Edith Head in 1976
|Born||Edith Claire Posener
October 28, 1897
San Bernardino, California
|Died||October 24, 1981
Los Angeles, California
|Spouse(s)||Charles Head (1923–38)
Wiard Ihnen (1940–79)
Early life and career
She was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of Jewish parents, Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Her father, Max Posener, was a naturalized American citizen from Prussia, who came to the United States in 1876. Her mother was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother. There is nothing to document if Max and Anna ever married or where they met. Just before Edith's birth, Max Posener opened a haberdashery in San Bernardino which failed within a year, and the stock and fixtures were liquidated. In 1905 Anna married mining engineer Frank Spare, originally from Pennsylvania. The family moved frequently as Spare's jobs moved, and the only place whose name Head could later recall from her early years was Searchlight, Nevada. Frank and Anna Spare passed Edith off as their mutual child. As Frank Spare was a Catholic, Edith ostensibly became one as well.
She received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919 and earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920. She became a language teacher with her first position at Bishop's School in La Jolla teaching French as a replacement. After one year, she took a position teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls. Wanting a slightly higher salary, she told the school that she could also teach art, even though she had only briefly studied the discipline in high school.
To improve her drawing skills, which at this point were rudimentary, she took evening art classes at the Chouinard Art College. On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. The marriage ended in divorce in 1936 after a number of years of separation, although she continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.
The Paramount years
In 1924, despite lacking art, design, and costume design experience, Head was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures in the costume department. Later she admitted to borrowing another student's sketches for her job interview. She began designing costumes for silent films, commencing with The Wanderer in 1925 and, by the 1930s, had established herself as one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. She worked at Paramount for 43 years until she went to Universal Pictures on March 27, 1967, possibly prompted by her extensive work for director Alfred Hitchcock, who had also moved to Universal, in 1960.
Head's marriage to set designer Wiard Ihnen, on September 8, 1940, lasted until his death from prostate cancer in 1979. Throughout her long career, she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, including every year from 1948 through 1966, and won eight times – more Oscars than any other woman.
Although Head was featured in studio publicity from the mid-1920s, she was originally over-shadowed by Paramount's head designers, first Howard Greer then Travis Banton. It was only after Banton's resignation in 1938 that she achieved fame as a designer in her own right. Her association with the "sarong" dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane made her well-known among the general public, although Head was a more restrained designer than either Banton or Adrian. In 1944, she gained public attention for the top mink-lined gown she created for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark, which gained notoriety due to its being counter to the mood of wartime austerity. The establishment in 1949 of the category of an Academy Award for Costume Designer further boosted her career, because it began her record-breaking run of Award nominations and wins, beginning with her nomination for The Emperor Waltz.
Head was known for her low-key working style and, unlike many of her male contemporaries, usually consulted extensively with the female stars with whom she worked. As a result she was a favorite among many of the leading female stars of the 1940s and '50s such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Baxter, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood. In fact, Head was frequently "loaned out" by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars.
During the 1950s, she was dubbed the "queen of the shirtwaisters" by her detractors. However, this approach to costume design was in line with studio policy, which discouraged films from becoming instantly dated through the use of short-lived costume fads (especially in late release or re-released films). Despite this trait, or even because of it, she has been cited as one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite costume designers and had a long association with Hal Wallis, among others. She was well known for her work for Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Head also designed the costumes for many of the solo films of Jerry Lewis while he was at Paramount. During her long career, she was occasionally criticized for her working methods. Early in her career, she opposed the creation of a union to represent studio-based costume designers and outfitters and was accused of being anti-union on several occasions.
Even though a favorite of many stars, her design trademark of restraint sometimes brought her into conflict with the wishes of a few film stars and directors. Claudette Colbert was one actress who apparently preferred not to work with Head, and her relationship with flamboyant film director Mitchell Leisen was reportedly quite tense. Apocryphally, despite her own design accomplishments, she had a reputation for taking credit for others' work. However, this practice only became controversial in the latter part of her career, because, in the era of studio-dominated film production, a department head commonly claimed credit for design work created in his or her department.
The Universal years
In 1967, she left Paramount Pictures and joined Universal Pictures, where she remained until her death in 1981. As studio-based feature film production declined and many of her favored stars retired, Head became more active as a television costume designer, often designing outfits for film actors, such as Olivia De Havilland, who were now involved in television series or film work. In 1974, Head received a final Oscar win for her work on The Sting.
During the late 1970s, Edith Head was asked to design a woman's uniform for the United States Coast Guard, because of the increasing number of women in the Coast Guard. Head called the assignment a highlight in her career and received the Meritorious Public Service Award for her efforts. Her designs for a TV mini-series based on the novel Little Women were well received. Her last film project was the black-and-white comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. For the production, she re-created fashions of the 1940s, extensively referencing the film clips from classic film noir motion pictures. It was released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Edith Head's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6504 Hollywood Boulevard.
Actors and actresses designed for
Among the actresses Edith Head designed for were:
- Mae West in She Done Him Wrong, 1933; Myra Breckinridge, 1970; Sextette, 1978
- Frances Farmer in Rhythm on the Range, 1936, and Ebb Tide, 1937
- Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane, 1937; in most of "The Road" movies.
- Paulette Goddard in The Cat and the Canary, 1939
- Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels, 1941; I Married a Witch, 1942
- Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire, both 1941; Double Indemnity, 1944
- Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark, 1944
- Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, 1946
- Betty Hutton in Incendiary Blonde, 1945; The Perils of Pauline, 1947
- Loretta Young in The Farmer's Daughter, 1947
- Bette Davis in June Bride (1948); All About Eve, 1950
- Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, 1949
- Hedy Lamarr and Angela Lansbury in Samson and Delilah, 1949
- Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, 1950
- Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, 1951; Elephant Walk, 1954
- Joan Fontaine in Something to Live For, 1952
- Carmen Miranda in Scared Stiff 1953
- Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953; Sabrina, 1954; Funny Face, 1957
- Ann Robinson in The War of the Worlds, 1953
- Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954; To Catch a Thief, 1955
- Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas, 1954
- Jane Wyman in Lucy Gallant, 1955
- Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956
- Anne Baxter in The Ten Commandments, 1956
- Marlene Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution, 1957
- Rita Hayworth in Separate Tables, 1958
- Kim Novak in Vertigo, 1958
- Sophia Loren in That Kind of Woman, 1959
- Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger, 1963; Sex and the Single Girl, 1964; Inside Daisy Clover, 1965; The Great Race, 1965; Penelope, 1966; This Property Is Condemned, 1966; The Last Married Couple in America, 1980
- Tippi Hedren in The Birds, 1963; Marnie, 1964
- Shirley MacLaine in What A Way To Go!, 1964
- Claude Jade in Topaz, 1969
- Katharine Hepburn in Rooster Cogburn, 1975
- Jill Clayburgh in Gable and Lombard, 1976
- Valerie Perrine in W.C. Fields and Me, 1976
Among the actors Edith Head designed for were:
Head received eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design from a total of 35 nominations.
- 1949 – Color – The Emperor Waltz
- 1950 – Black and White – The Heiress – won
- 1951 – Color – Samson and Delilah – won
- 1951 – Black and White – All About Eve – won
- 1952 – Black and White – A Place in the Sun – won
- 1953 – Color – The Greatest Show on Earth
- 1953 – Black and White – Carrie
- 1954 – Black and White – Roman Holiday – won
- 1955 – Black and White – Sabrina – won
- Note: Although Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, most of Audrey Hepburn's "Parisian" ensembles were, in fact, designed by Hubert de Givenchy and chosen by the star herself. However, since the outfits were actually made in Edith Head's Paramount Studios costume department, some felt that doing so created enough of a technicality to nominate Head, instead of Givenchy. And, indeed, since she refused to have her name alongside Givenchy's in the credits, she was given credit for the costumes, even though the Academy's votes were obviously for Hepburn's attire. Head did not refuse the Oscar, however.
- 1956 – Color – To Catch a Thief
- 1956 – Black and White – The Rose Tattoo
- 1957 – Color – The Ten Commandments
- 1957 – Black and White – The Proud and Profane
- 1958 – Best Costume Design – Funny Face
- 1959 – Best Costume Design, Black and White or Color – The Buccaneer
- 1960 – Color – The Five Pennies
- 1960 – Black and White – Career
- 1961 – Color – Pepe
- 1961 – Black and White – The Facts of Life – won
- 1962 – Color – Pocketful of Miracles
- 1963 – Color – My Geisha
- 1963 – Black and White – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
- 1964 – Color – A New Kind of Love
- 1964 – Black and White – Wives and Lovers
- 1964 – Black and White – Love with the Proper Stranger
- 1965 – Color – What a Way to Go!
- 1965 – Black and White – A House Is Not a Home
- 1966 – Color – Inside Daisy Clover
- 1966 – Black and White – The Slender Thread
- 1967 – Color – The Oscar
- Note: After 1967, the Academy no longer distinguished between awards for Color and awards for Black and White films.
- 1970 – Sweet Charity
- 1971 – Airport
- 1974 – The Sting – won
- 1976 – The Man Who Would Be King
- 1978 – Airport '77
Again as herself, she appeared in the film Lucy Gallant (1955) as the emcee of a fashion show. She also appeared in The Pleasure of His Company (1961) as she showed dresses for Debbie Reynolds' wedding in the film.
The parody film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) used scenes from films using Head's designs. A dedication to her and her work was included during the credits, listing it as her "final film".
As part of a series of stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in February 2003, commemorating the behind-the-camera personnel who make movies, Head was featured on one to honor costume design.
The band They Might Be Giants recorded the song "She Thinks She's Edith Head," which was included in the 1999 album Long Tall Weekend and the 2001 album Mink Car. The song is about a girl from the singer's past, who had changed her persona to be more sophisticated, and compares her new attitude to Head and longtime Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown.
To many viewers of the 2004 Pixar/Disney computer-animated film The Incredibles, the personality and mannerisms of the film's fictional superhero costume designer Edna Mode suggest a colorful caricature of Edith Head. Edna Mode's sense of style, round glasses, and assertive no-nonsense character are very likely a direct homage to Head's legendary accomplishments and personal traits. But the film's director, Brad Bird, has neither confirmed nor denied this.
- Chierichetti, David (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. New York, NY: HarperCollins. pp. 2–3. ISBN 0-06-019428-6.
- Chierichetti, David (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. New York, NY: HarperCollins. p. 6. ISBN 0-06-019428-6.
- Chierichetti, David (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. Ney York, NY: HarperCollins. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-06-019428-6.
- Fishko, Sara. Edith Head. February 25, 2011.
- U.S. Coast Guard website
- Chierichetti, David. (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer, p. 134. Harper Perennial, New York. ISBN 0-06-056740-6.
- "Who is the ''Incredibles'' fashion maven based on?", Entertainment Weekly
- David Chierichetti (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-019428-6.
- John Duka. "Edith Head, Fashion Designer for the Movies, Dies." The New York Times. October 27, 1981.
- Edith Head (1983). Edith Head's Hollywood. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24200-7.
- Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore (1959). The Dress Doctor. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/999750030X|999750030X[[Category:Articles with invalid ISBNs]]]].
- Edith Head with Joe Hyams (1967). How to Dress for Success. New York: Random House. LCCN 66012021.
- Edith Head at Find a Grave
- Edith Head at the Internet Movie Database
- Edith Head at the Fashion Model Directory
- Edith Head at the TCM Movie Database
- Edith Head Papers - Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research
- Edith Head on The California Museum's California Legacy Trails
- Elegance by Design: The Edith Head Collection in Wisconsin
- image: Edith Head alongside actress Claude Jade at the Universal-Studios 1968
- Sewing patterns by Edith Head
- U.S. Coast Guard website story "Women Find Favor With Coast Guard Fashion"