eames goes to hollywood...

When Charles and Ray arrived in Los Angeles California in early 1940, already familiar with film making, Charles went to work at MGM as a movie set designer. Working under Hollywood set designer, Cedric Gibbons, Charles works on sets for several films, including Johnny Eager (1941), I Married An Angel (1942), Random Harvest (1942) and Mrs. Miniver (1942).

Charles leaves MGM Studios in late 1942 to pursue his investigation into molded plywood furniture manufacturing. Having made films while at Cranbrook, Charles soon establishes filmmaking as a major tool and product of the work of the Eames Office.

Charles Eames briefly returned to Hollywood, this time in the early 1950s, as a design consultant on two separate Hollywood movies. The films are the MGM release "The Moon is Blue" directed by Otto Preminger and Executive Suite", produced by John Houseman. The movie sets were for the architect/designer characters in each film.

Modern design plays a significant role in these two Hollywood films from the early 1950s. The Moon is Blue was made in 1953 and Executive Suite is from 1954, both starring William Holden as an architect with sets dressed in a wide array of vintage Eames designer furnishings and a real Ray Eames plywood sculpture.

The Moon is Blue features Mr. Holden playing a young modern architect with design ideals and an office in the Empire State Building. Much of the action in this morality play takes place in his stylish modern apartment filled with Herman Miller and Knoll furniture, including Saarinen's Womb Chair and ottoman, Noguchi's coffee table, Nelson clocks and several early Eames chairs. Watch for the scene in the architect's office where you can catch a glimpse of a very rare Eames experimental plywood rocking lounge chair, circa 1946, on loan from the Eames Office.

In 1954, Charles Eames was again hired by MGM--and most likely through his friend, John Houseman, an actor used by the Eameses in one of their early films. Mr. Houseman was the producer of "Executive Suite".

One of Hollywood's first generation boardroom dramas, "Executive Suite" is a star packed and tension filled movie classic. Robert Wise directs this interesting film dealing with the vicious and dehumanizing aspects of corporate politics within the home furnishings world. The film starts off with a wonderful skyscraper montage as the president of a giant furniture company suddenly dies; leaving seven board members locked in an intense power struggle. While all are concerned with turning a profit, only one wants to do it in an "Eamesian" manner.

William Holden plays a young furniture designer working for the firm, who that believes that his experimental molded products will save the company and revolutionize the companies old antique styled furniture market, if he can get elected.

In one scene we see Holden's character starring at a photo of a real Eames Storage Unit from the Herman Miller ESU 400 Series displayed as part of this fictional company's furniture designs. Holden's character takes his work home to a design studio based on the stylish look of the Eames Office. Behind his drawing board/desk is a backdrop made up of Eames Storage Units from the 400 series, and on top of one unit stands an original molded plywood sculpture by Ray Eames from 1941. It is the same wood sculpture pictured on the cover of the September 1942 issue of Arts & Architecture magazine. Other Eamesian touches in the room include kites and driftwood tacked to the wall and a giant and very graphic number 3 mounted on the wall, Eames-style.

The designer character in this film is also shown in one workshop scene working on a mock-up of the molding press machine built by Zenith Plastic to manufacture the Fiberglas one piece seating shell. In the same scene, two assistants appear, holding fragments of a broken experimental "Eames" seating shell.

The MGM Studios, with whom Charles Eames worked in the early 1940s, produced both of these black and white films.

Three years later, Charles returned to Hollywood again, this time at the request of the Eames's good friend, film director Billy Wilder.

Hired in 1957 by Billy Wilder to work on Wilder's new color film for Warner Brothers, The Spirit of St. Louis, Charles Eames is listed in the film credits as the second unit/montage director. This was one of three post-1942 MGM film period-works done by the Eames Office. The scenes created and filmed by Charles are very obvious and resemble other Eames Office films where product assembling is featured. The art direction for those scenes is outstanding. Even the last 5 seconds are a mini Eames film in itself, appearing to be a short version of the Eames film, Parade. This film, along with the two other Hollywood feature films already mentioned, are recommended viewing for anyone interested in the films of Ray and Charles Eames and their obscure Hollywood connections. These three films are all currently available on video.

--Steven Cabella
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