Susan Claassen is remarkable as “Edith Head” in her one woman theatrical production “A Conversation with Edith Head” presented by Modernism Week, Palm Springs. The show was SOLD OUT and received a well deserved standing ovation.
EDITH HEAD – Trailblazer
Edith Head was a legend. Pardon the pun, but she was a Head of her time. One of the most prolific costume designers of the twentieth century, she received an unprecedented 35 Academy Award nominations and won a record-breaking eight Oscars at a time when the industry and world in general was dominated by men. Her career spanned 58 years of movie making. She liked to call herself a “Magician.” The word is suitable considering the magic she created with her design skills. She raised rear ends, made waists look smaller, legs longer and hid imperfections like no other.
“There’s nothing like a row of Oscars for putting the fear of God into an actress who thinks she knows everything about dress designing.” – Edith Head
Edith Head became as famous as the stars she dressed. With her signature glasses, straight bangs and tailored suits, her distinctive style made her a recognizable personality in her own right.
Looking exactly like Edith Head with trademark glasses and all, Susan Claassen brings us back to the time when Head dressed glamorous movie stars such as Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Lana Turner, Paul Newman, John Wayne, Bette Davis, Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich and many more. Some of the original costumes and photographs were on stage. However, preferring never to upstage whoever she was dressing, Head only liked to wear four colors herself: black, white, beige and brown.
With wit and intellect, Claassen relives and re tells stories when Head worked with actors like Mae West, Debbie Reynolds, Barbara Stanwyck and a young Elizabeth Taylor. Not gonna lie; it was fun finding out who was naughty and who was nice! A few tidbits: Taylor was fascinated by a signature necklace worn by Head to the point where it was left for her in Head’s will. Funnily enough there were no diamonds in the necklace but it was an eye-catching, original, vintage piece. Head formed special relationships with the famous she dressed and recounted those stories. For instance, when Grace Kelly became princess Grace and moved to Monaco, she would always visit Head when returning to Los Angeles. Kelly always wore white gloves so on one visit Head made little white gloves for her young daughters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie.
In 1961 Edith Head hired Bob Mackie to be her sketch artist at Paramount Studios. Mackie would later become another famous designer (he designed all of the costumes for the Carole Burnett Show, all of Cher’s costumes and many more including sketching the famous sequined dress worn my Marilyn Monroe when she sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to JFK). As luck would have it, I met and spoke with him for several minutes before the show began. He said that the actress (Susan Claassen) was a good friend of his and that he also knew Edith Head and that she helped start his career. I had met him last year at the book store Just Fabulous when I bought his beautiful book “The Art of Bob Mackie” and told him how much I love the book and it brought back so many good memories. Also, he looked just fabulous.
Edith Head died in 1981 of a progressive and rare blood disease, myeloid metaplasia, two weeks after completing work on her last film “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” She left her estate to the Motion Picture and Television Fund and to other charitable organizations aiding Native American children and her beloved animals. Her funeral was attended by hundreds, including not only Hollywood’s stars but also the backlot people. A Paramount security guard dressed in a uniform designed by Edith Head mused, “I remember her real well. At Christmas she took care of every one on the lot. She was the greatest designer in the world. Edith Head was quite a girl.” And that she was.
Head’s no nonsense straightforward personality inspired the character of Edna Mode in The Incredibles.
The Heiress, 1949
Samson and Delilah, 1950
All About Eve, 1950
A Place in the Sun, 1951
Roman Holiday, 1953
The Facts of Life, 1960
The Sting, 1973
The show must go on:
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MODERNISM week has ended as of February 26th, but please join us next year for another unbelievable lineup of fabulous events.
Header Photo of set – d. king