View to the Past

Special to The Times

Russell Campbell sits on a couch, surrounded by stacks of old eyeglasses on a warehouse floor in Pasadena's commercial district. "This is my think tank where I'm plotting how to rule the world," he says.

Campbell is the owner of Old Focals, a company that supplies vintage eyeglasses for films and commercials. A pair of his stylistic cat-eye frames from the 1950s graced the face of Sally Field in "Forrest Gump," and he chose the popular men's metal-and-plastic frame from the Kennedy era for Kevin Costner's role in "JFK." More recently, for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Campbell manufactured elaborate metal-framed sunglasses with pink-tinted lenses.

Glasses make a statement, Campbell says. "Frames enter the room before the person does, and they make the first impression."

With a lifelong interest in glasses, because he had to wear them, Campbell, 34, started Old Focals in his parents' South Pasadena garage in 1984, marketing to Hollywood art directors. And now, to accommodate a growing public interest in vintage specs, Campbell has opened his retail store on Green Street in Old Town Pasadena.

During pre-production time for films, Campbell typically researches all the possible eyeglass options. Sometimes he replicates

a frame from drawings. But for some movies needing more authenticity, Campbell will try to find the original eyeglasses or use originals to make a copy. Such was the case for Paul Sorvino's portrayal of Henry Kissinger with his distinctive horn-rimmed glasses in "Nixon."

"I discovered that Kissinger is a large person," Campbell says. "So I found the manufacturer and we were able to get new frames made from the original mold." He's currently busy with glasses for a remake of the late '60s, early '70s TV show "The Mod Squad" and "The Green Mile," a film set in rural 1930s Louisiana.

For his retail store, Campbell tries to stock a few popular styles from the 1950s to present day. In the '50s, the most popular styles for men were either basic black metal-and-plastic combination frames such as those worn by Malcolm X or horn-rimmed styles, typified by Buddy Holly. Most women liked cat-eyes with some form of adornment.

Except for minor adjustments, these styles lasted until the late 1960s, Campbell says, when the granny glasses like those worn by John Lennon and big, round frames came into vogue.

The '70s brought in larger styles and themes, such as the plastic aviator glasses worn by television star Bill Bixby, and kidney, star and rectangular shapes. The '70s would also bring in more awareness of designer glasses and bright colors. With the 1980s, the styles became more conservative and larger.

For the '90s, Campbell says, the trend has moved back toward styles that were popular at the turn of the century--simple, oval wire frames that he carries in his only contemporary line, by designer Kenneth Cole--designs Campbell says he thinks have a fresh, clear vision and a timeless quality.

The movies have an influence, he says. Recently, he says, a 7-year-old tried on a pair of sunglasses and spouted lines from "Men in Black," such as "Do you know the difference between these glasses and you? I make them look good."

And already he has had a number of people coming into his store requesting glasses with heavy black frames--not one of Campbell's finds--like the pair worn by Matthew Broderick in "Godzilla."

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