Tuesday, July 8, 2008; Posted: 1:03 PM - by BWW News Desk
Arizona-based actress SUSAN CLAASSEN stars on London’s West End as legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head in “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD”. Anthony Field Associates presents this West End premiere at the Arts Club at the Arts Theatre from Tuesday, July 29 through Sunday, August 31, 2008. The intimate portrait was written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen. The press opening will be on Thursday, July 31 at 8 PM.
“A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD”, based on the book Edith Head’s Hollywood by Edith Head & Paddy Calistro, is a behind-the-scenes feast of great movie legends and delicious stories that provide an insight into Hollywood’s legendary costume designer. In her six decades of costume design, she worked on over eleven hundred films; dressed the greatest stars of Hollywood; received 35 Academy Award® nominations, and won an unprecedented eight Oscars®. Edith Head’s story is as fascinating as the history of the film industry itself, filled with humor, frustration and, above all, glamour. This diva of design helped to define glamour in the most glamorous place in the world - Hollywood!
Edith Head was a Hollywood costume designer for more than 60 years. 44 of those years were spent at Paramount Studios, where she worked with the most famous actors of the time, from Mae West and Clara Bow to Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis. When Paramount failed to renew her contract in 1967, Alfred Hitchcock stepped in and Ms. Head was invited to join Universal Studios. At Universal she costumed Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting” and won the first-ever Oscar® for a film without a female lead. Her eight Academy Award® celebrated her artistry in “The Heiress” (her first Oscar®), “Samson & Delilah”, “All About Eve”, “A Place in the Sun”, “Roman Holiday”, “Sabrina”, “The Facts of Life” and “The Sting”. Edith Head died in October 1981, still under contract to Universal Studios, having just completed working on the Steve Martin film, “Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid”.
Susan Claassen was inspired to write and star in “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” while watching a TV biography of Ms. Head. The petite, dark-haired actress immediately imagined herself playing Edith Head, “…a perfect fit,” as Claassen describes it. “Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion. Edith did what no woman did in the history of film. She survived the boy’s club world of Hollywood to enjoy a 60-year career, during which she worked on a staggering 1,131 films, earned 35 Oscar nominations and won eight. She stitched Dorothy Lamour into her sarong; put Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in kilts in “The Road to Bali”; created Bette Davis’ glamorous Margo Channing; made teenage girls swoon over Elizabeth Taylor’s white ballgown in “A Place in the Sun”; dressed Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious”, Grace Kelly in “To Catch A Thief”, Kim Novak in “Vertigo”, Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” and Sean Connery in “The Man Who Would Be King”. There are many myths about her but she was a discreet, tenacious personality. She knew whose hips needed clever disguising and made sure those legendary stars always looked the part. Our show gives the inside scoop on Edith and the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
“A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” premiered at the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2002 and was subsequently presented in Chicago; Key West, FLA; at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD; Hartford; San Francisco; Nantucket, and Scottsdale, as well as in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia and a ‘sold out’ engagement at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Out of the 2,000 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival only 200 were officially designated ‘Sold Out’ engagements.) Up-coming performances of “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” include an engagement on March 5-8, 2009 at The Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona. www.invisibletheatre.com
As an actress, some of Susan’s most memorable roles have been Bella in “LOST IN YONKERS” Alice B. Toklas in “GERTRUDE STEIN AND A COMPANION” Hannah in “CROSSING DELANCEY”, Shirley in “SHIRLEY VALENTINE” and Trudy in “THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE”. In addition to her work with the Invisible Theatre she has been a consultant and director for the Waterfront Playhouse and The Red Barn Theatre in Key West, Florida, and directed Steve Ross in “I WON’T DANCE” at New York’s famed Rainbow and Stars Cabaret and St. Paul's prestigious Ordway Theatre. As Managing Artistic Director of The Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, Susan has produced more than 335 productions and directed more than 50. She is the recipient of the 1985 Governor’s Award for Women Who Create; the 1993 Humanitarian Torch Award for her efforts on behalf of people living with AIDS, and a 1996 Distinguished Service Award from the State Federation for Exceptional Children for her commitment to arts education for special populations. Susan was the 1999 City of Hope “Spirit of Life” recipient (as was Edith Head in 1976), and performs as a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She was recently selected as one of Tucson Lifestyle’s 10 Most Admired Women and will be honored by The Jewish Federation in 2009 as one of Tucson’s 13 most remarkable women.
Much of the dialogue in “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” comes directly from the famed designer. When she was asked to write the authorized posthumous autobiography, Edith Head’s Hollywood, Paddy Calistro acquired more than 13 hours of recollections recorded by Edith Head – including her own snippy “Edithisms” as Ms. Head referred to her own sayings, such as: "I hate modesty, don't you?" and "Good clothes are not a matter of good luck." The show also features insights from Hollywood insiders who knew Ms. Head best: costume designer Bob Mackie, who once worked as Ms. Head's sketch artist; her dear friend Edie Wasserman, wife of the late Universal Studio head Lew Wasserman, and Art Linkletter, award-winning host of TV’s “House Party”, who brought Edith Head into the homes of America. Edith would stroll through the studio audience with Linkletter, offering brutally critical fashion, diet and grooming advice - all this half a century before the current mania for on-screen makeovers. "Go on a diet!" she would instruct an overweight woman, while instantly making her look ten pounds slimmer by pulling her shirt out of her trousers, whipping a belt around her middle and swapping her cheap gold jewelry for her own signature pearls. Young fans of Pixar’s “The Incredibles” will recognized the superhero outfitter Edna Mode as an affectionate tribute to the legendary Hollywood costume designer.
“A CONVERSATIONWITH EDITH HEAD” is produced by Anthony Field Associates through special arrangement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
Co-author Paddy Calistro is one of the leading authorities on the life and work of Edith Head and is the co-author of Edith Head's posthumous autobiography, Edith Head’s Hollywood. She was selected as Ms. Head’s official biographer based on her experience as a fashion journalist. A former fashion and beauty writer for the Los Angeles Times, Paddy wrote the weekly “Looks” column in the LA Times Magazine for four years. She was the West Coast reporter for Allure and has written for Glamour, Mademoiselle, House Beautiful, Elle, Four Seasons Magazine, Fitness and Los Angeles Magazine. For more than a decade Paddy was the lead interior design writer for LA Magazine, and was also the editor of American Style, a bilingual fashion magazine sold in Mexico and South America. The co-founder of Angel City Press, an independent book publishing company based in Santa Monica, she currently serves as its Publisher and Editor-in-chief.
For additional information about “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” go to www.edithhead.biz.