Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 16, 2012
Some women like men who drive fast cars; others prefer men with an athletic build while some find a uniform irresistible. Me? I appreciate a good pair of spectacles.
During a recent trip to the eye doctor I started thinking about all my favorite actors who have worn eyeglasses such as the indispensable, Sir Michael Caine. Caine’s eyewear became part of his personality in the ‘60s. He was witty, charming, a notorious lady’s man, and part of his appeal was those thick dark rimmed glasses he often wore. They gave him a mischievous and cultured look that was somewhat at odds with his thick Cockney accent and seemed to represent the very essence of Britannia style cool. If something was swinging in old London town, you could be sure that Michael Caine knew it.
Some of my other favorite performers who regularly sported a pair of spectacles when they weren’t working include James Dean, who was often caught wearing glasses during rehearsals in candid shots that seemed to capture a more intimate side of the actor. While Dean is often considered the quintessential King of Hollywood cool he was also a complex man with many different facets to his personality and his glasses became part of his eternal mystique. Peter O’Toole, Marcello Mastroianni and Alain Delon all wore glasses but they rarely wore them in films until they were middle aged. O’Tool briefly models eyewear in HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966) and Mastroianni famously wore glasses when his was portraying Guido Anselmi in Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963). And although Alain Delon rarely wore anything but sunglasses in front of the camera, he’s responsible for lending his name to a popular line of men’s eyewear in France.
Many other actors I admire have used glasses to create memorable characters who are trying to solve life’s problems such as Peter Lorre did in 20th Century Fox’s MR. MOTO (1937-1939) films. Mr. Moto was a Japanese detective working for Interpol and his glasses made him appear wiser than his years as he went after notorious criminals and greedy villains. Richard Burton effectively used glasses to become George, the struggling associate professor of history and failed writer trying to cope with a succession of disappointments in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966). And who can forget Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD (1962)? Peck’s glasses helped transform him into a caring father and thoughtful Southern lawyer eager to right a small town’s wrongs. Paul Newman regularly wore glasses off screen but he also used them to add nuance to his role in THE PRIZE (1963) where he portrayed a burned out writer coping with alcoholism who finds himself entangled in a complex espionage plot.
Glasses have also been worn by some of my favorite actors and comedians when they want to seem particularly funny or simpleminded such as Cary Grant in BRINGING UP BABY (1938) or Jerry Lewis in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963). Even Ray Milland got into the act in THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN (1947) where he plays Gilbert Sedley, a sexually inexperienced and naïve professor with outdated views about women. Lots of funny men like Harold Lloyd, Groucho Marx and Woody Allen used glasses to help cultivate their memorable screen personas but my favorite funny man who effectively wore spectacles throughout most of his career is Peter Sellers. Sellers didn’t always wear his glasses but in some of his most memorable performances in films like THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (1959), LOLITA (1962), DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) and WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965) his eyewear became a valuable prop that gave him a distinct personality or helped showcase his quirky character traits.
Eyeglasses have also transformed some of my favorite actors into dangerous men with suspect motives. Humphrey Bogart always seems somewhat menacing but he’s perfectly creepy in THE RETURN OF DR. X (1939) where he plays Dr. Maurice Xavier, an evil scientist with pasty skin, streaked hair and . . . eyeglasses! In the SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) Burt Lancaster convincingly transformed himself into a heartless and power hungry newspaper columnist with a pair of glasses and in 10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971) Richard Attenborough successfully masks his murderous intentions behind his humble spectacles. Last but certainly not least, Donald Pleasence wore glasses regularly and often played threatening characters but in DR. CRIPPEN (1964) he managed to play a somewhat sympathetic killer with a romantic streak that credibly woos the lovely Samantha Eggar. Without his eyeglasses Pleasence can look threatening and unapproachable but spectacles seem to soften up his distinct features and make him appear more vulnerable.
These are just a few of my favored examples of actor’s that have worn glasses for personal or professional reasons and they also happen to look great in them. Have some of your own favorites? Please feel free to share them in the comment thread!
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