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MailTribune.com
  • GLASSES GALORE

    Ashland optician makes spectacles for the movies
  • Christopher Toughill is not your normal optician. In his studio in Ashland's Railroad District, he will be glad to fit you in spectacles or sunglasses from any decade going back two centuries — but you may have to wait while he grinds out scores of glasses for Hollywood movies, including several pairs used by an actress who portrays Sarah Palin in her ill-fated run for the vice presidency.
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  • Christopher Toughill is not your normal optician. In his studio in Ashland's Railroad District, he will be glad to fit you in spectacles or sunglasses from any decade going back two centuries — but you may have to wait while he grinds out scores of glasses for Hollywood movies, including several pairs used by an actress who portrays Sarah Palin in her ill-fated run for the vice presidency.
    Showing off a veritable museum of eyewear in his ClearLight Optical shop on A Street, Toughill is delighted to spin yarns about the glasses he ground and framed for Tom Hanks to wear in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," last year's hit film about 9/11.
    Toughill has the process down, working with the big propmasters in New York and Hollywood, learning the time period, gender, height, weight and economic class of his actors, consulting his vast library of eyewear catalogs from bygone days, then figuring out what frames a poor female in the 1880s would have worn — likely round and steel, he notes.
    Details can be refined in back-and-forth emails and then, Toughill says, "FedEx puts us in Hollywood."
    He described a recent rush order for five pairs of men's 1905 glasses phoned in at 5 p.m. from the set of Disney's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Toughill ground and framed the spectacles in a few hours, rushed them to the airport and had them on the set at 7:30 the next morning.
    "We jumped on it — even took time to break up a dogfight out front — and with a bleeding leg, got it to the last Delta cargo flight, with a New York courier picking it up. That's why they use us. We hustle. It's about as much fun as a person can have — and we can prove to them how it's accurate to the period."
    Walking clockwise around his showroom, Toughill shows how each cabinet represents a decade or two, with small, roundish, steel frames from the early 1800s, moving to Windsor glasses — as popularized by Harry Potter and John Lennon — in the later 19th century.
    Explaining the smallish lenses of olden days, he says people believed if you had large lenses "too many cosmic rays would get in from the ether and drive you mad."
    With the coming of the motor car, the American Optical Company launched a massive ad campaign, convincing drivers they needed more visibility, with the arms of the glasses attached at the top of the frame — which they patented — making them must-haves, with everyone paying royalties.
    In the 1920s came sunglasses, then after World War II, the pop era, with glasses in any shape, color, size and pattern. If you can't find them at ClearLight, Toughill and his business partner, Lynn Cohen, can find them for you somewhere in the world and fit them with your optics or a range of shades, tints and functions.
    The sunglasses cost less than $100, but the prescription glasses are "not cheap" — costing up to $500 — he says, adding that "no eyecare professional in his right mind will do it (fit your optics to any frame from any period), but we will."
    Toughill's is a custom shop, he notes, which can even use a 3-D printer to copy any frames you might fancy.
    "If you've got grandpa's old frame glasses, bring them in," he says. "We can tell you when they were made and put your prescription in them."
    The shop-cum-museum has a display cabinet with modern glasses they've made for movies and TV shows. Some have been worn by Julianne Moore, playing Palin, and Ed Harris, playing John McCain in the production "Game Change."
    More than 100 pairs of sunglasses and specs from the early 1960s were worn in a show featuring PanAm stewardesses and passengers. Under construction are glasses for Lucy Liu and Johnny Ray Miller for a CBS production on Sherlock Holmes called "Elementary." More glasses are going to a Steven Spielberg production about a sperm donor being sued by hundreds of his "children."
    On the silver screen, Toughill and Cohen see many sets of glasses that are 40 years out of place and have anti-reflective coatings that weren't invented yet, but they promise such mistakes do not happen in their work. For closeups, they can make the lenses reflect any accenting color you want.
    The pair are outfitting a big General Motors coach, converting it to an optical laboratory, with inventory, so they can travel to where people need glasses. This, he said, might include "converting that good Hollywood money" to charitable optical work with Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity in such spots as Indian reservations or needy neighborhoods in the region, where their work would be covered by Oregon Health Plan.
    "We're a big presence on eBay, Pinterest and Esty," says Cohen. "Then there's show biz. It's kinda crazy, all the stuff that Hollywood wants, and they want a lot of it."
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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