Article Date: 12/1/2005

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Vertigo
Working with the stars can throw you off balance.
FLOYD E. ZASTROW, O. D., LODI, CALIF.

In 1956, I was practicing optometry in Hollywood (Yes, the Hollywood) with Dr. E. W. Kurrle at the Bank of America building on Santa Monica Blvd. and Western Ave. Dr. Kurrle's brother, Bob Kurrle, was a top cameraman for Warner Brother's Studio. Consequently, our office constructed most of the optical props for Paramount, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox Studios. Dr. Kurrle saw many cameramen as patients, along with set designers, prop men, electricians and character actors.

Tricks of the trade

Our optician, Fred Angoni, had been with Dr. Kurrle since 1939. He would use 1/8 inch flat window glass for most of the actors' spectacles because flat lenses did not reflect the klieg lights used on the set. To create the appearance of a high prescription, Fred would take one quarter inch of flat window glass and put a hand bevel on the front. The prop department always wanted two pairs of spectacles; if they lost or damaged one, they wouldn't have to shut down the set.

We knew 'em all

In the film The Spirit of St. Louis, starring Jimmy Stewart, the prop department sent over a picture from the Smithsonian Institute showing the glasses that Charles Lindbergh wore on the famous transatlantic flight to Paris in 1927. We were able to closely match both the clear and sunglass lenses because Dr. Kurrle had stored frames since 1929.

We worked with Lewis Hayward, Vincent Price (surprisingly soft-spoken and humble, not at all like the scary fellows he often played), Rosalind Russell, a very young Sal Mineo and Rock Hudson, as well as many character actors. Then one day, the assistant director to Alfred Hitchcock called and told us he was sending Barbara Bel Geddes over for a fitting. Mr. Hitchcock wanted a flesh-colored frame for her to wear in the film Vertigo.

A true star

When Miss Bel Geddes arrived, however, she informed Fred, the optician, that she wanted some color in the frame and did not want the flesh color, as ordered. She assured us, "I will take care of this with Mr. Hitchcock." Miss Bel Geddes was so positive on the subject, Fred didn't even question her. He fit her with an American Optical plastic frame, in a demi blonde color, and P3 shape.

I introduced myself to Miss Bel Geddes; what a nice and pleasant lady. I could not take my eyes off of her — she had an electrifying presence, doubtless acquired during her successful career on Broadway before she came to films. She walked across the reception room to leave. Before she opened the door, she turned around and said thank you. It was like she was walking off the stage. What a great presence — none of the other stars I'd met could compare with her. Our contact lasted only about five minutes, but I've never forgotten it.

Barbara Bel Geddes died this year in Northeast Harbor, Maine. She was 82. OM

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Optometric Management, Issue: December 2005