It’s Grey’s Anatomy’s 10th season, and there have been shootings, countless surgeries, deaths, births, marriages, and many disgusting foreign objects taken from patients’ bodies. Angela Whiting, the propmaster who has been with the Shonda Rhimes show since Season 1, has overseen all the props that have passed through the actors’ hands.
“When people visit the show, they’re always surprised by how much work goes into it,” Whiting said in an interview. “They don’t realize that every single thing that gets put in front of a camera gets put there by somebody — whether it’s a prop person or a set dresser. But if people don’t notice these things while they’re watching, that means we’ve succeeded.”
Whiting has saved a number of significant props over the years. “You custom manufactured them, they’re a part of the storytelling process. They mean something in the larger archival context of the show. So you keep them,” she said.
And now she’s sharing these props with fans on Twitter. This week, Whiting has begun tweeting under @greysprops, where she will show photographs of her favorites every Thursday (and at other times too).
Below, Whiting discusses her job, and 10 props from Grey’s Anatomy’s past. (Meaning there are spoilers about that past, spoiler trolls!)
1. Judy Dolls, “Enough Is Enough” (Season 2, Episode 2)
The context: A man is admitted to the hospital with a bowel obstruction. The doctors think it’s balloons of drugs, but instead it is 10 heads of dolls that he’s swallowed. I repeat: HEADS OF DOLLS HE HAS SWALLOWED.
The prop: Since a fetishization medical case wasn’t exactly a product placement opportunity, the dolls were called Judy Dolls.
Fun fact: Would the show ever even bother approaching, say, Barbie or some other known doll to see whether they’d want their product on the show? “You can pretty much assume they don’t,” Whiting said. “Generally, it’s best to go, ‘Well, we’ll just make something up.’” (Even though it turns out Bailey — played by Chandra Wilson — is a former Judy Doll obsessive.)
2. Izzie’s Check From Denny (Season 3, various episodes)
The context: If you’re reading this post and need context here, you are funny to me. Denny died, for god’s sake! And he (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had been secretly rich and left Izzie (Katherine Heigl) a heap of money. She gets this check from Denny’s dad in the fourth episode of Season 3, and it stays around for awhile (until she opens the Denny Duquette Memorial Clinic with the money).
The prop: Since we saw the check a number of times, it was a challenge to make it readable. “To get something that they wanted to photograph, it was like, ‘Make the amount bigger!’” Whiting said.
Fun fact: The check itself had to age. Whiting: “She gets it, it’s clean. It sits on the fridge, and some time passes. It needed to look like she had held it in her hands and left it on the counter and spilled things on it in her indecisiveness and agony about not knowing what to do with what she perceived as blood money.”
3. Penis Fish, “Desire” (Season 3, Episode 21)
The context: A man who was cheating on his wife is admitted to the hospital with a penis fish from the Amazon lodged in him.
The prop: Whiting: “We all go, ‘Really?’ And, of course, there’s an article from somewhere that yes, indeed, there is such a thing. We just do the research and make the creature that gets extracted in surgery. But even the little rubber thing that’s about half as wide as a pencil and half as long, made of silicone, people recoil from. It inspires great reaction.”
Fun fact: Penis fish as metaphor! Izzie to George (T.R. Knight): “My problem is you. You’re my penis fish.”
4. Meredith and Derek’s Marriage Post-it, “Now or Never” (Season 5, Episode 24)
Watch the scene first!
Here’s the Post-it:
The context: Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) were supposed to get married, but they gave their wedding to Izzie and Alex (Justin Chambers).
The prop: “The marriage Post-it is unusual, because it’s something they actually built on camera. Which is rare.” Meredith gives Derek the pack of Post-its and “they have the dialogue scripted, and they’re performing the scene together. He’s writing the dialogue down as they’re saying it.”
Fun fact: Dempsey actually did write the vows on the Post-it even though we never see what he’s writing in that scene. “He could have been writing the Lord’s Prayer for all we know as viewers. But he wasn’t. He was writing the dialogue, and it was lovely.”
5. George’s Funeral Program, “Good Mourning” (Season 6, Episode 1)
The context: George has died, having been run over by a bus in the season finale. (He’s actually the John Doe Meredith and Derek discuss in the Post-it scene, but they didn’t know that yet.) In this episode, his friends move through the stages of grief. During his funeral, everyone thinks Izzie has run away crying, but she is, in fact, having a laughing attack about their crazy lives. “And I got cancer! What!” (The full scene is here.)
The prop: Alex is holding this program throughout the scene. “Props are there to enhance performance,” Whiting said. “So if you have all the trappings of a scenario, then it gives actors things to work with.” It’s not like the script itself called for a program. Whiting: “It’s my job and my crew’s job to see completely beyond the page. So when they go, ‘There’s a funeral,’ you have to imagine, We need dirt, we need shovels, we need a coffin. So a program, you would have something like that for that event.”
Fun fact: They wrote up a real program. “You do it as though George O’Malley passed away and this is for his service,” said Whiting.
6. The Fish Cristina Catches, “Fishing for Trouble” (Season 7, Episode 10)
The context: Having had to operate on Derek at gunpoint in the Season 6 finale, Cristina (Sandra Oh) has been a mess. Derek takes her fishing and, after overthinking how to fish, she catches this guy.
The prop: “We called a prop house that’s really great with animals and said, ‘We need it to be this big, and we need it to be this kind of fish, and it needs to be floppy like a real fish. It needs to work like a fish that’s just been caught,’” Whiting recalled.
Fun fact: We have no idea what sort of fish this was supposed to be. Anyone remember?
7. Cristina’s DIY Onesie From Callie’s Baby Shower, “This Is How We Do It” (Season 7, Episode 17)
The context: While Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) were broken up, Callie slept with Mark (Eric Dane) and got pregnant. Callie and Arizona have reunited, but Arizona is not happy with the three-parent arrangement. Mark has planned the shower — with scrapbooking and onesie decorating — and Arizona is pissed. (Callie and Arizona get into a horrible car accident at the end of this episode, so things do not improve for awhile!)
The prop: Heart surgeon Cristina created this onesie. “It was really fun,” Whiting said. “We gave them all these crafting supplies and they went to town. Alex’s, ‘Look, scrubs!’ was scripted, but he created how he was going to do that. Ellen came up with her crazy design she was doing.”
Fun fact: On Oh’s onesie: “She’s a very thoughtful performer. So she always has really good ideas and utilizes the props well. She’s very invested in the character.”
8. Jackson’s Soap Ear Carving, “The Girl With No Name” (Season 8, Episode 20)
The context: All of the fifth years are looking for their new placements, and are interviewing all over the place. Jackson (Jesse Williams) tries to impress the boss at a Los Angeles hospital by making this ear out of soap, but she wants to talk only about his famous family of doctors.
The prop: Creating body parts is a big part of Whiting’s job, with the help of surgical consultants. “We have a room full of rubber guts,” she said. “It’s research and anatomy. You can’t be too squeamish to work on this show. Whatever the surgery is, we have to build a tumor or build a blocked intestine.”
Fun fact: A plastic surgeon named Dr. Gregory Lakin made these ear props — and he uses them in his real practice also. “This plastic surgeon had pioneered this as a teaching tool for other plastic surgeons. He’s really, really good at sculpting ears, and he found that the material in soap was easy to use — because ears are complicated little things.”
9. A Stretcher for Mark, “Flight” (Season 8, Episode 24)
The context: Oh lord, where does one begin with the Season 8 finale? Meredith, Arizona, Mark, Lexie (Chyler Leigh), Derek, and Cristina are in a plane crash that maims Arizona, kills Lexie quickly, and kills Mark later. (Sob!)
The prop: Whiting described the process for when she gets a script with such an elaborate scene. “I need to think of every single possible thing that could come out of a suitcase or be a part of an airplane that these characters can use,” she said. “With Mark, they had to punch a hole in his pericardium. So we thought, How can we build these things out of found material? That’s the fun part.” The audience thinks at first that Mark is not in terrible shape, and he does survive the finale, but then…yeah.
Fun fact: The episode was filmed on location, making the props department’s job more difficult. “Getting a crew ready to go out on the road and try to foresee all possible needs — it’s not like they can run to the store when they’re stuck on top of a mountain.”
10. Giant Hairball, “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” (Season 9, Episode 11)
The context: A girl with a horrible and loud mother has been eating her own hair.
The prop: “It’s doll hair and plastic,” Whiting said. “Imagine whatever you ate last wrapped up in a hairball but made out of plastic so it doesn’t smell.”
Fun fact: “We’ve done so many things out of people’s stomachs. That’s Halloween every day!”