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15 Surprising Facts About Transparent

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Since its Amazon debut in 2014, critics have fallen madly in love with the Pfeffermans, a difficult family trying to make sense of their lives in the wake of their father coming out as trans. Earlier this month,Transparent's second season earned Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Soloway their second consecutive Emmy awards for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Directing for a Comedy Series, respectively. On the heels of Transparent's season three premiere, here are 15 facts you might not know about the groundbreaking show that cemented Amazon as a major player in the TV game. 

1. A STORY ABOUT COURTENEY COX'S BUTT HELPED JUMPSTART JILL SOLOWAY'S CAREER.

While working her first L.A. writing gigs at The Steve Harvey Show and Nikki (which she called "the worst sitcom in the world"), Transparent creator Jill Soloway had some time on her hands to mess around on a show called Sit 'n Spin with her friends. The show involved people reading monologues and/or fiction, for which Soloway penned the hilarious "Courteney Cox's A**hole," a work of fiction told from the perspective of Cox's personal assistant. 

Soloway later sent the piece to a handful of literary magazines, while her agent passed it on to Alan Ball, executive producer of HBO's Six Feet Under. Ball was impressed, telling TIME that the story, albeit a few pages long, was able to "convey the very real pain of a soul yearning to be authentic in a completely inauthentic world." Also: He felt confident she'd be able to "write the hell out of Claire and Brenda." Soloway won a spot in the Six Feet Under writer's room. 

2. SOLOWAY AND LENA DUNHAM COMPETED FOR THE SAME HBO SLOT. (DUNHAM WON.)

This huge victory was not without a series of painful rejections, too. In what The New Yorker called a "downward slide"—the period immediately following her Six Feet Under residency in 2005—Soloway was fired from both HBO's United States of Tara and Grey's Anatomy. Then, she was beat out of what seemed to be a promising HBO slot by Lena Dunham (who would go on to create Girls). To add insult to injury, Soloway recalls people would frequently ask her if she was related to Dunham—"People were, like, it’s you, but younger and better.”

3. TRANSPARENT IS EXACTLY TWO PERCENT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

Soloway knew she wanted to make her own family show ever since working on Six Feet Under. What she didn't know is that her father would come out as trans at the age of 75—a pivotal moment which would eventually become the central storyline of the hit Amazon series. Speaking to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, Soloway called it her "creative destiny."

Soloway has also gone on record saying that the storyline of Shelly and Ed was informed by the death of her mother's husband, who had frontal temporal dementia. Nevertheless, Soloway has been resistant to the label of "autobiography" through the years, telling Rolling Stone back in 2014 that Transparent is "98 percent fictionalized."

"The Pfeffermans are just very real people," she said. "The reason I wanted to cast Jeffrey [Tambor] is because he's always reminded me of my parent. They really have a very similar sense of humor and that was just immediate. Other than that, it's not really autobiographical."

4. IT'S THE MOST TRANS-INCLUSIVE PRODUCTION IN HOLLYWOOD HISTORY. 

Transparent producer Rhys Ernst told OUT that he felt strongly about casting a trans actor to portray a young Maura (Tambor) in season three's flashback sequences, ultimately bringing 12-year-old Sophia Grace Gianna (who had recently transitioned) on for the part. 

This trans-inclusiveness has been a through line for the show's three-season production: Ernst said that the show has employed more than 50 trans and gender-nonconforming people in the capacity of "crew members or as actors with speaking roles." That doesn't include what he estimates to be "hundreds of extras."

5. JAY DUPLASS FELL INTO THE ROLE OF JOSH PFEFFERMAN.

During a get-together for directors that Jay and his brother Mark regularly hosted, Duplass got to talking with Soloway, who told him that she was struggling to find someone for the part of Josh Pfefferman. After he'd rattled off a list of actor suggestions, a light bulb went off in Soloway's head: He was just the guy she was looking for, even though he wasn't an actor and was already swamped with work on developing Togetherness for HBO. In Soloway's mind, Duplass was the "wildly charismatic and wildly insecureJewish guy in his mid-30s that she'd been looking for the whole time. 

6. PEOPLE HAVE A HARD TIME SEPARATING JAY DUPLASS FROM JOSH PFEFFERMAN.

Living in Eagle Rock—a neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles, and the same general area where Transparent is filmed—has created a host of funny situations for Duplass. Particularly because people can't seem to separate his on-screen character as the "roving male id" from his off-screen one as a father and husband when they bump into him at a Trader Joe's. (Yes, he's been known to have locals tell him not to "mess things up" with the rabbi—as if that were something he had control over.)

The differences don't end at father and husband, either. Duplass told Gold Derby that he grew up going to Catholic school and "being overly responsible to everyone around [him]." Also, the sex: "I think Josh Pfefferman has more sex in season one than I've had in my entire life," he said.

7. SOLOWAY EMBRACES IMPROVISATION ON SET. 

Season two of Transparent opens with a four-minute scene so perfect and categorically "Pfefferman," it likely did not occur to you that the whole thing was predicated on a mistake. The whole family is gathering for a wedding portrait and we hear the photographer mis-gender Maura. Maura doesn't let the flub go unnoticed, snapping back, "Did he just call me sir? This is over."

Gaby Hoffman told Vanity Fair that this scene began as a "one-line moment in the script." That is, Soloway stepped back and let "everybody [say] whatever the hell he or she was saying." It was Tambor who made the snap decision to incorporate this mistake into the scene. 

Michaela Watkins (Yetta and Connie in season two) echoed Hoffman's sentiments in an episode of WTF with Marc Maron, telling Maron that she remembered Soloway encouraging her to just use the script as a "roadmap." "Throw it out, you know what happens. You do it." Coming from such an accomplished writer, these words left an impression. 

"She's not ego-driven," Watkins said. "She didn't do it because she needed to be revered. It's how she does every single scene—whether it's with two people or 100 people. She just horse-whispers you before it. And then you shoot it, and you're operating from this other place."

8. CHERRY JONES'S CHARACTER IS BASED ON POET EILEEN MYLES, WHO IS SOLOWAY'S GIRLFRIEND.  

Among Transparent's slate of new cast members introduced in season two is Leslie (Cherry Jones), an intense feminist scholar who lures Ali in with her sexual confidence and wisdom. 

Soloway's writing staff had encouraged her to read up on the work of Eileen Myles while fleshing out the character. Later, the two met while speaking on a panel at a museum event in San Francisco. When the opportunity presented itself, Soloway asked Myles what she meant by a line in one of her journals. "Whoever falls in love with me is in trouble," that line read.

“It could also be true that anybody who falls in love with Jill is in trouble—deeply, deeply in trouble," Myles responded. "If you both have strong wills, you’re always pushing the boundaries. Love is trouble, you know, which is one thing that is so great about it.”

(Funnily enough, the real Eileen Myles later appears as an extra in a scene opposite her "copy." Her poetry is recited by many different characters throughout the season.) 

9. CARRIE BROWNSTEIN WAS ORIGINALLY SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROLE OF TAMMY.

As the story goes, Portlandia and Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein was so adored on the set of Transparent that a role was created just for her. "Originally, when we were trying to cast Tammy, her name came up," Soloway said. "But I always felt Tammy was really tan and blonde, like Lady Diana or someone who spent some time in her childhood on a ranch. And Carrie just seemed too Jewy to play Tammy, but I really, really wanted to work with her, so in the writers' room we created this character of Syd for her."

10. SOLOWAY HAD GABY HOFFMAN IN MIND FOR THE PART OF ALI AFTER SEEING HER IN LOUIE.

In the season three premiere of Louie, Gaby Hoffman is introduced as Louis C.K.'s girlfriend just as the relationship is about to end. Though brief, her role in the larger arc of the series is vital, forcing C.K. to confront his introversion head-on. Soloway was blown away by the performance, telling Rolling Stone:

"I just loved the way she was talking the whole time and he's trying to get a word in edgewise and he lets her break up with him. I just loved the way words rolled off her tongue and nothing seemed written. I loved how free she was. I was just like who is this really cool, Jewish lady? And she's not even Jewish."

11. JEFFREY TAMBOR USED MORE OF HIMSELF FOR THE CHARACTER OF MAURA THAN ANY OTHER ROLE. 

Jeffrey Tambor anticipated the biggest challenge of playing a trans character would be the physical transformation, though this was quickly proven incorrect. He told Terry Gross in a Fresh Air interview that that part turned out to be "very, very easy" for him. The hardest part? Coming to terms with his true self. "I got to use more of Jeffrey than I've ever used in any role. Probably even in playing Jeffrey," he said.

12. TAMBOR WENT "METHOD" TO WARM UP TO HIS ROLE AS MAURA.

Ahead of shooting the pilot episode of Transparent, Tambor was taken on a field trip by producers Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker. To get to the heart of his character, Maura, Tambor was encouraged to put on his full wardrobe and go out in public for the first time. The scariest part wouldn't be the club-hopping but, in fact, the inevitable walk through the hotel lobby. 

"I can remember my legs were shaking, literally trembling—not so much because we were going to a club, but I was so nervous about the walk through the hotel lobby," Tambor told the Los Angeles Times. "And I remember telling myself: 'Remember this. Don't forget this. Let this instruct every single one of your shots and your days.' And it did. It has nothing to do with the entirety of what being a transgender person is, by any means, but it informed me."

13. JUDITH LIGHT WAS VERY NERVOUS ABOUT SHOOTING THAT NSFW BATHTUB SCENE.

Two-time Tony Award-winning actress Judith Light's reaction to reading the now-iconic bathtub scene in "Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump" for the first time went something like this: "Oh my god, I can’t do this. I can’t do this." Upon further encouragement from her manager Herb Hamsher, as well as castmates Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffman, Kathryn Hahn, and Jay Duplass (all quite experienced with the art of the sex scene), she agreed to the intimate scene with her ex, Maura (Tambor). 

"When it was done they wrote me and said, ‘That was so beautiful.’ That’s the kind of working circumstance we have," Light said.

She continued: 

“Jeffrey texted me afterward and I believe the text was something like, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this and thank you.’ Thanking me. He’s the most remarkable man. I’ve known for forever how incredibly talented he is. But this really just allows him to shine in a way he has long deserved. For my friend, I rejoice. He was there for me every single second of that scene. We were so present for each other and I think it comes across in the scene."

14. FAITH SOLOWAY, JILL'S SISTER AND SHOW WRITER, WAS HARI NEF'S CAMP COUNSELOR. 

One of Transparent's breakout stars is the 23-year-old trans actress, model, and writer Hari Nef, who plays Gittel. Faith Soloway, who is a writer on the show (and also Jill's sister) evidently knew of Nef because she had been her camp counselor at the Charles River Creative Arts Program in Dover, Massachusetts. Nef recalled that she received an email seemingly out of the blue from Jill asking if she'd be interested in being her date to a New York gala. "So I showed up, we hit it off, and she wrote me a part," Nef said. 

15. TRANSPARENT'S EMMY AWARD-WINNING MAIN TITLE THEME MUSIC WAS COMPOSED ON AN 80-YEAR-OLD PIANO.

Do not underestimate the power of a man and his 80-year-old piano. The nostalgia-inducing composition at the beginning of each episode is the work of Dustin O'Halloran, who is largely responsible for setting the "understated" tone of the rest of the series. Speaking with Song Exploder, O'Halloran described coming up in a "hippie Methodist church" community and learning to play the piano there. 

O'Halloran said that he used a Swiss piano from the 1930s for the theme song, the same piano he had recorded Piano Solos Vol. 2 on. He also admitted that he'd composed an earlier version to be used for the show but felt that it wasn't right. "I was probably thinking too much about it being an opening title piece—more of a statement, like 'the show is beginning!'" O'Halloran's secret for the finished tune: A "fuller" but still understated sound. Also, some killer harmonium. 

All images courtesy of Amazon.

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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.


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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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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