Thelen: [Feedback] Now why does it doing that, is it because the mics are too close to each other? That seemed to be… Franz


Thelen: You go with the flow. Was there camaraderie among those of you who stayed around for a while? Or a rivalry or both? Staples



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Thelen: You go with the flow. Was there camaraderie among those of you who stayed around for a while? Or a rivalry or both?

Staples: I think there was, we did not socialize outside of the office with each other too much.

Charles: We were there twelve hours a day.

Thelen: You did plenty of socializing.

Staples: It was long, hard; sometimes it was just amazingly hard. Other times it was just wonderful.

Thelen: Kathy do you want to….

Franz: Maybe a break

Thelen: I was thinking a break might be a good idea for a couple of minutes.

Staples: Okay

Charles: Sure.

Thelen: I want to make sure.

Charles: Is it playing right?

Thelen: Its playing, we have actually been talking for an hour and ten minutes and four seconds.

Charles: Have you listened to it at all?

Thelen: I am going to do that now.

Franz: We did some tests.

Thelen: We did a lot of tests, pretty comfortable, but I am always, I think I just press stop. Do not you think?
End of track one
Thelen: And now we are okay. So we left off, we got a beginning take on Bob’s life and how he ended up in this area and now I would like to turn it over to you Barbara to explore how you got into this world.

Charles: Well, like Bob, I did not have a clue who the Eames were, but back in 1967, so ten years after Bob got there. We are ten years apart in age, so we would have been essentially the same age getting there, I was twenty-four. So I think that’s probably true for both of us when we got there. As we said either earlier on tape or not on tape, I think Charles liked to hire young and kind of mold people rather than get people that maybe already had other predilections.

Staples: And with nice legs.

Thelen: Oh, did he have an eye for that too? Or did one of the other employees have an eye for nice legs?

Staples: Yes.

Thelen: Oh, okay. Can we go back even before there to earlier in your life?

Charles: I would say I come from an academic family and have the least education of anybody in my family. My father was a scholar of Japanese contemporary politics, studied in Japan in the thirties and was teaching at Pomona and was called by OSS just before the war went out to be the senior, at OSS there is overt and convert, and on the overt side, on the research side, he was the senior Japanese scholar that they hired. Was hired in September, initially I think just to talk to them about how to set up the bureau, but then he was asked to stay. By forty-four he was head of all research for the Far East. I think Julia Childs was actually employed by him. All those stories about Julia now.

My mother, they had met at Northwestern University, my mother was, I think the first in her family to go to college, came from Colorado. She was actually studying classics and working on her PhD, is all but degree in classics. So they met at Northwestern. My dad did all of his studies at Northwestern. My mother was at Colorado College and then went to Northwestern. I was born during the war when my father was in Washington with OSS. Then after the war they moved up to New Jersey because my father was hired by the Rockefeller Foundation in the department of Humanities and it was actually a probably a Rockefeller grant through the general education board that had taken them to Japan in the thirties for several years. I guess first to Paris to study more Japanese and then to Japan. At that point in the thirties there was no place in the United States teaching Japanese, but the Sorbonne was teaching Japanese so people went there first.

So I grew up in a suburb of New York. Raeburn, New Jersey or Fairlawn, New Jersey but the subdivision of Raeburn which was a very interesting early planned community that had then failed during the depression, but some of it still survived and it was studied as a planned community when people did things like Columbia here and so on.

Thelen: Levittown.

Charles: No, I do not think we were studied for Levittown; we were hopefully studied for better projects. But anyways, some of my friends went off to private school in high school. But my mother got elected to the school board. She did not think the schools were very good, was president of the school board, so there was no way I was going to go to private school. So I graduated Fairlawn High School. Big class, you know like five hundred kids. Half of them went to college, half of them went to running pizza parlors or whatever you are doing in northern New Jersey. I went to Oberlin College.

I wanted particularly a liberal arts, relatively small school without sororities and fraternities because we had actually had sororities and fraternities in high school and I had felt blackballed even though - I was sort of a geek, but sometimes in the in crowd sometimes not in the in crowd I mean sort of on the edge, but not cheerleader or any of that kind of stuff. I always, my mother, my grandmother was a seamstress, my mother knew how to sew very well and taught me how to sew. From about seventh grade on if I wanted anything special the deal was if I would make it they would buy the fabric. They being my parents, or my father went to the orient every year for two months and he would bring back interesting things. So that was sort of an impetus too.



Thelen: Fabric.

Charles: He would bring back fabric and if I could sew it faster than my mother could sew it then I would get the dress. So anyways that is how I learned to sew which became important because I made theater costumes in high school and I made them again in college. I studied print making in college and I majored in history, but I also studied art history. I think that I would have switched to art history, but it was going to take another year and that would be five years and I kind of wanted to get out. I did not have a clue what I was going to do.

When we later worked for IBM, I used to say well if you would have ever interviewed women on campuses, I might well have ended up at IBM. In high school I thought I wanted to go into the state department, but my father set up for me to have lunch with Dean Rusk, who had been the president of the foundation and was just heading off to become Secretary of State. So I was sixteen, I went into to New York and had lunch with Dean Rusk. He just said to me, State’s historically a very, I do not know if he used the word sexist, but a very male-oriented place and you would have a very hard time advancing and he did not recommend it. So that sort of put a quash on that idea.

I really did not know what I was going to do. I graduated college, taught swimming for the summer. Decided - I had met a very interesting printmaker at Ohio State when I had helped Paul Arnold, my teacher of printmaking to install a show down there and I am blanking on the professor’s name. I called him in like August and asked him, any chance I could come and work on a Master’s degree in printmaking? So I went down to Ohio State, I did not have a lot of the background courses that I should have had. I was at master’s level in printmaking, but I was at freshman, taking certain freshman art courses, to make up this deficiency. And I was living on, in a tiny apartment on fraternity row and doing odd jobs. It was a little strange, my parents were in Japan.

My parents moved to Japan while I was in college, I should say that. My father left the Foundation after Dean Rusk left, he did not like the new president and then Ambassador Rishower made a superpost for him in Japan, so they were there for five years. So I lasted one semester at Ohio State, then wrote letters to both Pratt, thinking I could go there and study printmaking, but I also had always like theater and I had gone up to Stratford Canada with my family because the Foundation had helped fund some of the early work at Stratford Canada. So I wrote a letter to, now I am blanking, the man, Patterson I am going to say but I do not think Dave is the right name. Anyway who was the founder of Stratford Canada, who I had met as a ten year old or twelve year and said, you know, “Any chance of a job?” So I got a letter back saying basically that I could come for a two week trial run. So in February I packed up my little MG and headed to Canada. And survived the two weeks.

I worked at Stratford as a designer’s assistant the first year, the first season. You are a gopher, you have to make sure everybody’s shoes fit, you have got to find the right fabrics, you have got to do all this stuff. The best advice I ever got, I think from almost anybody was looking for things and somebody in that job said to me, if somebody tells you they cannot tell you what you want, do not ever leave without asking them who can and where to go next. Always know where you are next steps going to be, which was great advice, terrific advice.

I worked on the first North American production of Mongony and the designer, Brian, it is not Brian Jones, I can look these back up. He wanted all the chorus people in striped fabric shirts, sort of mafia-almost style. Well how many stripes can you buy? Well I saw that arrow shirts, I think, was making pajamas with all kinds of stripes. So I called them up, they had a factory in Hamilton, Ontario. And Stratford was a magic name, if you said Stratford, everybody wanted to help Stratford. So I said what I want and they said, “oh come on out.” So four yards of this, four yards of that, I mean it was great. Just kind of how do you find things, how do you do things. It was a great job. I worked that next season, that was winter, that was like February to July, until the last shows opened.

Our shows were the last ones to open and almost all the fabric at Stratford was dyed. You would buy fabrics close to the color but then to take the edge off them so that they did not look brand new or sometimes you could only get the velvets in certain ways, so you would buy it and then you would dye it. As Brian’s assistant I had to be sure all my fabric was being dyed in a timely manner and I had to get it to the cutters so that they could make the costumes in a timely manner. Because our shows were the last two to open, the dyer was backed up. I had cutters getting mad at me on one side, but a dyer who would not deliver on the other side. So I asked him to teach me how to dye and I would go in at night and dye the fabric.

The next year they invited me back to be the dyer, which was cool because I went from thirty-five dollars a week to, I think, one hundred dollars a week. Between that I worked at Boston at the Charles Playhouse as the cutter. A cutter is the person who is in charge of getting the whole costume made. You might have people sewing for you, but as the cutter you are the one who is going to take the designer’s idea and figure out how to make the pattern, get it all together, do the fittings and so on. I worked Stratford sixty-five season, Boston winter sixty-five to sixty-six season, Stratford sixty-six, am I off a year? No that is right. Somehow, by sixty-six I finished Stratford and I decided that theater was too gypsy-like and in some ways as the costume people you were low person on the totem pole. Clearly the actors the other people were stars and you are moving this season and that season and so on and so forth.

One fun thing was our time to shine was opening night because the actors would look pretty miserable once they get all their makeup off, whereas we had been sewing these elaborate dresses and hiding them under our work tables the whole season. Anyways, I decided to go back to Japan, give up theater, study printmaking. I went back to Japan, got involved in a course, did not do anything I thought was very inspiring. But I, at a pub one night met a, a very funny place called Don Sokayo, which means lower depths in Japanese and it was a bar/Italian restaurant and everybody’s wearing Russian outfits, they sang Russian folk songs…

Thelen: And ate spaghetti

Charles: And ate spaghetti and they sang the Russian folk songs in Japanese. I got taken there once, but then I would take other people there. I think Archie Green, the folk singer, came to Tokyo and my father was head of cultural stuff and USIA, so people like that would come to our house for a reception after whatever event. So late one night I said, “Hey you want to go to this cool place,” and of course he brings down the house. And I had a friend, the daughter of one of the other embassy people who had actually sung on Broadway and so I would take her there. So I got to know people there. I met a young student there one time and he then invited me to go to the theater. We went and saw at the actors theater in Brokayungy Brek’s Mother Courage in Japanese. It was one of the greatest theater productions I have ever seen.

Thelen: What was great about it?

Charles:It was just the woman who play Mudocrag, is how they say it, was just good. I mean, even though I could not follow the Japanese, I knew the basic story. It was powerful, just the whole way it was staged and everything. It turns out that Sudacre, the head of the theater, had worked with Brekt and was the main translator of Brekt into Japanese and the woman who played Mudacrag was his longtime partner. He had this theater that certainly was on the left end of politics in Rotugy. I was very fascinated by that.

At Strastford the summer before, two Japanese theater people had come through on some kind of grant and I had met them. One was an actor working at that theater and the other worked at a producer at the national theater in Kabukiy and so on. I had looked, re-looked up the Kabukiy guy and see him and go see those shows and I mentioned seeing this incredible production. And he said so and so works there, he is an actor there. You know, lights go off, you can write letters. So I wrote a letter to Sendacraga and said who I was and that this actor and his company would know the quality of theater I had worked at and was there any chance of working in their costume department? I guess I wrote it in English, I cannot remember actually. I got a call from the head of the costume department and I did not know enough Japanese to explain by that point that in about four or five months I was getting married. So I just said yes, I’ll come to work. I met Sandacraya and it turns out we could speak pigeon German to each other so that kind of work out. I worked in that costume department for about three months, which was fabulous.

This is a very long story to say how I ended up at the Eames office, but we are going to get there. When I was then getting married I wanted these great big Kabuky stamps for the invitations, they are some of the most gorgeous stamps made and my dad said, I was getting married in Japan, my parents had this fabulous house in Japan. One of the embassy entertainment houses, it had been built in the thirties, it was sort of by a French architect who had once worked for Kabusea and then ended up in Tokyo working for Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel, so it was a Corbusea style kind of place with great land. It had been built I think for a mistress of one of the Kawasakis. We had a great place to have a wedding. Anyway, I wanted this stamp. My father said, you are not going to get those, they sell out within seconds, but Naomi Fucda who was the librarian at international house, she was a stamp collector. My dad had known her for years, go see her and she’ll tell you what dealer you can get them from and how to get them.

So I went to see Naomi, well what are you going to do when you move to LA [Los Angeles], that is where my future husband was at USC and I said, “well I do not know, I have been doing this theater stuff and costumes and so on”, she said, well, I think she actually wrote me a me a letter and said there was a woman, Dorothy Cheekins who had had a Guggenheim and had stayed at International House and why did not I look her up.

I got to LA and I needed a job and I on my own just tried to get a costume job. Camelot had just been produced and was probably one of the last big on set shows in Hollywood, incredible costumes and anyone in costumes was now out of work. So I was not finding much luck. But at Western Costumes, I went there and at the very end of the interview I said, “by the way I have been trying to find Dorothy Jekins”, whatever address I had was not working and this is well before internet and things like that. Nothing I had. And the guy kind of goes, “oh you know Dorothy Jekins, why did not you say so?” “ I do not really know her but I have an introduction to her,” and he goes “that is one of her Oscars up there, she just left it here”. So it turns out Dorothy had done, I guess at that point, well Little Bigman, she had started doing costumes in about forty-eight, through Billy Wilder and the Hollywood sort of scene she had become very good friends with Charles and Ray Eames. She had pretty much left the costume world, she was actually now the curator of costumes, she had left the movie world, she was the curator of costumes at LA County Art Museum.

I went to see her and I recognized some of the drawings that are sitting there because she had worked for Shakespeare on the Houotonic up in Connecticut and that was another project that the Foundation had funded so as a kid I was taken around all these theaters, so I recognized her work. I ran errands for her for a while, she was actually working on a movie, but they would not hire me.

Probably about six weeks into all of this, I got to LA in early March and I think this was early May, she mentioned the Eames and Ray called and said, “Dorothy mentioned you would you come down?” So I put on my one dress and you know you get your resume fixed up. The only thing I had read at that point, somehow in Macall, some magazine or someplace I had seen like one little squib that called the office something like Santa’s workshop. I do not think I have anymore. But I would never - I did not know the furniture at all. I went down there and literally it was this grey garage building, it said nine-oh-one on it, but very very plain. You would go in and the lobby had an Indian, one of these backdrops for a street photographer there and this nice Eames furniture and so on.

Anyway, they were working on the aquarium project, an incredible project, I think probably the best of all the projects in terms of putting all of Eames’ ideas together, it never happened. It is a national aquarium and it was going to be here on Hanes Point and the building was being designed by Roach Dicalu. When Eero Saarinen died young, he died at about fifty-two, the agreement with his key people, Kevin Roach and John Dincalu was that they could use the Saarinen name to finish any projects that had been started under Saarinen. So something like the Dulles Airport which was not quite finished is a Saarinen project, but any new projects. Eero, I guess did not want people to be calling things a Saarinen project that he had not worked on, so now it is the Roach-Dincalu office. So they had the contract to design the department of interior of a national aquarium on Hanes Point, we could find it in there if you are interested. Stuart Udall was the Secretary of Interior.



Thelen: The era of Camelot.

Charles: Era of Camelot, so this is 1967.

Thelen: Late Camelot.

Charles: Late Camelot, Kennedy had died. We are into LA riots had happened not the sixty-eight riots, but there were the sixty-seven riots. I remember thinking a little bit when I first got to LA that I was feeling like I was more in a foreign country than when I was in Tokyo.

Thelen: How so?

Charles: Well, I would never been in a black community a lot at all. And I was living downtown by USC and it was a pretty rough area.

Staples: Black panthers were big.

Charles: Black panthers were very very big. So anyway they were working on the national aquarium and they were working on a model that was a huge model on an eight by eight foot table. Parts of the model - things would be made at different scale so they could be photographed. In the back of the office were all these aquariums.

Thelen: An aquarium, like this?

Charles: Multiples.

Thelen: Whole bunches of fish tanks.

Charles: Fish tanks, but ocean. They had discovered or Charles had figured out that one of the staffers that worked for Bob was really into fish also. Sam became - this is sort of what we were talking about earlier, you would be called on to do whatever task they thought you were up to and if you were not up to it you were in trouble. But you never knew what you might be called to do. Sam was now running all these fish tanks and they had cameras set up so that if something interesting was happening they could capture it very quickly.

This was all to make a film about the designs for the national aquarium, because Charles had a concept that if he could get it all on film it would be much harder for people to misunderstand what he was trying to present then if it was say a written report or a verbal report. It was an amazing, you know, models to photographed this way to be photographed that way it would all come apart. You were making the model right? Or figuring out the model, Lars Hanson was also making models.

My initial assignment - they had a model of this rooftop aquarium, a lot of this design ends up in Baltimore, by Cambridge Seven. They had this big rooftop greenhouse, it was going to be the Everglades I think. It had all been made out of black and white photographs, could I paint it…to look like, could I put color on all these trees so that they could take a shot that would go from the real Everglades to the model Everglades and then kind of back up. You say sure, I have never painted one of these things. You have to say you can do it. All you can do is fail. So I did that for the first week and at the end of the week, Charles left for Russia for three weeks. He’s gone.

But this place was fabulous and my marriage was not so fabulous so I started staying later at this place. Then I started working on the model, I made a trout stream that you can photograph from above. I worked for Lars who was a taskmaster, because I had to pick paper colors and he could make them and apply them faster than I could pick them. You had to pick greys, Charles I remember saying he did not want anyone to remember a purple wall. You had to pick from palettes of greys that would, when photographed, make architectural distinctions. You have to get baseboards and walls and cornices, all that kind of stuff. I spent a couple of weeks doing that. My recollection, did we get pay every week or every two weeks?



Staples: I think it was every two weeks.

Charles: So my recollection of those next six weeks after Charles left, he was back after about three weeks, but after my first success of painting that every time Miss. Poole handed out our paychecks, somebody I was working with got fired. That went on for about three, and you are saying is it going to be me next?

Thelen: And it did not make sense to you who it was going to be?

Charles: No.

Thelen: So you could not have predicted it.

Charles: I did not know why, I just knew people were going. That summer I made - they were working on the little glass house for a carousel here on the mall. The office had started working with the Smithsonian and Ripley and Ripley wanted to animate the mall. The Smithsonian had bought a carousel, so I made a paper carousel to go in the model for that house. Eventually I got assigned to organize the negatives. I think, my suspicion around this time, was hey she might be a keeper, let us give her some other jobs, we do not have anything else to do for her to do right now, rather than let her go. So I spent about a month organizing four by five negatives which was fabulous to look at these.

Charles had photographed the circus in the forties - there are just some great photographs of the circus that have never been published. He had a friend Bill Balentine, who was one of the clowns, the founder of the clown college for Ringling brothers. His wife, I do not remember her name, was a showgirl. Charles had full access back, behind the circus. That fall - a designer I worked with at Stratford then contacted me and said he had a job in Tokyo and since I knew Tokyo would I go out there as his assistant for like a month or six weeks. I thought that was great, my then husband did not think it was so cool. I talked to Ray or Charles that I was thinking about doing that and Ray actually took me out to lunch to try to convince me not to leave at that moment. I later heard the next year that they were talking about firing me because I could not get anything done.

If your project was not on the front burner you could really sort of wallow, flounder in that place. You would not get any attention, you would not get any attention, you would not be getting anywhere. I cannot remember, I went on the Photography in the City, maybe my problem was after Photography in the City and before Computer Perspective, but there was a time, one long summer when I was asked to kind of work on - maybe it was the early computer history and I was not getting anywhere.

Sometime that first summer they were working on a history wall for Herman Miller. Deborah came back, she was no longer at the office, but they asked her to come back to do it. Deborah taught me how to do paste up, so I started when you used rubber cement and you had to cut all the type and put it together and so on. I started working on that and then at some point, probably Ray or Deborah said, “For this history wall we ought to have some non-Eames, Herman Miller stuff, we ought to get some other cultural things.” I said “You know I know how to use a library, I’ll go over to UCLA and start finding stuff.” I started doing the research and so they discovered I could use a library. Then I became useful beside somebody who could paint and cut.

Then the office took on a project for the Smithsonian called Photography in the City and it opened in June sixty-eight. By the fall of sixty-seven we must have started working on that. Bob was the primary designer on it. I was doing research on it. I do not think Glen was very involved in that project. I think Glen was working on some other stuff. I was doing research to kind of ideas Charles would come up with. Glen was involved in the scientific part. Charles’ idea was that photography has helped to shape cities in the way, when Housemen redesigned Paris. All of Paris was photographed and they used it to think about what they wanted to do where you had people like Jacob Riese in New York using photography for social reasons. Even before that in Scotland there was a whole project using photography, that was kind of Charles’ concept. I think the Smithsonian had come to him and said we’d like to do an exhibit about photography.

It became problematic because the curator of photography Austrof, Gene Austrof, he had his dream hall he wanted to do on photography and he saw the money being spent by Charles to do something at the A and I Building [Arts and Industries Building]. The Eames had made a film about the Smithsonian a year or two before and that is how they got to know Ripley. That film is quite fun. We were doing this show Photography in the City and I started calling institutions figuring out what we could borrow. We did not use - we used some original photography, but a lot of it was reproductions and big and so on. Trying to develop the ideas. One of the interesting things was I did little, I did notes, like little sketches of a picture and then I would do notes about what it was. I had my outlines lines.




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