Article Date: 8/1/2011

Fitting the Famous
reflections
THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Fitting the Famous

As a Hollywood optometrist during the 1960s, a fair share of matinee idols sat in my chair

Estelle Herron, O.D.,
Los Angeles, Calif.

The memory is as vivid to me now as if it were yesterday. It was 1965, and I was working for an ophthalmologist at The Beverly Hills California Eye Clinic. One day, a 6′1″ man with cowboy boots and twinkling blue eyes that peaked out from beneath a wide-brimmed hat presented for his comprehensive eye exam. That man was screen actor and then soon-to-be Governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

Poor vision

As a child, Ronald Wilson Reagan had to sit in the front row of the classroom so he could see the blackboard — something that caused him embarrassment, according to Michael Deaver, who served as the 40th President's White House Deputy Chief of Staff. By the time the Illinois born-and-raised boy was roughly 10 years old, he was diagnosed with extremely high myopia. When young Reagan received his first pair of glasses, it is said that he was surprised to learn that butterflies existed and that trees had leaves, as he was never able to see either before. In fact, Dutch — nicknamed at birth by his father for resembling “a fat little Dutchman” — had such a high prescription, that as a college football player, he could only see the square yard of turf the opposing team's player occupied, and he was disqualified from serving in World War II combat units.

RGPs for the Gipper

That day in the mid-1960s, Reagan was fitted with Tuohy corneal contact lenses. These were rigid contact lenses made of soft plastic material. I had both the privilege and the great pleasure of fitting the charismatic, congenial and easy-going would-be politician. And I'm happy to say that post-fit, his blue eyes continued twinkling.

I later learned that when delivering speeches as California Governor and many years later as President of the United States, Reagan would remove one lens, so he could read his notes and use the other to see his audience. In fact, Michael Deaver told Charlie Rose that it was fairly common for Reagan's staff to see him re-inserting a contact lens after giving a speech.

President Reagan, diagnosed with high myopia, was fitted with Tuohy corneal contact lenses in 1965. PHOTO BY DIRCK HALSTEAD/TIME & LIFE IMAGES

The others

Through the next several years, I fitted contact lenses for screen stars Esther Williams and Deborah Kerr at MGM studios. In addition, I performed comprehensive eye exams on Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye and Cole Porter (who presented accompanied by Jules Stein, MD). As you can imagine, this was a great honor for me as an optometrist.

Since 1999, I've been semi-retired, practicing optometry two days a week in Venice, Calif. Although it has been more than 45 years since the man dubbed the “great communicator' presented for an eye exam, I can still clearly picture his tall frame, cowboy boots and those sparkling blue eyes peaking out from beneath that wide-brimmed hat. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 628-6595, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: August 2011