If Charles and Ray Eames weren’t the greatest figures in American design in their era, they may have been the ones that most encapsulated the American twentieth century. Their careers flourished after World War II, and they made important contributions to the areas of architecture, design, industrial design, photography, and film. Their lounge chair is an undisputed icon of American design. After already having introduced a series of fiberglass and plastic resin chairs and wire mesh chairs for Herman Miller, the Eames introduced the lounge chair in 1956 on the Home Show, hosted by Arlene Francis. (It’s common to refer to this appearance as having happened on the Today Show, but I don’t see any justification for that.)
Charles and Ray Eames sitting on their creation
In the interview, Charles mentions a movie about their home, known to all architecture lovers (including Ice Cube) as “Case Study House No. 8.” That movie is linked below in addition to the Today Show clip. Impressively, the music was composed by Hollywood composer Elmer Bernstein.
In that vein, Charles discusses a project he’s doing with the great director Billy Wilder, almost certainly a reference to the montage Charles did for The Spirit of St. Louis, but it’s worth pointing out that the connections between Wilder and the Eameses are extensive.
Towards the end of the clip Charles plays a cute little movie of a man constructing an Eames lounge chair on his own. Using time-lapse photography, the man skids and slides around with unnatural speed and the chair begins to take form. Once he is done, he sits in the chair and enjoys a brief reverie, during which the image of a woman materializes on his freshly built ottoman and then vanishes, after which the man begins to disassemble the furniture.
Not to be too unkind about this, but that movie cries out for a psychological reading, methinks. I mean, that woman may as well be Ray Eames, right? Ray shows up briefly on the Today Show set but then vanishes too, and at the time Charles was given the lion’s share of credit for the couple’s creations. Arlene Francis even repeatedly emphasizes that Ray is “standing behind”/“supporting” Charles. After stating that her role is too look for the “big idea” and to “look critically at the work”—core elements of an artistic persona, both—Francis inanely says that it’s important to have “a critical viewpoint of your husband’s work, so that he can improve along with it—otherwise he might be stagnant or stand still.”