New Offensive on Eastern Front, First Battle of the Isonzo

June 29, 1915: New Offensive on Eastern Front, First Battle of the Isonzo 

The unraveling of the Russian armies that began with the breakthrough at Gorlice-Tarnow in May 1915 accelerated in the months that followed, as the German Eleventh Army under General August von Mackensen  (below) launched a series of major offensives supported by the Austro-Hungarian Second, Third, and Fourth Armies. The new attacks widened the gap in the Russian lines and forced the Russians to withdraw again and again in what became known as the Great Retreat. 

While hardly a blitzkrieg of the type unleashed on the Soviet Red Army in the Second World War, the Austro-German advance through Poland and Galicia in May-September 1915 was methodical and relentless, following a cyclical pattern with occasional pauses to consolidate and regroup. First punishing artillery bombardments blasted apart Russian defensive works (top, a German 30.5 centimeter gun on the Eastern Front), followed by massed infantry charges that captured huge numbers of prisoners (below, German uhlans escort Russian prisoners); then the Russians would withdraw to a new line of trenches further back, their pursuers would bring forward the heavy artillery, and it would start all over again. 

Mackensen’s success allowed German chief of the general staff Erich von Falkenhayn and his Austro-Hungarian counterpart Conrad von Hötzendorf to withdraw some troops for operations elsewhere, including the Western Front and the Balkans. After the fall of Przemyśl on June 3, on June 10 the Austro-Hungarian Third Army was dissolved and many of the troops were sent to the Italian front; a new Third Army would be formed in September for the fall campaign against Serbia. 

However Mackensen still had plenty of manpower to continue the offensive: on June 13 he launched an all-out assault along a 31-mile front, aided by the composite Austro-German Südarmee (South Army). By June 15 the Russian Third Army was reeling back, allowing Mackensen to turn on the Russian Eighth Army, which also beat a hasty retreat. After a six-day battle the Central Powers recaptured Galicia’s capital Lemberg (today Lviv in western Ukraine) on June 22, while the Russian Eleventh Army joined the general withdrawal. 

Meanwhile in Petrograd the blame game was heating up. On June 26 Minister of War Vladimir Sukhomlinov (below, left) resigned amid allegations of incompetence stemming from the string of defeats as well as the critical shortage of artillery shells, which he had totally failed to remedy; he was succeeded by Alexei Polivanov (below, right) who would himself be removed in March 1916 due to the animosity of the Tsarina, egged on by the sinister holy man Rasputin. 

Wikimedia Commons [1,2]

A New Direction 

There would be no respite for exhausted Russian soldiers. On June 29, 1915, Mackensen launched the biggest offensive yet, attacking in a surprising new direction that forced the Russians to accelerate the Great Retreat. 

After the fall of Lemberg, Falkenhayn and the overall commanders on the Eastern Front, Paul von Hindenburg and his brilliant chief of staff Erich Ludendorff, met to consider options for the next stage of the campaign. Thus far the Austro-German advance had followed a straightforward west-to-east direction, more or less dictated by the need to pursue the withdrawing Russian armies. However the liberation of most of Galicia opened up a new possibility: Mackensen’s chief of staff Hans von Seeckt pointed out that they could now exploit a gap between the Russian Third and Fourth Armies to attack north into Russian Poland, capturing the important rail hub at Brest-Litovsk and cutting off the Russian First and Second Armies defending Warsaw further to the west. To fill the gap left by the Eleventh Army they would also transfer the Austro-Hungarian First Army across the rear of the advancing Eleventh and Fourth Armies, while Army Detachment Woyrsch took over the First Army’s lines. 

At first advance units of the German Eleventh Army faced virtually no resistance as they crossed north into Russian Poland on June 29, 1915, supported by the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army on its left flank. By July 2 however the Russian Third Army had rumbled into action, launching a fierce counterattack against the Eleventh Army’s advancing right flank along the Bug River, while Mackensen’s forces also encountered elements of the newly formed and short-lived Russian Thirteenth Army (above, Russian troops in a temporary defensive position). Dominik Richert, a German soldier from Alsace, described a nighttime battle along the Zlota Lipa river on July 1-2: 

When the sun had already dipped below the horizon, I thought that we would be spending the night behind the embankment and that the attack would not take place until the following morning. It turned out that I was wrong. Behind us artillery shots could be heard; the shells whizzed over us and exploded further up at the Russian position… “Advance!” called the Commander of our Regiment from the back of the embankment. How these words made me shudder! Each of us knew that it would be the death sentence for some of us. I was most afraid of being shot in the stomach, as the poor pitiful people would normally live on, suffering the most terrible pain, for between one and three days before breathing their last. “Fix bayonets! Forwards to attack! March! March!” Everyone ran up the hill. 

Richert was lucky enough to survive the charge on the Russian trenches, although the terror and confusion continued: 

Despite everything we made progress. Amidst the roar of the infantry fire you could hear the rattle of the Russian machine guns. Shrapnel shells exploded overhead. I was so nervous that I did not know what I was doing. Out of breath and panting we arrived in front of the Russian position. The Russians climbed out of the trench and ran uphill towards the wood nearby, but most of them were shot down before they got there. 

To deal with the threat to Mackensen’s right flank, on July 8, 1915 Falkenhayn formed a new composite Austro-German army, the Army of the Bug (named for the Bug River area where it would operate) commanded by Alexander von Linsingen, formerly of the Südarmee. He also gave Mackensen direct control over the Austro-Hungarian First and Fourth Armies, much to the chagrin of Conrad, who found himself and his officers increasingly sidelined by the imperious Prussians of the German general staff. Conrad’s position wasn’t helped by the embarrassing (but temporary) rebuff of the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army by the Russian Fourth Army near Krasnik on July 6-7. 

The Central Powers commanders also faced growing logistical difficulties, as their advance took them further away from their rail supply lines and deeper into territory where the retreating Russians had destroyed the railroads as well as most – but not all – sources of food (above, a Russian wheat field burning). Richert recalled hungry German troops finding scraps of food in an abandoned Russian trench: “In their trench were still pieces of bread left lying around and we eagerly consumed them. Many soldiers pulled the grains from the green heads of wheat, blew away the chaff and ate them, in order to overcome their pangs of hunger.”

After pausing to move up supplies and reinforcements, the Central Powers returned to the attack on July 13-16, 1915, with advances by the Austro-Hungarian First and Fourth Armies and the Army of the Bug setting the stage for the main push by the Eleventh Army on July 16. Elsewhere Army Group Gallwitz attacked south from East Prussia, smashing the Russian First Army, while the Ninth Army and Army Detachment Woyrsch tied down the Russian Second and Fourth Armies near Warsaw. As usual, the new offensive opened with a huge artillery bombardment. Helmut Strassmann, a gung-ho junior officer, described the furious barrage unleashed by the German guns on July 13: 

From 8 to 8.30 there was rapid-fire and from 8.30 to 8.41 drum-fire – the quickest of all. During these twelve minutes there fell into the Russian trenches, on a breadth of about 200 yards, about 10 shells per second. The earth groaned. Our chaps were keen as mustard, and our blessed guns simply rushed them along… When our bayonets began to get to work the enemy surrendered or bolted. Very few got away, for we were so near that every bullet reached its mark… The Company shot down quite 50 men and took 86 prisoners. Our own casualties were 3 killed and 11 wounded. One of our best men fell close to me during the attack, in the very act of shouting “hurrah”. He was shot through the head, so had a lucky death, being killed instantly. 

After heavy fighting, by July 19 Mackensen’s main force had advanced up to seven miles along a front stretching 20 miles west and south of Lublin. A Russian soldier, Vasily Mishnin, described the chaotic evacuation of Makov, a village west of Lublin on July 16, 1915:

It is raining heavily. Shells are already exploding nearby. Refugees are walking and driving from all directions. We are ordered to pull out of Makov immediately…  The battle is raging, everything is shaking. In Makov there is a crush of people, an endless procession of carts, no way to get out of here fast. Screaming, noise and crying, everything is confused. We are supposed to be retreating, but in two hours we only make it down one street… Everyone is desperate to avoid being taken prisoner by the Germans.

Meanwhile to the east the Army of the Bug and the Austro-Hungarian First Army had established bridgeheads across the River Bug, clearing the way for further advances towards Chelm, another key transportation junction on the way to the main objective of Brest-Litovsk (below, a Russian hospital train). 

The Central Powers’ advance slowed somewhat in the face of fierce Russian resistance beginning July 20, but it still posed a clear threat to the rest of the Russian forces to the west, prompting the Russian commander on the northwestern front, Mikhail Alekseyev, to order the evacuation of Warsaw on July 22. This was the first step towards the final Russian withdrawal from all of Poland, leaving thousands of square miles of scorched earth in its wake. 

Indeed, the fighting inflicted a heavy toll on the region’s inhabitants, as hundreds of thousands of Polish peasants abandoned their homes to flee with the retreating Russian armies into what are today Ukraine and Belarus. Ironically the German advance also destroyed the livelihoods of German settlers who had lived throughout the region for centuries. Richert recalled the scene in one small settlement: 

We came to a village, half of which had been set on fire by the German artillery. The inhabitants were standing around bemoaning the loss of their burnt out homes, from which smoke was still rising. Most of the inhabitants of the village were German settlers. A woman who was standing by her burnt out house told us that her house had already been burnt out the previous autumn when the Russians advanced. They had rebuilt it in the spring, and now she was homeless again. 

Not everyone fled: some Polish peasants decided to stay behind and take their chances with the conquering Germans and Austrians, as Richert discovered when he wandered into a peasant hut he believed to be empty, only to find a terrified woman with her child. Luckily for her, he was a co-religionist – and happily for him, she had food to share: 

When she saw me, she fell to her knees from fear and held her child towards me. She said something in her language – probably that I should spare her for the sake of her child. In order to calm her down I gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder, stroked her child and made a sign of the cross to it, so that she should see that I too was a Catholic, like herself. Then I pointed at my gun and then at her and shook my head to show her that I would not do anything. How happy that made her! She told me a great deal, but I did not understand a word of it… She gave us boiled milk, butter and bread. 

However most interactions probably weren’t quite so friendly; for one thing the Germans and Austrians, while still hoping to woo the Poles to their side, couldn’t conceal their racist disdain for “backwards” Slavs. Helena Jablonska, a Polish woman living in Przemyśl, complained in her diary: 

It pains me to hear the Germans bad-mouth Galicia. Today I overheard two lieutenants asking “Why on earth should the sons of Germany spill blood to defend this swinish country?”… I had managed to keep quiet up till then, but this was really too much for me. I told them they were forgetting that it was to defend their Berlin from a Russian onslaught that we had been made to sacrifice Lwow [Lemberg] and devastate Galicia. I said that, in fact, we had deserved their help much sooner than it came. 

Although few Poles welcomed the occupiers with open arms, as Jablonska’s comment indicates they weren’t necessarily afraid of arbitrary acts of violence either, in marked contrast to the capricious barbarity of Nazi German troops in the Second World War. In fact most rank and file soldiers were probably too tired and hungry to expend much energy on oppressing the locals, beyond requisitioning any food they might have. By mid-July some German troops had marched over 200 miles in the previous two months, and the advance was set to continue unabated through the hot Eastern European summer. Richert remembered: 

We marched on. As a result of the intense heat, we suffered greatly from thirst. As a result of the dry weather, there was a great deal of dust on the poorly made-up roads and tracks; the marching columns of men stirred it up so much that we were advancing in a real cloud of dust. The dust landed on your uniform and pack, and worked its way into your nose, eyes, and ears. As most of us were unshaven, the dust gathered in our beards, and the sweat ran down continuously, forming streams in the dust-covered faces. On marches like this, the soldiers looked really disgusting. 

While many Polish peasants fled voluntarily, that wasn’t the case for hundreds of thousands of Jews, as the Russians – angered by the fact that the Jews obviously preferred German rule and collaborated with the German military – continued their policy of forcible mass deportations into the Russian interior (below, Polish Jewish deportees). Ruth Pierce, a young American woman living in Kiev, witnessed the arrival of Galician Jews who were confined to camps before being shipped onwards to Siberia: 

And down the hill was passing a stream of people, guarded on either side by soldiers with bayonets… They were Jews, waxen-faced, their thin bodies bent with fatigue. Some had taken their shoes off, and limped along barefooted over the cobble-stones. Others would have fallen if their comrades had not held them up. Once or twice a man lurched out of the procession as though he was drunk or had suddenly gone blind, and a soldier cuffed him back into line again. Some of the women carried babies wrapped in their shawls. There were older children dragging at the women's skirts. The men carried bundles knotted up in their clothes. “Where are they going?”--I whispered to Marie. “To the Detention Camp here. They come from Galicia, and Kiev is one of the stopping-places on their way to Siberia.” 

Italy Defeated at First Battle of the Isonzo 

As the Central Powers pushed deeper into Russian territory on the Eastern Front, to the south the Allies suffered another defeat on the Italian front, where chief of the general staff Luigi Cadorna flung his armies against well-entrenched Austrian defenders at the First Battle of the Isonzo, with predictable results. As its name indicates this was just the first of twelve battles along the Isonzo River, most employing massed infantry charges that produced huge casualties for minimal gains (below, the Isonzo River valley today). 

After Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915, the Austrians immediately withdrew to strong defensive positions built along foothills and mountainsides over the preceding months in expectation of an Italian attack, giving up a small amount of low-lying territory in return for a huge tactical advantage. Over the following weeks four Italian armies crept forward cautiously until they reached the Austrian defenses, in what became known – rather inaccurately – as the “Primo Sbalzo” or “first leap” (it was less of a leap and more of a crawl). The advance then halted until the disorganized Italians could complete their mobilization and bring up artillery and shells. Finally, by June 23, 1915, everything was ready, more or less, for the first major Italian offensive. 

The main Italian war aim was capturing the port city of Trieste, with its mostly Italian population, and the first attack was accordingly carried out by the Italian Second and Third Armies, under General Frugoni and the Duke of Aosta, respectively, against the Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army under Svetozar Boroević von Bojna, entrenched on the high ground above the Isonzo River. The attack would focus on the defensive positions above Tolmein (Tolmino in Italian, today Tolmin in Slovenia) and Gorizia, now part of Italy; as a result much of the fighting would take place in rough, craggy terrain at elevations over 2,000 feet.  

Cadorna doesn’t seem to have benefited much from the lessons learned by Allied generals at painful cost over almost a year of war on the Western Front, but he at least understood the value of prolonged artillery bombardments to soften up the enemy’s defenses. Thus the opening week of the First Battle of the Isonzo was devoted to heavy shelling, which however failed to break up the massive barbed wire entanglements in front of the Austro-Hungarian trenches, sometimes literally dozens of meters wide. Conditions were made worse be heavy rains that turned hillsides into slippery cascades of mud, which somehow had to be scaled beneath Habsburg machine gun and rifle fire. 

The big infantry charge sent 15 Italian divisions forward along a 21-mile front on June 30, but despite a numerical advantage of almost two-to-one the assault failed almost completely, gaining a single bridgehead across the Isonzo through a huge expenditure of blood and ammunition (above, crossing the Isonzo; below, Italian wounded). 

On July 2 the Italians launched another attack towards the Carso (Karst) Plateau, a strategic elevated plain riddled with pits and caves, and managed to capture Mount San Michele on the western edge of the plateau. A third attack against the Doberdò Plateau advanced less than a mile; elsewhere the Italians were pushed out of their hard-won positions in the hills above Gorizia. By July 7, 1915, it was all over; the Italians had suffered 15,000 casualties, compared to 10,000 for the Austro-Hungarians, for negligible gains. With every hour that passed the Habsburg defenders were receiving reinforcements and digging in deeper (below, Austrian troops in the Isonzo). 

However none of this deterred Cadorna from launching another offensive, again relying on overwhelming numerical superiority and using substantially similar tactics, in the Second Battle of the Isonzo from July 18-August 3, 1915. The Italians scored some modest successes in this battle, but as so often in the First World War it proved a Pyrrhic victory, costing 42,000 Italian casualties.

See the previous installment or all entries. 

13 Delicious Facts About Hannibal

Brooke Palmer, NBCUniversal Media
Brooke Palmer, NBCUniversal Media

In 2013, producer Martha De Laurentiis, writer Bryan Fuller, and a talented cast and crew set about crafting a new version of the Hannibal Lecter story. It was a daring proposition after the character and his world had been so clearly defined by Sir Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the character and Hannibal’s presence in four novels and five feature films, but Fuller had an idea no one else had approached yet. He wanted to tell the story of the cannibal psychiatrist and the empathetic profiler who ultimately caught him as the story of two lives linked by mutual insanity. Audiences could not have seen it coming, but what they got was one of the most stylish, visually arresting, and psychologically complex horror shows to ever hit television.

Hannibal only lasted three seasons, but in its short time on the air it amassed loads of critical acclaim and a ravenous fan base known as “Fannibals,” many of whom are still holding out hope for the show’s return. With the show’s influence and impact still fresh in our imaginations more than five years after it made its debut, here are 13 facts about the making of Hannibal.

1. BRYAN FULLER GOT THE JOB BECAUSE OF A FATEFUL PLANE RIDE.

Bryan Fuller is a lifelong fan of horror, and a longtime fan of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels, but he did not set out to snag the Hannibal job. In fact, he wasn’t even necessarily aware of the job until it found him, on a flight to New York City where he happened to be seated near an old friend: Katie O’Connell, who was the then-new CEO of the Gaumont Film Company’s U.S. television division. O’Connell told Fuller she was developing a Hannibal series, and asked him if he thought there was a show there—not to offer him the job, but just to get his feedback. In response, Fuller asked if Gaumont had the rights to Will Graham, the protagonist of Harris’s novel Red Dragon, because he was fascinated by one line in that novel that signified a much deeper relationship between Graham and Lecter that audiences and readers had never quite seen.

“Because I had read the books, I knew how much more psychologically complex Will Graham is in the literature than he is in the film. I thought, Wow, there’s a great opportunity to deliver on that line from Red Dragon that Hannibal Lecter says, which is, ‘You caught me because you’re as insane as I am.’ There’s a whole world in that explores their friendship,” Fuller said. “If we are dealing with the Hannibal Lecter who’s a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal, then he’s out in the open amongst us, a wolf in psychiatrist’s clothing, and wouldn’t that be such a terrifying thing for someone like Will Graham, who is uniquely vulnerable to his own psychology, to have somebody there with access to the buttons of his mind.”

Fuller’s thoughts on Hannibal and Will Graham set in motion an idea for a kind of Red Dragon prequel that would also serve as a mash-up of all of Harris’s writings on the character. That in turn led to a meeting with Martha De Laurentiis of the Dino De Laurentiis Company, which in turn led to a meeting at NBC which got the show greenlit.

2. THE SERIES BEGAN LIFE AS A CLARICE STARLING STORY WITH MGM.

Hugh Dancy and Julian Richings in 'Hannibal'
Brooke Palme, NBCUniversal Media

Before Bryan Fuller entered the picture, and even before Gaumont Television began working on developing the series, Martha De Laurentiis was considering some kind of new Hannibal Lecter project, but wasn’t interested in making yet another film based on the works of Thomas Harris. While Fuller’s concept ultimately latched onto the dynamic between Lecter and Graham, De Laurentiis said that before that happened there was the idea of revisiting The Silence of the Lambs pairing of Lecter and FBI agent Clarice Starling.

“We actually were toying with the idea—with MGM, who has the Clarice character, from the library of Orion Pictures that did Silence of the Lambs—and we were talking about doing something Clarice and Hannibal in the time period after Silence of the Lambs, but we really didn’t take it very far,” De Laurentiis said. “In fact, I felt that perhaps Hannibal would be a very, very minor character and then perhaps just disappear, and I didn’t feel that was right for the character of Hannibal Lecter.”

So, through working with Katie O’Connell at Gaumont, De Laurentiis was connected with Fuller, and the collaboration that would bring us Hannibal began.

3. FULLER ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED A SEVEN-SEASON PLAN.

Though Red Dragon was a major inspiration on the direction of the show because of its depiction of the Lecter/Graham dynamic, Fuller and company set Hannibal in the years leading up to that story in order to show audiences what Lecter was like as “a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal,” as Fuller put it. That meant reading between the lines of Harris’s novel to develop the relationship that would ultimately lead the two characters down the path of Red Dragon, and lead Hannibal as a character into his life as documented by Harris, when he was a captured serial killer and then an escaped fugitive. In the end, the mash-up quality of the series allowed Fuller to play with many of those elements of Lecter’s life outside of Harris’s chronology, but as the series was first taking shape, Fuller imagined a seven-season plan that would ultimately adapted Harris’s first three Lecter novels and then go beyond them.

“Well, when you get into season four, you get into the literature. And so season four would be Red Dragon, season five would be The Silence of the Lambs era, season six would be the Hannibal era, and then season seven would be a resolve to the ending of that book," Fuller said. "Hannibal ends on a cliffhanger. Hannibal Lecter has bonded with Clarice Starling and brainwashed her and they are now quasi-lovers and off as fugitives, and so that’s a cliffhanger. It might be interesting to resolve that in some way and to bring Will Graham back into the picture. So once we get two more seasons, say, of the television show, those are the aren’t-novelized stories, and then we would get into expansions of the novels after that and kind of using the novels as a backbone for season arcs that would then be kind of enhanced.”

Of course, plans change, and the adaptation of Red Dragon ultimately came in the second half of the show’s third season, but it’s clear Fuller had big ambitions to chart the full course of Hannibal’s criminal career.

4. A REAL CHEF DESIGNED ALL THOSE CANNIBAL RECIPES.

Mads Mikkelsen in 'Hannibal'
NBCUniversal Media

Hannibal Lecter isn’t just a cannibal—he is a cannibal gourmand and gourmet, a lover of the finer things who doesn’t just want to eat human flesh, but prepare it in exquisite and refined ways. Fuller knew this, and he also immediately knew he needed someone with tremendous food expertise to help him make the series. So he turned to a chef of whom he was already a fan: José Andrés, owner of the restaurant The Bazaar in Beverly Hills.

"I have a limited knowledge of the culinary. And Hannibal Lecter has to be smarter than I am in the kitchen," Fuller said. "José gives insight into his expertise; he's omnipresent in every food scene."

When work on the series began, Fuller and Andrés began a series of conversations in which the chef explained that every part of the human body is in some way edible, right down to the bones, which can be ground up and used as thickener. With this in mind, Fuller sought to not just write scenes in which Hannibal is cooking human body parts, but to craft elaborate metaphors in each dinner scene (for example, the scene in which he serves “lamb tongue” to Dr. Frederick Chilton), on which he heavily consulted Andrés during the writing process. Andrés would develop a recipe, which food stylist Janice Poon would then prepare and arrange on set, complete with the elaborate tablescapes which came to dominate so much of the look of the show. The “food porn” Fuller insisted on became so popular with fans that Poon started a blog about the process, and even eventually produced a cookbook.

5. SEVERAL ROLES WERE RACE- AND GENDER-SWAPPED.

In writing Hannibal, Fuller considered Harris’s writing—particularly Red Dragon—to be a kind of guiding Bible, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take liberties. He aged up the title character, which among other things removes Lecter’s traumatic childhood experiences during World War II from consideration, but perhaps the most notable changes came in casting. Several key roles in the series were ultimately given to actors of different races and even genders than they were previously depicted, in an effort to increase the diversity of the cast. So, Hannibal gave us black actors in the roles of previously white characters Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley), and the previously male characters Alan Bloom and Freddy Lounds became Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki).

“Because it’s a more accurate representation of the world, and if we just did Red Dragon again, it’d be a sausage party with a bunch of white guys,” Fuller told Bloody Disgusting. “I mean, when I first started writing, my protagonists were always young women, and there’s something about that point of view ... you can do some things with a female character that you can’t do with a male character. Like, I always think that, to make a character female gives you so many more opportunities of expression.”

6. DAVID TENNANT ALMOST PLAYED HANNIBAL.

David Tennant in 'Jessica Jones'
Myles Aronowitz, Netflix

Hugh Dancy was the first star cast in the series, joining Hannibal as Will Graham in the spring of 2012, but casting the title role took a little bit longer. After all, how do you recast a part that Anthony Hopkins basically owned thanks to three films and one Oscar? Ultimately, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen won the role, but he wasn’t the only star considered. At one point, Fuller was meeting with Doctor Who and Jessica Jones star David Tennant about the role.

“I met [Hannibal executive producer] Bryan Fuller a couple of times, and we talked about it,” Tennant told Entertainment Weekly. “But I think they quite wisely chose Mads Mikkelsen, I think he was a perfect choice for it, and I think he did things with that character that I wouldn’t have managed, so I think the right man got the job.”

7. CENSORS WERE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS.

For a show like Hannibal, elaborate crime scenes full of mutilated bodies were always going to be part of the process, which adds even more credence to the idea that such a series might be better suited to cable than a broadcast network. At NBC, though, Fuller took a very hands-on approach to crafting the various gruesome murders with the help of the network's standards and practices department. Rather than script or shoot something and then get into a fight with network censors about what he couldn’t show, Fuller would reach out directly with his ideas first, and then work with them to depict the best possible NBC-friendly version of the scene. As a result, he learned a few tricks to get around broadcast TV’s violence limitations.

“The redder the blood and the brighter the blood the less you can show,” he said. “So if you darken the blood and throw it into shadow, then you can be much more graphic than your normally would be able to.”

As it happens, dark shadowy blood matches Hannibal’s overall aesthetic perfectly, so that particular note worked out for everyone.

8. ONE EPISODE NEVER AIRED ON NBC.

It was never any secret that Hannibal would be the kind of show that dealt with graphic and heinous crimes. Its two main characters are a serial killer and a man who hunts serial killers, after all. Still, even Fuller has his limits, and after a particularly violent few months in America in late 2012 and early 2013, he asked NBC to pull the fourth episode of the show’s first season. “Oeuf,” the episode in question, involved a woman (Molly Shannon) brainwashing children into killing their own families. Fuller felt that “given the cultural climate right now in the U.S., I think we shouldn’t air the episode in its entirety,” and cited in particular the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing as examples. “Oeuf” was still teased via a series of clips released to NBC’s website, and the episode is now available on Blu-ray and through streaming services.

9. THERE WAS ONE ELABORATE MURDER THE SHOW WASN’T ALLOWED TO FILM.

Despite working closely with the network’s standards and practices to show as much as possible within the limits of broadcast TV, Hannibal was still a series airing on one of the big four broadcast networks, and not cable. That meant limitations were always inevitable, and at one point Fuller and the writers’ imaginations reached further than NBC was willing to allow.

So, what’s the one big murder scene NBC said no to? According to Fuller, it would have come in the Season 1 episode “Roti,” in which Graham is pursuing escaped killer Dr. Abel Gideon (guest star Eddie Izzard). The scene would have involved Lounds being lured into a room where one of Gideon’s victims was waiting, still alive, with a slit in his stomach. Lounds would have then flipped a switch that triggered a ceiling fan, and it would have been revealed that the fan was actually attached to the man’s intestines through the cut in his stomach. As the fan began to spin, it would disembowel him.

“That was the only one where NBC was like, ‘I just don’t know how you’re going to do it,'” Fuller said. “We would have pushed back if we also hadn’t been told that financially we didn’t know how we could afford to produce such a gag, because you have intestines swinging around a ceiling fan,” he adds.

10. THE SHOW’S BIGGEST CRIME SCENE USED REAL (LIVING) HUMAN BODIES.

Hugh Dancy in 'Hannibal'
NBCUniversal Media

The first case of Hannibal’s second season involved “The Muralist,” a serial killer who abducted and killed various people of different ethnic backgrounds, preserved their bodies with silicone and resin, and then sewed them together in a massive and intricate pattern in the bottom of a silo to form the shape of a human eye (victims with paler skin made up the white, while victims with darker skin were the pupil). It’s an intense and captivating visual even by Hannibal’s standards, and while the production used a computer program called Form Z to design the layout of the bodies beforehand, when it came time to actually film the scene there was no substitute for the real thing. Several dozen background artists were employed and asked to lie in an elaborate pattern on the floor of the set for two days of shooting, usually nearly nude.

“Forty-plus human bodies. They warmed the bottom of the floor for the backgrounds artists so they wouldn’t succumb to the cold,” Fishburne recalled. “And you walk into that room and you’re hit immediately with all the scent of human flesh and the pheromones that are coming off everybody and all you want to do is lay down and go to sleep with them.”

11. IT INCLUDES A WONDERFALLS CROSSOVER.

It’s a bit of a tradition among Bryan Fuller TV series that some connective tissue is established between whatever the current series is and the shows that came before it, establishing what fans call the “Fullerverse.” This carried over into Hannibal, which shares a very brief connection with Fuller’s single season Fox series Wonderfalls. In Hannibal’s second episode, “Amuse-Bouche,” a woman named Gretchen Speck (Chelan Simmons) goes to the pharmacy to pick up her insulin, at which time it’s revealed that she was previously Gretchen Speck-Horowitz, but she has since divorced. Speck is one of the potential victims of that episode’s serial killer, a pharmacist who gives diabetic patients the wrong medication to place them into a coma, then half-buries them and uses their bodies as mushroom farms in the forest. Speck was meant to be his next victim, but she’s saved before he can carry out his plan. Gretchen Speck-Horowitz was one of Wonderfalls’s recurring characters, and because she managed to escape death in Hannibal, she’s still around for another Bryan Fuller series.

12. DAVID BOWIE WAS ALMOST A GUEST STAR.

In addition to a stellar main cast, Hannibal was also always packed with interesting guest stars, from Eddie Izzard to Gillian Anderson to Lance Henriksen. One particular guest star, though, was always just out of reach for the series. For the second season, Fuller offered the role of Hannibal’s uncle Robert Lecter to legendary musician and actor David Bowie, but Bowie was unavailable and the role was left uncast—though not without the hope that Bowie could eventually make time for the series.

“We were told by his people, when we got the pick-up for the third season, to make sure to ask again about his availability,” Fuller said. “So, once we have our dates, we are going to ask again.  I think the man walks on water, so I would love to be in his orbit, in some way.”

Bowie, of course, never made it to Hannibal, and we now know he spent the final 18 months of his life battling liver cancer and working on his final musical projects before he passed away on January 10, 2016.

13. A REVIVAL FOCUSING ON THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS IS STILL POSSIBLE.

Hannibal was canceled in June of 2015, just weeks into third season, after three years of critical acclaim but consistently low ratings. “Fannibals” immediately began requesting that the series continue elsewhere, and Fuller teased discussions with various streaming services to do just that. At one point, it seemed a deal to bring the series to Amazon for a fourth season was close, but the timeline ended up not working out due in part to Fuller’s commitment to the Starz series American Gods. Three years later, we still haven’t seen any more Hannibal.

That doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, though. Fuller has consistently broached the possibility of a fourth season or a even a miniseries to reunite the show’s cast, and both Mikkelsen and Dancy have expressed interest in returning. If the show did come back, Fuller would aim to focus on some form of the Silence of the Lambs storyline, having adapted Red Dragon in season three, while also resolving the very literal cliffhanger at the end of the series’s NBC run.

So, when could it happen? Last year, Fuller said that the rights have finally reverted back to De Laurentiis, who has begun “conversations” about the future of the franchise. We still have no idea what that future holds, but even three years later, Fannibals aren’t letting their favorite cannibal go.

Additional Sources:
“Hannibal Reborn” featurette, 2013
“A Taste for Killing” featurette, 2013
The Art and Making of Hannibal the Television Series by Jesse McLean, 2015

15 Fascinating Facts About Julia Child

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Julia Child was much more than just a bestselling cookbook author and chef. Over the course of her life, she was also a breast cancer survivor, a TV trailblazer, and a government spy. It's the famed chef's spy game that will be the focus of Julia, a new series being developed by ABC Signature and created by Benjamin Brand.

The project will draw its inspiration from Child's PBS program Cooking for the C.I.A. “I was disappointed when I learned that in this case, the C.I.A. stood for the Culinary Institute of America,” Brand told Deadline. “Cooking Secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency always seemed like a more interesting show to me. Many years later, when I read a biography of Julia Child and learned about her experiences during World War II, working for the Office of Strategic Services—the precursor to the C.I.A.—the story of Julia quickly fell into place.”

Though Julia (which has yet to confirm a premiere date) will be a work of fiction, here are 15 facts about the beloved cook, who was born on this day in 1912.

1. SHE MET THE INVENTOR OF THE CAESAR SALAD WHEN SHE WAS A KID.

As a preteen, Julia Child traveled to Tijuana on a family vacation. Her parents took her to dine at Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, so that they could all try his trendy “Caesar salad.” Child recalled the formative culinary experience to The New York Times: “My parents were so excited, eating this famous salad that was suddenly very chic. Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point.” Years later, when she was a famous chef in her own right, Child convinced Cardini’s daughter, Rosa, to share the authentic recipe with her.

2. THE WAVES AND WACS REJECTED HER BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO TALL.

Like so many others of her generation, Child felt the call to serve when America entered World War II. There was just one problem: her height. At a towering 6'2", Child was deemed “too tall” for both the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC). But she was accepted by the forerunner to the CIA, which brings us to our next point.

3. SHE WAS A SPY DURING WORLD WAR II.

Child took a position at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was basically the CIA 1.0. She began as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, where she worked directly for the head of the OSS, General William J. Donovan. But she moved over to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, and then took an overseas post for the final two years of the war. First in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and later in Kunming, China, Child served as the chief of the OSS Registry. This meant she had top-level security clearance. It also meant she was working with Paul Child, the OSS officer she would eventually marry.

4. SHE HELPED DEVELOP A SHARK REPELLENT FOR THE NAVY.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Child was in the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, she helped the team in its search for a suitable shark repellent. Several U.S. naval officers had been attacked by the ocean predators since the war broke out, so the OSS brought in a scientist specializing in zoology and an anthropologist to come up with a fix. Child assisted in this mission, and recalled her experience in the book Sisterhood of Spies: “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment—strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.”

5. SHE GOT MARRIED IN BANDAGES.

Once the war ended, Julia and Paul Child decided to take a “few months to get to know each other in civilian clothes.” They met with family members and traveled cross-country before they decided to tie the knot. The wedding took place on September 1, 1946. Julia remembered being “extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before.” She wasn’t kidding; she actually had to wear a bandage on the side of her face for her wedding photos. The New York Review of Books has one of those pictures.

6. SHE WAS A TERRIBLE COOK WELL INTO HER 30S.

Child did not have a natural talent for cooking. In fact, she was a self-admitted disaster in the kitchen until she began taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she and Paul lived for several years. Prior to her marriage, Child simply fed herself frozen dinners. It was probably the safest choice; one of her earliest attempts at cooking resulted in an exploded duck and an oven fire.

7. A LUNCH IN ROUEN CHANGED HER LIFE.

Child repeatedly credited one meal with spurring her interest in fine foods: a lunch in the French city of Rouen that she and Paul enjoyed en route to their new home in Paris. The meal consisted of oysters portugaises on the half-shell, sole meunière browned in Normandy butter, a salad with baguettes, and cheese and coffee for dessert. They also “happily downed a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fumé” over the courses.

8. IT TOOK HER NINE YEARS TO WRITE AND PUBLISH HER FIRST COOKBOOK.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking revolutionized home cooking when it was published in 1961—but the revolution didn't happen overnight. Child first began work on her famous tome in 1952, when she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The French women were writing a cookbook aimed at teaching Americans how to make French cuisine, and brought Child on board as a third author. Nine years of research, rewrites, and rejections ensued before the book landed a publisher at Alfred A. Knopf.

9. SHE GOT FAMOUS BY BEATING EGGS ON BOSTON PUBLIC TELEVISION.

Child’s big TV break came from an unlikely source: Boston’s local WGBH station. While promoting Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child appeared as a guest on the book review program I’ve Been Reading. But rather than sit down and discuss recipe semantics, Child started cracking eggs into a hot plate she brought with her. She made an omelette on air as she answered questions, and viewers loved it. The station received dozens of letters begging for more demonstrations, which led WGBH producer Russell Morash to offer Child a deal. She filmed three pilot episodes, which turned into her star-making show The French Chef.

10. ALL HER ESSENTIAL UTENSILS WERE KEPT IN A “SACRED BAG.”

According to a 1974 New Yorker profile, Child carried a large black canvas satchel known as the “sacred bag.” Rather than holy artifacts, it contained the cooking utensils she couldn’t live without. That included her pastry-cutting wheel, her favorite flour scoop, and her knives, among other things. She started using it when The French Chef premiered, and only entrusted certain people with its care.

11. SHE SURVIVED BREAST CANCER.

Child’s doctors ordered a mastectomy in the late 1960s after a routine biopsy came back with cancerous results. She was in a depressed mood following her 10-day hospital stay, and Paul was a wreck. But she later became vocal about her operation in hopes that it would remove the stigma for other women. She told TIME, “I would certainly not pussyfoot around having a radical [mastectomy] because it’s not worth it.”

12. HER MARRIAGE WAS WELL AHEAD OF ITS TIME.

As their meet-cute in the OSS offices would suggest, Paul and Julia Child had far from a conventional marriage (at least by 1950s standards). Once Julia’s career took off, Paul happily assisted in whatever way he could—as a taste tester, dishwasher, agent, or manager. He had retired from the Foreign Service in 1960, and immediately thrust himself into an active role in Julia’s business. The New Yorker took note of Paul’s progressive attitudes in its 1974 profile of Julia, noting that he suffered “from no apparent insecurities of male ego.” He continued to serve as Julia’s partner in every sense of the word until his death in 1994.

13. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN INDUCTED INTO THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA'S HALL OF FAME.

Child spent her early years working for what would become the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1993, she joined another CIA: the Culinary Institute of America. The group inducted Child into its Hall of Fame that year, making her the first woman to ever receive the honor.

14. SHE EARNED THE HIGHEST CIVILIAN HONORS FROM THE U.S. AND FRANCE.

Along with that CIA distinction, Child received top civilian awards from both her home country and the country she considered her second home. In 2000, she accepted the Legion D’Honneur from Jacques Pépin at Boston’s Le Méridien hotel. Just three years later, George W. Bush gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

15. HER KITCHEN IS IN THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 2001, Julia donated the kitchen that Paul designed in their Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Although it’s not possible to walk directly through it, there are three viewports from which visitors can see the high counters, wall of copper pots, and gleaming stove. Framed recipes, articles, and other mementos from her career adorn the surrounding walls—and, of course, there’s a television which plays her cooking shows on loop.

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