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17 Pioneering Facts About Little House on the Prairie

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When the very popular TV series Bonanza left the airwaves after 14 years, Michael “Little Joe” Landon went looking for a new project. NBC executives approached him with the idea of producing a made-for-TV film based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s popular Little House on the Prairie series of books. The movie was a huge ratings hit, and since it had a sort-of cliffhanger ending, the network was deluged with inquiries from viewers asking “What happened to the Ingalls family next?” Thus a series was born. And while the premise of the show was very family-friendly and wholesome, we did find a bit of Prairie dirt to be dished.

1. PA INGALLS’ HAIR COLOR CAME OUT OF A BOTTLE.

Michael Landon had gone prematurely grey while he was still in his twenties, during his Bonanza days, and he used Clairol Medium Ash Brown to color his crowning glory. He continued using the same product once he started on Little House on the Prairie, dyeing his hair himself. But the scorching, unrelenting sun in Simi Valley would turn his hair an odd shade of lavender after a few days, which caused production delays (lights would have to be adjusted so as to not reflect on his head). Eventually Landon gave in and allowed a professional on the set to color his hair.

2. MICHAEL LANDON WAS VERY PROUD OF HIS PHYSIQUE—ALL OF IT.

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Landon never passed up an opportunity to appear shirtless on camera, which is why Pa never broke an arm or leg in any of his farming mishaps, only a rib or two. He also preferred to go au naturel underneath his tight-fitting prairie trousers.

3. THE NOVELTY OF PERIOD CLOTHING WORE OFF QUICKLY FOR THE GIRLS IN THE CAST.

All the exterior Little House on the Prairie scenes were filmed at the 10,000-acre Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California, where a “cool” day meant temperatures in the low 90s. Most days of filming the mercury hit triple digits, and the young actresses were clad from head to toe in heavy cotton stockings, petticoats, pinafores, and bonnets. Both Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson, and an assistant director passed out from the heat on the very first day of filming.

4. NELLIE OLESON’S PERFECT CURLS WERE ACTUALLY A WIG.

For the first few weeks of filming, Arngrim’s own hair was transformed into a series of sausage curls via a torturous old-fashioned curling iron that had to be heated in an oven. Finally it was decided that a custom-made wig would be more humane, not to mention time- and cost-effective. The wig had to be held in place with an enormous metal comb plus dozens of long, straight, metal hairpins, all of which frequently dug into Arngrim’s scalp and caused it to bleed.

5. LAURA AND MANLY’S WEDDING NIGHT WAS NOT AS ROMANTIC AS IT SEEMED.

Although on the show Laura was 17 when she married Almanzo Wilder, in real life Melissa Gilbert was a very innocent, romantically inexperienced 15-year-old whose first kiss was on a sound stage. Her initial kiss with 23-year-old Dean Butler (the actor who played Wilder) was only the third time she’d kissed a “boy” and it squicked her out because he had the tiniest bit of beard stubble. The thought of having to cuddle in bed with him (after the pair had wed on the series) was even more frightening to the teenager.

In an attempt to try to joke Melissa out of her nervousness, Butler quietly crooned some lyrics from “Strangers in the Night” into her ear before the cameras rolled. Unfortunately his effort had a cringe-worthy opposite effect on Gilbert, and she pleaded with Michael Landon afterward for any romantic scenes between Laura and Almanzo to be limited to hugs or a peck on the cheek.

6. LAURA AND MANLY’S LACK OF CHEMISTRY WAS A CAUSE FOR CONCERN AMONG THE PRODUCERS.

A “secret” memo was circulated at one point discussing the romantic pairings on the show; Laura and Almanzo just didn’t look like they were in love, and couldn’t the actors do something to generate some “sparks” between the two of them? The same memo pointed out that when Nellie and Percival were together they “looked like they f*** like crazed weasels.” Unbeknownst to the production staff, Steve Tracy, who played Nellie’s husband Percival, was gay. But he and Alison Arngrim were great friends and used to swap passionate, open-mouth kisses during their love scenes just because they knew it grossed Melissa Gilbert out.

7. MICHAEL LANDON’S OFF-SCREEN DALLIANCE DAMAGED HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH MELISSA GILBERT.

Melissa Gilbert became very close to Michael Landon’s family after she was hired for Little House on the Prairie, especially his son, Michael Jr., and daughter Leslie. Lynn Landon and Melissa’s mother, Barbara Crane, became best friends and the two families often vacationed together. One day Barbara broke the news to her daughter, “Auntie Lynn and Mike are separating.” Gilbert had noticed that Landon had been extremely attentive to “that makeup girl” (as makeup artist Cindy Clerico, 20 years Landon’s junior, was referred to by some cast members) on the set, but she’d never dreamed that he’d leave his wife of 19 years for her.

Gilbert remained polite and professional while working with Landon on the set after he married Clerico, but she stopped socializing with him after hours. After Little House on the Prairie ended, she didn’t speak to Michael again until she saw him at Leslie Landon’s wedding in 1990. Landon’s highly publicized breakup with Lynn also cost him some lucrative endorsement deals, including his long-time Kodak contract.

8. KAREN GRASSLE WAS ASKED TO CHANGE HER NAME WHEN SHE WAS CAST AS “MA.”

Actually Michael Landon asked her to change back to her real name, which is Karen Grassle (pronounced “Grass-lee”). When she auditioned for the role of Caroline Ingalls, she did so under her stage name at the time, Gabriel Tree.

9. CARRIE INGALLS WAS PLAYED BY A SET OF IDENTICAL TWINS.

Rachel and Sidney Bush (credited onscreen as “Lindsay Sidney Greenbush” and known as “Sugar Lump” and “Foxy Robin” to everyone on the set) were just three years old when they were signed to play the youngest Ingalls daughter. That’s Sidney falling down while running during the opening credits; the director rotated the girls every few hours in accordance with California labor laws for such young children. In this case, just prior to filming the hillside running scene, he had called for a “Fresh twin, please!” and Mrs. Bush hastily awoke the napping Sidney and quickly put her little shoes back on … unfortunately, on the wrong feet. Michael Landon thought it was adorable when she tripped and hit the ground and left it in the sequence.

10. SEAN PENN MADE HIS ACTING DEBUT ON LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

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The season one episode “The Voice of Tinker Jones” was directed by Leo Penn, who not only cast his wife, Eileen Ryan, in the role of Mrs. Kennedy, but also brought in his 13-year-old son Sean to play an uncredited schoolboy.

11. CHARLES INGALLS’ MANLY SWAGGER WAS DUE TO HIS SPECIAL BOOTS.

Michael Landon was just 5-feet-9-inches tall and didn’t want any other actor to tower over him, so he wore four-inch lifts in his boots. If that boost wasn’t quite enough in a particular scene, he would make sure that Charles was positioned on a staircase, a ladder, or even a slight mound of dirt.

12. MOST OF THOSE DINNERS MA SERVED WERE REALLY DINTY MOORE BEEF STEW.

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Any dinner scene that showed some sort of generic meat and gravy on the family’s plates—regardless of whether Ma announced that it was rabbit, chicken, or squirrel—actually consisted of canned Dinty Moore brand beef stew. Those instances when Laura was seen pulling a drumstick out of her tin lunch pail at school? Well, those came not from the Ingalls’ chicken coop, but from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

13. NELLIE AND LAURA WERE ACTUALLY BEST FRIENDS.

Mean ol’ Nellie Oleson got her lights punched out more than once by rival Laura Ingalls, but in real life Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert became the best of friends shortly after they first met in the makeup trailer. They had sleepovers at each other’s homes and became partners in crime when it came to playing pranks on their co-stars.

14. NO ONE EVER GOT CLOSE TO MARY.

Both Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim reported in their autobiographies that Melissa Sue Anderson (known as “Missy” on the set) remained somewhat cold and aloof during her time on Little House on the Prairie. There were rumors among the guardians on the set that Missy’s mother was overprotective and controlling and that was the reason the young actress tended to keep to herself.

15. NELLIE’S BROKEN ARM AND SCREAMS WERE BOTH REAL IN THAT FAMOUS RUNAWAY WHEELCHAIR SCENE.

“Bunny,” the episode where Nellie gets thrown from the horse she’d won from Laura in a previous episode and ends up paralyzed, is a fan favorite. The climactic scene occurs shortly after Laura discovers that Nellie can, in fact, walk and has been faking just to get attention. She gets her revenge by taking Nellie to the top of a hill in her wheelchair and then giving her an almighty shove. In reality, Alison Arngrim had recently broken her wrist in a skateboarding accident, so the plaster cast on her arm was real. And while a stunt double was used for the shot where Nellie flew out of the chair and into the pond, Arngrim was required to ride in the rickety 1870s-era wooden wheelchair down a rocky slope so she could be filmed screaming for the close-ups. The chair was attached to safety ropes, but just prior to the second take, as the director yelled “Action!” one of the crew members cried out “Oh no, the rope broke!” It hadn’t, but Arngrim didn’t know that and her terrified screams as she bounced and rolled down the hill, struggling with one hand to stay in the chair, were authentic.

16. ADULT BEVERAGES WERE ENJOYED BY CAST AND CREW DURING THE WORKDAY.

Alison Arngrim often caught a nap during her breaks in the prop truck, and it was there while she was hunkered down on the front seat that she overheard Michael Landon say “Hit me” to propman Ron Chiniquy at the rear of the truck. She lifted her head to peek and saw Chiniquy pour the requested four fingers of Wild Turkey into Landon’s coffee cup, even though it was only 10 a.m. She later found out from Ron that the crew usually went through two cases of Coors beer per day while working. Particularly stressful days, when rewrites and retakes were necessary, were referred to as “three-case days.” After filming was wrapped for the day, a makeshift bar with hard liquor was set up on a sawhorse for the “real” unwinding to begin. Yet both Alison and Melissa Gilbert report that despite all the alcohol consumption going on, no one (cast nor crew) ever appeared the least bit tipsy, nor did their work suffer.

17. THE SIMI VALLEY RANCH MAY HAVE BEEN A “SICK” SET.

Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory was the site of one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in U.S. history back in 1959, and illegal disposal of nuclear waste continued in the area until the 1980s. No actual link has ever been admitted publicly, but there have been murmurings for years that the number of cancer cases among Little House actors and crew members may have some connection to the chemical and radioactive contamination in that area. Michael Landon died of pancreatic cancer, Victor French (Isaiah Edwards) of lung cancer (he and Landon were heavy smokers, though), Merlin Olsen (Jonathan Garvey) died of mesothelioma, Kevin Hagen (Doc Baker) succumbed to esophageal cancer, and Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle) is a breast cancer survivor.

BONUS: And, just because, here’s disco Half Pint as we never saw her in Walnut Grove.

We hope you enjoy the singing and dancing talents of Melissa Gilbert on this 1978 installment of the short-lived variety series Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday.

Additional sources:
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim
Prairie Tale, by Melissa Gilbert
The Way I See It: A Look Back on My Life on Little House, by Melissa Sue Anderson
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, by Melissa Francis
Interview: Alison Arngrim

Interview: Melissa Gilbert

Interview: Karen Grassle

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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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.


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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.


Columbia Pictures

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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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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