hand, and filed them in boxes to keep his research in order. The attention to detail is an unusual, remarkable quality that is often not seen in collections of this size.

Dr. Benjamin Sacks died on May 2nd, 1971. His achievements will continue to enrich the lives of those who seek his knowledge, and the body of research he left behind will support generations of avid historians of Arizona.

Cory Williams is a senior at Arizona State University. His interests include European history and American Manifest Destiny. He is also captivated by Wall Street, and would like to be a politician in the future.

(Cory standing in front of the Sacks card catalogs.)

1. Libman, Emanuel and Benjamin Sacks. A Hitherto Undescribed Form of Valvular and Mural Endocarditis. New York: Transactions of the Association of American Physicians, 1923.

2. Gross, Louis, and Hugh S. Cumming. Letter. Sacks Manuscript Collection, Arizona Historical Foundation, Tempe.

3. Redelings, Lowell E. “Men Behind the Scenes.” Hollywood Citizen News 9 April 1951.

4. Redelings.

5. Albrecht, Rebecca A. “President’s Welcome.” Arizona Historical Foundation. (accessed April 30, 2008).

6. Carroll, John Alexander. Introduction to Be It Enacted: the Creation of the Territory of Arizona, by B. Sacks, M.D., vi-x. Phoenix: Arizona Historical Foundation, 1964.

7.Goldwater, Barry. Foreword to Arizona’s Angry Man: United States Marshal Milton B. Duffield, by B. Sacks, M.D., i. Phoenix: Arizona Historical Foundation, 1970.