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22 Streaming Facts About House of Cards

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In the hit series House of Cards, cutthroat politician Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) makes sure he’s always at least one move ahead of his colleagues. As the show makes its return to Netflix for a fourth season, we’ve rounded up some little-known facts about the groundbreaking series that even Frank might be surprised to learn. 

1. IT’S BASED ON A BRITISH MINISERIES.

As original as it may seem, House of Cards is actually based on a 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name. The four-episode series, which was adapted from a novel by Michael Dobbs, took place in the time period following Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister. 

2. MICHAEL DOBBS KNOWS OF WHAT HE SPEAKS.

House of Cards author Michael Dobbs didn’t have to do a ton of research for his novel-turned-miniseries-turned-Netflix series. In addition to being a writer, Dobbs served as Thatcher’s chief of staff from 1986 to 1987 and the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party from 1994 to 1995. 

3. BEAU WILLIMON IS NO SLOUCH EITHER.


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House of Cards creator Beau Willimon (who won't be returning as showrunner for the 2017 season) is no stranger to the inner-workings of our own nation’s capital. His resume includes stints working for a range of well-known political figures, including Charles SchumerHillary Clinton, and Howard Dean.

4. WILLIMON RECRUITED SOME ADDITIONAL HELP, TOO.

In order to help get the tone and political maneuvering just right—or, as he told Town & Country, “to make sure we didn't completely embarrass ourselves”—Willimon recruited his college buddy Jay Carson, a political advisor and strategist who has worked with Michael Bloomberg, Howard Dean, and Hillary and Bill Clinton, as the series’ political consultant. Carson also inspired Stephen Meyers, Ryan Gosling’s character in George Clooney’s The Ides of March, which Willimon wrote.

5. HOUSE OF CARDS MARKS DAVID FINCHER’S SMALL-SCREEN DEBUT.

Though two-time Oscar nominee David Fincher is best known for his work on the big screen with movies like Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and Gone Girl, he made the leap to the small screen for the first time with House of Cards, which he executive produces. Fincher also directed the series’ first two episodes. 

6. THE SERIES LAUNCHED A BIDDING WAR.

Though Fincher and Kevin Spacey (who is also an executive producer on the series) began developing House of Cards without a network commitment, it wasn’t long before there was an all-out bidding war for the series, with AMC and HBO among its suitors. In what was an unprecedented move at the time, Netflix won the rights not just with boatloads of money, but by committing to shooting two seasons from the get-go. “We took it around to a lot of networks and they all loved it and they all were interested, but nobody wanted to commit to 13 episodes,” Fincher told Empire Magazine. “So we were kind of dead in the water. In my infinite hubris, I was: ‘Why not? If we’re gonna do it you may as well do 13.’ Because it’s so much work. It’s 100 hours a week to do a sh*t job.” 

7. HOUSE OF CARDS CHANGED THE BUSINESS OF “TELEVISION.”

Netflix’s successful acquisition of House of Cards—which was only its second foray into original programming, following Lilyhammer—changed the game (and definition) of “television” by releasing an entire season all at once, and online. “This is a really new perspective … to drop them all at once, but I think that’s how we watch TV now,” Spacey told the crowd at 2012’s MIPCOM, with Willimon adding that “streaming is the future. TV will not be TV in five years from now … everyone will be streaming.”

8. IT’S THE FIRST ONLINE SERIES TO WIN AN EMMY.

In 2013, House of Cards made history when it became the first online series to win an Emmy—three of them, actually: for Outstanding Directing (for Fincher), Outstanding Cinematography (for Eigil Bryld), and Outstanding Casting (for casting directors Laray Mayfield and Julie Schubert). A string of additional award nominations and wins, including Golden Globes for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, followed and opened up the door for other online-only series like Amazon’s Transparent, which won Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series and Best Actor (for Jeffrey Tambor) in 2015. 

9. KEVIN SPACEY TURNED WOODY ALLEN ONTO NETFLIX.

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In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Spacey shared that he sent Woody Allen a gift subscription to Netflix. “I am one of these actors where I believe very strongly that if you want to get a part, you have to do anything within reason to get that part,” Spacey said. “I admire Woody Allen so much. I was at a point where every time he announces a new movie, I never get an audition and nobody ever calls me to come in. I was like, ‘You know what? I am going to just write Woody Allen.’ So, I introduced myself and sent him a Netflix subscription and said ‘I don't know if you've seen my work, but you might want to watch this series.’ He wrote me back a warm and wonderful letter, and thanked me for the Netflix. He said he’d seen me play lots of different roles and said he absolutely would consider me in a film.” (Allen confirmed his desire to work with Spacey in a 2014 podcast.)

10. FINCHER ENLISTED AN ALL-STAR GROUP OF DIRECTORS FOR THE SERIES.

After setting the tone by directing the first two episodes himself, Fincher turned the directorial reins over to a small group of highly-acclaimed directors, including James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, At Close Range), Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time), Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Phone Booth), Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden), and Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate, The Beaver). “I felt like we were telling 13 stories that are all part of one big story, and I was handing off movements to people whose work I admire,” Fincher told DGA Quarterly of the show’s first season.

11. KEVIN SPACEY DID HIS HOMEWORK.

In order to better understand Frank Underwood’s position, Kevin Spacey spent some time with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Whip from California. “I don’t envy him [or] the position,” Spacey told George Stephanopoulos of McCarthy. “It’s not easy. But it was very fascinating [for me] to go to a couple of whip meetings and actually see what the agenda is, what they’re going to put out there, how they do it.” 

12. MOST OF THE SHOW IS SHOT IN MARYLAND.

Though set in D.C., the bulk of House of Cards’ locations—including much of The White House—were built on a soundstage in Joppa, Maryland. “We're making it to last for what will hopefully be a very long run,” executive producer John Melfi told The Baltimore Sun in 2012 of the massive sets they were building. “This is a Hollywood studio back lot.”

13. MOVING THE CAMERA IS FROWNED UPON.

Though Fincher set the series up to be a director-centric one, he did establish an informal set of rules for how the show should be shot—and doesn’t think that handheld or Steadicam shooting should be a part of that. “I remember David saying something like he would only move the camera if there was a damn good reason to,” James Foley, the series’ most regular director, told DGA Quarterly. “So I found myself with a self-imposed discipline to work within because I felt it should be stylistically consistent.” 

14. FINCHER TOLD THE CAST NOT TO F*** IT UP!

In a commentary track for the first season, Fincher swears that every one of the show’s principal actors was the first choice for the role. And as such, “I walked in and I got to say the thing I've always wanted to say to a cast, which is ‘Every single person in this room represents our first choice, so don't f*** this up. ‘Cause if you do, I will never forgive you.'”

15. RACHEL POSNER WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE A REGULAR CHARACTER.

When actress Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Doug Stamper’s tormented call girl/Achilles heel, was originally cast on the show she was set to appear in just two episodes and recite a total of five lines. “She had done such a fine job those first two episodes that I started exploring what it would mean to bring her character back and fully three-dimensionalize her,” Willimon told the Chicago Tribune. “Rachel was so fantastic when we brought her back that I just wanted to write for her more and more.”

16. PRESIDENT WALKER AND SECRETARY OF STATE DURANT ARE MARRIED.

In real life, Michael Gill and Jayne Atkinson (who play former President Garrett Walker and Secretary of State Catherine Durant, respectively) have been married since October 3, 1998—a fact that was unknown to Fincher, Spacey, or the rest of the cast until they were hired. “I had four auditions. All on tape,” Gill told the New York Post in 2014. “Never met Kevin, never met David. We both got it within four or five days of each other. And then towards the end [of the audition process], they realized we were married. When we got to set none of the cast knew we were married.”

17. WILLIMON'S LOVE FOR THE WIRE IS ON FULL DISPLAY.

Fans of HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire (which was also shot in Baltimore) have probably recognized some familiar faces in House of Cards, which is hardly a coincidence. In a conversation on Twitter, Willimon told a fan that “My favorite show of all time is THE WIRE. BREAKING BAD = Genius. Also love SURVIVORMAN as far as reality-TV goes.” 

18. CASHEW IS ACTUALLY THREE GUINEA PIGS.

There’s no doubt that the breakout star of House of Cards’ second season was Cashew, the meme-tastic guinea pig BFF of hacker Gavin (Jimmi Simpson). The role is actually played by a trio of guinea pigs—Oscar, Lucas, and Encore—though trainer Carol Rosen told Vulture that it was Oscar who was used for about 90 percent of the scenes.

19. CHINA LOVES FRANK UNDERWOOD.

House of Cards has found an enormous audience in China, where it streams on Sohu, the Chinese equivalent of Netflix. In 2014, the company reported that, of the 24.5 million people who watched House of Cards, the majority of them were government employees. Wang Qishan, one of the Communist Party of China’s most powerful leaders, is reportedly one of the series’ most ardent fans

20. PRESIDENT OBAMA HATES HOUSE OF CARDS SPOILERS!

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One day before House of Cards’ second season premiered in 2013, POTUS took time to tweet a warning to his tens of millions of followers:

(Which we guess also means that even the President can’t get an advance copy.)

21. ONE OF FRANK UNDERWOOD’S MOST ICONIC LINES WAS QUOTING FINCHER.

Early on in the first season, Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience: “You know what I like about people? They stack so well.” Though it was Willimon who was responsible for writing the line into the script, the dialogue itself was taken from Fincher. It was reportedly his direct response to a line producer who, on the set of the disastrous Alien 3, suggested the notoriously meticulous director try to be more of a “people person.”

22. UNDERWOOD’S PORTRAIT IS HANGING IN THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY.

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At the premiere of House of Cards’ new season last month, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. unveiled its latest acquisition, a portrait of Frank Underwood, which will hang alongside its collection of presidential portraits through October.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


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Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


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To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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10 Treasures From the New York Academy of Medicine Library
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Tucked away on a side street near Central Park, the New York Academy of Medicine Library is one of the most significant historical medical libraries in the world. Open to the public by appointment since the 19th century, its collection includes 550,000 volumes on subjects ranging from ancient brain surgery to women's medical colleges to George Washington's dentures. A few weeks ago, Mental Floss visited to check out some of their most fascinating items connected to the study of anatomy. Whether it was urine wheels or early anatomy pop-up books, we weren't disappointed.

1. FASCICULUS MEDICINAE (1509)

The Fasciculus Medicinae is a compilation of Greek and Arabic texts first printed in Venice in 1491. While it covers a variety of topics including anatomy and gynecology, the book begins with the discipline considered most important for diagnosing all medical issues at the time: uroscopy (the study of urine). The NYAM Library's curator, Anne Garner, showed us the book's urine wheel, which once had the various flasks of urine colored in to help aid physicians in their diagnosis. Each position of the wheel corresponded to one of the four humors, whether it was phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic. The image on the left, Garner explains, "shows the exciting moment where a servant boy brings his flasks to be analyzed by a professor." Other notable images in the book include one historians like to call "Zodiac Man," showing how the parts of the body were governed by the planets, and "Wound Man," who has been struck by every conceivable weapon, and is accompanied by a text showing how to treat each type of injury. Last but not least, the book includes what's believed to be the first printed image of a dissection.

2. ANDREAS VESALIUS, DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA (1543)

Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Andreas Vesalius, born 1514, was one of the most important anatomists who ever lived. Thanks to him, we moved past an understanding of the human body based primarily on the dissection of animals and toward training that involved the direct dissection of human corpses. The Fabrica was written by Vesalius and published when he was a 28-year-old professor at the University of Padua. Its detailed woodcuts, the most accurate anatomical illustrations up to that point, influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries to come. "After this book, anatomy divided up into pre-Vesalian and post-Vesalian," Garner says. You can see Vesalius himself in the book's frontispiece (he's the one pointing to the corpse and looking at the viewer). "Vesalius is trying to make a point that he himself is doing the dissection, he believes that to understand the body you have to open it up and look at it," Garner explains.

3. THOMAS GEMINUS, COMPENDIOSA (1559)

Flap anatomy from Thomas Geminus's Compendiosa
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

There was no copyright in the 16th century, and Vesalius's works were re-used by a variety of people for centuries. The first was in Flemish printer and engraver Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa, which borrowed from several of Vesalius's works. The first edition was published in London just two years after the Fabrica. Alongside a beautiful dedication page made for Elizabeth I and inlaid with real gemstones, the book also includes an example of a "flap anatomy" or a fugitive leaf, which was printed separately with parts that could be cut out and attached to show the various layers of the human body, all the way down to the intestines. As usual for the time, the female is depicted as pregnant, and she holds a mirror that says "know thyself" in Latin.

4. WILLIAM COWPER, THE ANATOMY OF HUMANE BODIES (1698)

Illustration from William Cowper's The Anatomy of Humane Bodies
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

After Vesalius, there was little new in anatomy texts until the Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in 1685. The work was expensive and not much of a financial success, so Bidloo sold excess plates to the English anatomist William Cowper, who published the plates with an English text without crediting Bidloo (a number of angry exchanges between the two men followed). The copperplate engravings were drawn by Gérard de Lairesse, who Garner notes was "incredibly talented." But while the engravings are beautiful, they're not always anatomically correct, perhaps because the relationship between de Lairesse and Bidloo was fraught (Bidloo was generally a bit difficult). The skeleton shown above is depicted holding an hourglass, by then a classic of death iconography.

5. 17TH-CENTURY IVORY MANIKINS

17th Century Ivory Manikin
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

These exquisite figures are a bit of a mystery: It was originally thought that they were used in doctors’ offices to educate pregnant women about what was happening to their bodies, but because of their lack of detail, scholars now think they were more likely expensive collector's items displayed in cabinets of curiosity by wealthy male physicians. The arms of the manikins (the term for anatomical figures like this) lift up, allowing the viewer to take apart their removable hearts, intestines, and stomachs; the female figure also has a little baby inside her uterus. There are only about 100 of these left in the world, mostly made in Germany, and NYAM has seven.

6. BERNHARD SIEGFRIED ALBINUS, TABULAE SCELETI (1747)

Illustration from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae Sceleti
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

One of the best-known anatomists of the 18th century, the Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus went to medical school at age 12 and had a tenured position at the University of Leiden by the time he was 24. The Tabulae Sceleti was his signature work. The artist who worked on the text, Jan Wandelaar, had studied with Gérard de Lairesse, the artist who worked with Bidloo. Wandelaar and Albinus developed what Garner says was a bizarre method of suspending cadavers from the ceiling in the winter and comparing them to a (very cold and naked) living person lying on the floor in the same pose. Albinus also continued the dreamy, baroque funerary landscape of his predecessors, and his anatomy is "very, very accurate," according to Garner.

The atlas also features an appearance by Clara, a celebrity rhinoceros, who was posed with one of the skeletons. "When Albinus is asked why [he included a rhinoceros], he says, 'Oh, Clara is just another natural wonder of the world, she's this amazing creation,' but really we think Clara is there to sell more atlases because she was so popular," Garner says.

7. FERDINAND HEBRA, ATLAS DER HAUTKRANKHEITEN (1856–1876)

Circus performer Georg Constantin as depicted in Ferdinand Hebra's dermatological atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

By the mid-19th century, dermatology had started to emerge as its own discipline, and the Vienna-based Ferdinand Hebra was a leading light in the field. He began publishing this dermatological atlas in 1856 (it appeared in 10 installments), featuring chromolithographs that showed different stages of skin diseases and other dermatological irregularities.

"While some of the images are very disturbing, they also tend to adhere to Victorian portrait conventions, with very ornate hair, and [subjects] looking off in the distance," Garner says. But one of the most famous images from the book has nothing to do with disease—it's a depiction of Georg Constantin, a well-known Albanian circus performer in his day, who was covered in 388 tattoos of animals, flowers, and other symbols. He travelled throughout Europe and North America, and was known as "Prince Constantine" during a spell with Barnum's Circus. (The image is also available from NYAM as a coloring sheet.)

8. KOICHI SHIBATA, OBSTETRICAL POCKET PHANTOM (1895)

19th century Obstetrical Pocket Phantom
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Obstetrical phantoms, often made of cloth, wood, or leather, were used to teach medical students about childbirth. This "pocket phantom" was originally published in Germany, and Garner explains that because it was made out of paper, it was much cheaper for medical students. The accompanying text, translated in Philadelphia, tells how to arrange the phantom and describes the potential difficulties of various positions.

9. ROBERT L. DICKINSON AND ABRAM BELSKIE, BIRTH ATLAS (1940)

Image from Robert Dickinson's Birth Atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Robert Dickinson was a Brooklyn gynecologist, early birth control advocate, and active member of NYAM. His Birth Atlas is illustrated with incredibly lifelike terracotta models created by New Jersey sculptor Abram Belskie. The models were exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where they became incredibly popular, drawing around 700,000 people according to Garner. His depictions "are very beautiful and serene, and a totally different way of showing fetal development than anything that had come before," Garner notes.

10. RALPH H. SEGAL, THE BODYSCOPE (1948)

The Bodyscope
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

This midcentury cardboard anatomy guide contains male and female figures as well as rotating wheels, called volvelles, that can be turned to display details on different parts of the body as well as accompanying explanatory text. The Bodyscope is also decorated with images of notable medical men—and "wise" sayings about God's influence on the body.

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