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Edith Head in 1976
|Born||Edith Claire Posener
October 28, 1897
San Bernardino, California
|Died||October 24, 1981
Los Angeles, California
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley (B.A.)
Stanford University (M.A.)
|Spouse(s)||Charles Head (1923–1938; divorced)
Wiard Ihnen (1940–1979; his death)
Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981) was an American costume designer who won eight Academy Awards, starting with The Heiress (1949) and ending with The Sting (1974). This is still a record in its category.
Born and raised in California, Head managed to get a job as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures, without any relevant training. She first acquired notability for Dorothy Lamour’s trademark sarong dress, and then became a household name after the Academy Awards created a new category of Costume Designer in 1948. Head was considered exceptional for her close working relationships with her subjects, with whom she consulted extensively, and these included virtually every top female star in Hollywood.
After 43 years she left Paramount for Universal, possibly because of her successful partnership with Alfred Hitchcock, and also adapted her skills for television.
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, born in January 1858, was a naturalized American citizen from Germany, who came to the United States in 1876. Her mother was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1875, the daughter of an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother. It is not known where Max and Anna met, but they married in 1895, per the 1900 United States Federal Census records. Just before Edith's birth, Max Posener opened a small haberdashery in San Bernardino which failed within a year. In 1905 Anna married mining engineer Frank Spare, from Pennsylvania. The family moved frequently as Spare's jobs moved. The only place Head could later recall living in during 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.
In 1919, Edith received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1920 earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University. 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, at this point rudimentary, she took evening classes at the Chouinard Art College.
On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. Although the marriage ended in divorce in 1936 after a number of years of separation, 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, the 26-year old Head was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures in the costume department. Later she admitted to "borrowing" other 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 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. Over the course of her long career, she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, annually from 1948 through to 1966, and won eight times – receiving 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 lead designers, first Howard Greer, then Travis Banton. Head was instrumental in conspiring against Banton, and after his resignation in 1938 she became a high profile designer in her own right. Her association with the "sarong" dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane (1937) made her well-known among the general public, although Head was a more restrained designer than either Banton or Adrian. She gained public attention for the top mink-lined gown she created for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark (1944), which caused much comment owing to it countering 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. She herself always dressed very plainly, preferring thick-framed glasses and conservative two-piece suits. 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, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, Head was frequently "loaned out" by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars.
On February 3, 1955 (Season 5 Episode 21), Edith Head appeared as a contestant on the Groucho Marx quiz show You Bet Your Life. She and her partner won a total of $1540. Her winnings were donated to charity. 
Head also authored two books, The Dress Doctor (1959) and How To Dress For Success (1967), describing her career and design philosophy.
The Universal years
In 1967, at the age of 70, she left Paramount Pictures and joined Universal Pictures, where she remained until her death in 1981. By this point, Hollywood was rapidly changing from what it had been during Head's heyday in the 30s-40s. Studio-based production was giving way to outdoors and on-scene shooting, and many of the actresses from that era whom she worked with and knew intimately had retired or were working less. She thus turned more of her attention to TV, where some old friends such as Olivia De Havilland had begun working. 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 (1982), starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner, a job Head was chosen for because of her expertise on 1940s fashions. She modeled Martin and Reiner's outfits off classic film noir and the movie, released in theaters just after her death, was dedicated to her memory.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
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
- Ruth Hussey, Gail Russell in The Uninvited, 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:
- 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
- Note: Although Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, the Capri Collection (Capri Skirt, Capri Blouse, Capri Belt, Capri Pants) was, in fact, designed by the European fashion designer Sonja de Lennart. However, since the outfits were actually made in Edith Head's Roman temporary Atelier of the sorelle Fontana—that acted as the costume department—Edith Head, Paramount's costume designer, used only her name without giving credit to the original designer, Sonja de Lennart, as it was pretty common at that time in history. Costume designers around the world used only their names, regardless who created the costumes. Sonja de Lennart's Capri Pants were sewn and used in the next movie, Sabrina, by Hubert de Givenchy.
- 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.
- 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.
In 2001 the group They Might Be Giants released a song on their album, Mink Car, entitled "(She Thinks She's) Edith Head."
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.
After great success in the United States, the critically acclaimed one-woman play, A Conversation with Edith Head, premiered in Canada in January 2014 at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto. The "sold out" shows (inspired by the book Edith Head's Hollywood, co-written by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro with a foreword by Bette Davis), co-written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen and starring and directed by Susan Claassen, received rave previews and reviews. Among the key props used in the production were a size 2 dress purportedly made by Edith Head for Grace Kelly and illustrations of Head's designs. After the lively, very well researched and engaging 90-minute show, audience members were given the opportunity of an unscripted meet and greet with Claasen while in character as Edith Head.
An Edith Head costume collection from the Paramount Pictures Archive will be leaving Hollywood—for just the second time—to be shown exclusively at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster. This exhibition, Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount 1924-1967 is presented by the Fox Foundation and will run June 7 through August 17, 2014. Susan Claassen, along with curator Randall Thropp, will be offering tours of the Edith Head exhibition at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster on Sunday, August 17, 2014.
- Chierichetti, David (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. New York: 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: HarperCollins. p. 6. ISBN 0-06-019428-6.
- Chierichetti, David (2003). Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-06-019428-6.
- Fishko, Sara. Edith Head. February 25, 2011.
- Jorgensen, Jay (2010). Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer. Running Press. ISBN 9780762441730. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- Olivia Smith, Intern. "WOMEN FIND FAVOR WITH COAST GUARD FASHION" (PDF). U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- "Edith Head". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- Williams, Rob (October 28, 2013). "Google Doodle Celebrates Oscar Award Winning Hollywood Costume Designer Edith Head". The Independent. independent.co.uk. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
- 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.
- "Edith Head's 116th Birthday", Google Doodles
- "Celebrating the golden age of Hollywood! Late great costume designer Edith Head gets a Google Doodle on 116th anniversary of her birth". Daily Mail (London). October 28, 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- 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 999750030X.
- 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 at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research
- image: Edith Head alongside actress Claude Jade at the Universal-Studios 1968
- U.S. Coast Guard website story "Women Find Favor With Coast Guard Fashion"