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Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

15 Fab Facts About Help!

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Beatles never claimed to be great actors, but it sure looked like they were having a ball whenever they appeared on the big screen. After the success of the cinema verité-style film A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr decided to go bigger and brighter for their second movie, Help! (quite literally: unlike its predecessor, Help! was in color). For their second go-round, The Beatles re-teamed with A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester for a madcap, globe-trotting romp that had them fighting off a kooky, Indian-esque (or “Eastern,” as they were called) cult determined to sacrifice a hapless Ringo to their deity, Kaili.

Its weak, politically incorrect plot aside, Help! is an iconic piece of 1960s moviemaking (a gushing Martin Scorsese even penned the introduction to the film’s 2007 DVD re-release). The movie further established Lester as one of the more daring directors of the period, and he helped (no pun intended) to usher in the music video format that would become standard over the next several decades. And let’s not forget that it starred The Beatles, who were at the height of their fame at the time. These guys probably could have gotten away with just lying on a Bahamian beach for the last 20 minutes of the movie and it still would have been a hit. But, fortunately for everyone who’s ever seen Help!, they opted instead to put their talents to good use, infusing the story with their trademark wit, charm, and—most importantly—seven quintessential Beatles tunes.

Help! premiered in London on July 29, 1965, and made its way stateside the following month. In celebration of the film's 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about The Beatles’ second brush with Hollywood stardom.

1. HELP! WAS ALMOST CALLED EIGHT ARMS TO HOLD YOU.

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At first listen, “Eight Arms to Hold You” sounds like a nice idea: who wouldn’t want to be held by all four Beatles, right? But when Lester reveals that the Ringo Starr-suggested title was in fact a reference to the multi-armed statue of Kaili that appears in the film, and not a teenage girl’s fantasy of being cradled by The Fab Four, much of the romantic element fades away. In the book accompanying the film’s 2007 DVD re-release, Lester claims that he had wanted to call the movie Help from the get-go, but the title had already been registered. Luckily, thanks to The Beatles’ lack of enthusiasm to write a song called “Eight Arms to Hold You” and a legal loophole involving an exclamation point, the film was able to proceed as Help!

2. GEORGE HARRISON WAS FIRST TURNED ON TO SITAR MUSIC DURING THE FILM’S PRODUCTION.

In the months following the release of Help!, the sitar—an instrument synonymous with Indian music—began to pop up on several now-classic Beatles songs such as “Love You To,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “Within You Without You.” The origins of this new direction can be traced back to a single scene in Help!, which took place at an Indian restaurant and featured several musicians playing Beatles songs (like “A Hard Day’s Night”) on the sitar. Guitarist George Harrison admitted in 2000’s The Beatles Anthology that this piqued his interest in the instrument. By the end of 1965, he was playing the sitar on the Rubber Soul tune “Norwegian Wood.”

To that end, John Lennon believed that The Beatles’ general fascination with Indian culture—studying yoga, working with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Harrison’s passion for the music, etc.—was all a result of working on the movie: “All of the Indian involvement came out of the film Help!” said Lennon in the Anthology (culled from a 1972 interview).

3. THE MOVIE’S INTERNATIONAL LOCALES WERE REALLY JUST AN EXCUSE FOR THE BEATLES TO TRAVEL.

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While A Hard Day’s Night stuck to the familiarity of London, Help! was a veritable travelogue, sending The Beatles to such far-flung destinations as the Bahamas and the Austrian Alps in their attempts to evade the evil Clang (Leo McKern) and his cult of Eastern sycophants. But as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr revealed in Anthology interviews, the film’s travel budget was increased mainly because they wanted to go to the aforementioned locales. McCartney recalled how they would say to the writers, “We’ve never been to the Bahamas—could you write that in?” and “I’ve never been skiing. I wonder if you could write in a scene with skiing?”

But The Beatles learned the consequences of their actions the hard way: the weather in the Bahamas was freezing at the time (“It was absolutely bloody cold,” said Starr), and their crash course in skiing consisted of, according to the drummer, little more than being “edged down the mountain.”

4. THE BEATLES’ CO-STAR, ELEANOR BRON, PARTIALLY INSPIRED THE SONG “ELEANOR RIGBY.”

Thirty years before she terrified millennial children as the cruel Miss Minchin in A Little Princess, English actress Eleanor Bron had the most coveted acting gig in the world—as the beautiful and exotic Ahme, the member of the Eastern cult secretly helping the lads. She obviously left a lasting impression on Paul McCartney, who confirmed in the Anthology that he did get the name for The Beatles’ 1966 tune “Eleanor Rigby” from his Help! co-star. “I liked the name Eleanor,” he said.

5. JOHN LENNON IS READING HIS OWN BOOK DURING THE “BEATLES AT HOME” SCENE.

Getting excited over a good book is one thing, but kissing it? I guess if you’re John Lennon, and the book you selected from your personal library happens to be your own 1965 collection of stories and drawings called A Spaniard in the Works, you’d be showering it with affection, too.

6. THE BEATLES’ MAIN FORM OF NOURISHMENT ON THE HELP! SET WAS MARIJUANA.

The film itself is peppered with sly drug references (“Boys, are you buzzing?” “No, thanks!”; Paul to Ahme about the injection she’s about to give Ringo: “You sure it’s not mainlining or habit-forming?”), which made a lot of sense considering the amount of pot being smoked throughout the shoot. Lester attributed the movie’s “mad quality” to the abundance of weed The Beatles were smoking, and John Lennon, in a 1980 Playboy interview (referenced in the Anthology), made no bones about it either: “By then we were smoking marijuana for breakfast … and nobody could communicate with us because it was just all glazed eyes giggling all the time, in their own world.”

The heavy marijuana presence in Help! also made for this great on-set Anthology anecdote from Ringo Starr: While shooting a scene in the Austrian Alps, The Beatles were supposed to run away after a bomb planted in a curling stone goes off. Starr, craving another toke, admitted that “Paul and I ran about seven miles ... we just ran and ran so we could stop and have a joint.”

7. THE CROSS-CHANNEL SWIMMER WHO POPS UP BENEATH THE ALPINE SNOW ISN’T REALLY A CROSS-CHANNEL SWIMMER.

After the aforementioned bomb-in-the-curling-stone goes off, a man pops up from beneath the icy water asking for the “White Cliffs of Dover.” The swimmer is played by Mal Evans, The Beatles’ road manager and confidant. Evans’ character appears one more time in the movie’s final scene, swimming up to The Beatles on the beach in the Bahamas. No dialogue is exchanged, but the four lads merely point him in the opposite direction (for the White Cliffs of Dover are nowhere near Paradise Island).

8. ELEANOR BRON REFUSED THE GIFT OF A BEATLE JOINT.

The actress committed a major faux pas during filming when she turned down John Lennon’s offer of some pot. Since Bron wasn’t a smoker, she figured that the drug would be wasted on her, so she returned the joint to her famous co-star. That and she assumed any marijuana purchased by a Beatle had to be expensive, so she didn’t feel right accepting such high-end product when she wasn’t into it. Watch Bron discuss her exchange with Lennon in the video below.

9. THE TRIPPIEST MOMENT IN HELP! WAS NOT INFLUENCED BY DRUGS.

Photographer Robert Freeman, who shot several of The Beatles’ album covers—including the one for Help!—designed the end title sequence for the movie (he also designed the end titles for A Hard Day’s Night). In his book, The Beatles: A Private View, he explained that the idea for the credits, in which The Beatles and their co-stars seem to appear in an incredibly vivid drug trip, actually came from the bright red ring Ringo Starr wears throughout the movie:

“Since Ringo’s ring was the centerpiece of the plot, I filmed The Beatles and supporting cast—Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti—through prisms and pieces of faceted glass to create an impression of the characters being inside the ring. The sequence has been described as ‘psychedelic’ because of the kaleidoscopic coloring and imagery, but the inspiration came from a plot element and not from a drug-induced trance!”

10. THE MUSICAL NOTES IN THE “TICKET TO RIDE” SEQUENCE WERE PRODUCED OUT OF NECESSITY RATHER THAN CREATIVITY.

There’s a cute moment in the “Ticket to Ride” sequence where The Beatles are skiing in the Austrian Alps and they appear to ski right underneath part of the song’s musical score (it starts at around 1:27 in the above video). But as Lester explained in the 2007 documentary that accompanied the film’s DVD release, the decision to add musical notes came from the fact that the lads were skiing under some unsightly "telegraph wires” (Lester’s words; for all we know they could’ve been telephone wires). Since he couldn’t remove the wires digitally—this was the pre-CGI era, after all—he figured they’d make an ideal musical staff instead!

11. RICHARD LESTER’S WORK ON HELP! PIONEERED THE MUSIC VIDEO FORMAT.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lester and The Beatles were the first-ever recipients of the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1984 (they shared the honor with David Bowie). The rompy musical numbers in both A Hard Day’s Night and Help! paved the way toward the MTV (and now, YouTube) age. The performances of all seven songs in Help!— the title track, “Another Girl,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “I Need You,” “Ticket to Ride,” “The Night Before,” and “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”—can each be considered early forms of what would eventually become the music video format. In the above clip, taken from the 2007 Help! documentary, Lester says that (in addition to the Video Vanguard Award) he was once “sent a parchment scroll declaring that I was the father of MTV.”

12. ELEANOR BRON HAS 14 COSTUME CHANGES THROUGHOUT THE FILM.

Ahme, as a member of the mysterious cult chasing Ringo, predominantly wears elaborate “Eastern” finery in all of her scenes, including a sequined cape when swimming. But there are a few instances where Ahme gets to embrace the burgeoning mod fashion movement of mid-1960s London, as in this head-to-toe pink leather ensemble, where the best part of her entire outfit has to be her matching pink gun.

 

13. THERE’S A GREAT HELP! INSIDE JOKE AT THE END OF A BOOK SPANNING THE BEATLES’ EARLY YEARS.

Spoiler alert! Upon reaching the end of Mark Lewisohn’s book The Beatles: All These Years, Tune in, Vol. 1, die-hard fans will get a kick out of how the author chose to close the first installment of his planned three-volume trilogy.

            “End of Part One”

            “Intermission”

This is a reference to an absurd pause less than halfway through the movie, in which the “intermission” consists of The Beatles acting silly in a wooded area.

14. VICTOR SPINETTI, WHO PLAYED ONE OF THE BUMBLING SCIENTISTS, ALSO APPEARED IN TWO OTHER BEATLES FILMS.

It wasn’t just a freaky Eastern cult following Ringo around the world in Help! The Beatles’ drummer was also being pursued by the power-hungry scientist Tiberius Foot (Victor Spinetti) and his naive assistant, Algernon (Roy Kinnear, a.k.a. Veruca Salt’s dad in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). This was Welsh actor Spinetti’s second time playing opposite the Liverpudlian pop stars, having portrayed the uppity T.V. Director in A Hard Day’s Night the previous year. He was a personal favorite actor of The Beatles, who asked him to appear in A Hard Day’s Night after they saw one of his theater performances. (According to Spinetti, George Harrison told him, “You gotta be in all our films … if you’re not in them, me mum wouldn’t come and see them, because she fancies you.”) Two years after Help!, Spinetti showed up as an army sergeant in the band’s third movie, Magical Mystery Tour.

15. FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY, RICHARD LESTER GOT TO CALL HIMSELF “THE FIFTH BEATLE.”

During the Austrian Alps part of the shoot, there was a birthday party for assistant director Clive Reed held in the beer cellar of the resort where everyone was staying. Eventually The Beatles started up a jam session of all their old favorite 1950s tunes, and Lester joined in on the piano. As Lester tells it, he woke up the next morning with bleeding fingers: “My sheets were covered in blood, because I hadn’t played in so long.”

But it sounds like the pain was worth it, because the late Neil Aspinall (The Beatles’ onetime road manager), remarked to Lester around the time of the 2007 making-of documentary that he will forever be a member of a very elite club: “Do you realize that you’re probably one of the only musicians in the world that’s ever actually played a full set with The Beatles?”

Additional Sources:
2007 DVD Re-Release box set of Help! (retrospective book and documentary)
The Beatles Anthology (2000 book and 2003 DVD set)
The Beatles, by Bob Spitz
The Beatles: A Private View, by Robert Freeman

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entertainment
15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

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.


Columbia Pictures

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.


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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.


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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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Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library
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History
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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