The Harolds Club contact lenses

ManoguePowersSensing that half of writing a decent column is 95 per cent graphics (thanks, Yogi) I set out to find a photograph of a person – preferably a drop-dead gorgeous cocktail waitress – wearing the Harolds Club contact lenses.

I failed. This just in: in the blue type I add my thanks to Steve Ellison, who in 2019 probably knows more about Harolds Club than anyone alive right up with Karalea Clough and the late Dwayne Kling — Steve occasionally hosts a video about the casino and has spoken of the club often around Reno. Therefore – please ignore all my banter relative to the photograph of the dancing girls wearing the contacts, or whatever I wrote – the picture Steve sent me is now posted! Facebook users, search Harolds Club Movie and learn more of the casino’s glory days. And thanks again, Steve!

contactskarl (1)In 1969 finding such a shot would be a piece of cake – they were all over the town and the Bay Area in print publications and billboards  –  pictures of attractive people wearing the things. I did, however, find a Harolds Club cocktail napkin, pictured somewhere on this site, which imparts the basic look of the lens – a decorative border around the outside of the lens, light in color to contrast with the darker cornea of the wearer. 

The lens campaign was the brainchild of Roy Powers, natch, the creative advertising genius that took over the account from adman Thomas C. Wilson, who dropped the apostrophe from Harold’s Club. Then Powers put Harolds Club on the map, and our little village of Reno along with it. I don’t know for sure, but would bet the ranch that Roy brought this stunt to fruition at the Riverside Hotel’s vaunted Corner Bar, in conversation with George Hamilton, dispensing optometrist extraordinaire who put glasses atop the snoots of everybody in Reno from his store next to the Crest Theater on Second Street.

As a side note, sort of: I got what George later told me were the first contact lensesin Reno, in 1955, when American Optical and Bausch & Lomb had a pilot program to put contact lenses into the orbs of we McGoos the world around. They sought out active, youthful and constructively blind youts like me, to be guinea pigs for these nascent devices (yout being a Joe Pesci term).

They covered the entirety of the eyeball and occasionally even stayed centered over the iris, and worked pretty well. The pain – more a mild itch – dissipated rapidly and I actually shed the Coke bottle frame-glasses that I was saddled with in the first grade. I could see!

Then George called my dad – would Karl like to try some “contact lenses?” Yup, I would. And I did. Then 13 years later, George called me again, direct. “How would you like a pair of free contacts?” Yup. (By then, the lenses were shrunk to the same size as the wearer’s corneas.) I presented myself to George and his team of Roy Lear and Frank Higdon, and a week later had the Harolds Club lenses.

They came in two flavors – both with the broken ring aroud their rims, but some Logowith and some without the Harolds Club “H” in the center. I got the ones with the “H” but soon after, as did most others, traded them in for free on the sans-“H” model. The letter over the iris didn’t really restrict vision, but it sure made life annoying.

I – although not as pretty as the airline stewardesses and cocktail waitresses modeling them in the casino’s advertising – wore them with great style and élan for a couple of years until the program petered out and my H contacts went the way of all contacts – scratched, dinged up, lost down the washbasin drain… I replaced them with normal lenses, but still occasionally miss the extra effort that some people took to try to figure out what in the hell I had in my eyes!

George Hamilton, Roy Lear, Roy Powers, Frank Higdon and  George Magee Sr., the doctor who prescribed glasses for everyone in Reno that didn’t get their refractions from Dr. Sam Clarke – all became part of the fabric of mid-century Reno. Hamilton was also a pillar of the local Lions Club and the club’s vision program, and put glasses on every kid in Reno who needed them, whether able to pay for them or not. Lear and  Higdon opened Lear-Higdon Opticians on Wells Avenue and remained active for many years. George Magee, and his son George Jr., did most of the local optical refractions and George Jr.’s daughter Catherine now heads the Nevada Historical Society.

Then there’s Roy Powers – not ‘nuff can be said for or about Roy – he PR’ed Harolds Club to national note. He was one of the fathers of air racing with Bill Stead, George Vucanovich, Stan Brown and a few others. And his soft paintings of some buildings around our valley are highly desired and collectible – his painting of the original Manogue I attached above as a sample – his widow Jackie Manoukian Powers has always been most gracious in allowing me to use them in columns.

And Roy gave us the Harolds Club contact lens program – a stroke of genius!

color painting of Bishop Manogue High School artwork © Powers family

ladies wearing contact lenses © Steve Ellison