Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Film fans sit up and listen to Edith | Lifestyle/Features | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Film fans sit up and listen to Edith Lifestyle/Features Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Film fans sit up and listen to Edith
Audience interacts in A Conversation With Edith Head
By EVERETT EVANS Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 23, 2008, 6:31PM

Movie buffs likely will gobble up A Conversation With Edith Head like a box of gourmet chocolates or, more to the point, a 24-hour Barbara Stanwyck marathon.

Susan Claassen's affectionate solo show portraying the legendary costume designer — who worked on more than 1,100 films from 1923 to 1981 and won a record eight Oscars — is at Theater LaB through Sunday.

Claassen certainly looks the part, sporting Head's trademark dark-rimmed, tinted glasses topped by black bangs and a tightly wound bun. She creates a distinctive voice characterization. She projects the drive, toughness, candor and unpretentious authority that make you buy her as Head.

A small, eccentric-looking yet powerful woman, Head always suggested a catlike inscrutability — the air of someone who knows where the bodies are buried, isn't going to tell, but uses the knowledge to her advantage. That's the most crucial quality Claassen conveys in her portrayal.

As the show's setup has it, Head's appearance takes place in 1981, during a break in her work on Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which will turn out to be her final film. It's just a few weeks before her death, but no one knows that tonight.

Jonathan McVay, playing her Houston host, introduces the legend and hands her a stack of cards with questions submitted by audience members before the show. Answering those questions, sometimes directly, sometimes rambling far afield, cues an evening of mostly random reminiscence, with McVay politely veering Head back to the point when she grows too besotted with memories.

The audience participation angle is well-employed and fun, with Head asking who supplied each question, commenting on each person's sense of style (or lack thereof), even asking a few to step onstage for more extensive analysis.

One kibitzer whom we soon realize is a plant, asks the most challenging questions (i.e., didn't assistants do more design work than she on certain films?), even contradicts Head on dates and facts, to the point he gets on her nerves. The device is amusing but would work better if used more sparingly.

The fun stems mostly from Head's fond — if at times, tart — recollections of iconic stars and films. She speaks of form-fitting costumes to Mae West's full figure: "There was not one costume in which she could lie, sit or bend." We hear how Head solved Stanwyck's "figure challenge" to give her a new glamorous look in The Lady Eve. How Head put Dorothy Lamour in her first sarong in The Jungle Princess, the sarong becoming ever after Lamour's trademark. Of Hedy Lamarr's ravenous appetite on the set and Head creating her famous peacock feather cape in Samson and Delilah.

With its content derived from the book Edith Head's Hollywood, by Head and Paddy Calistro, the show is a skimming, lightly humorous stroll along cinematic Memory Lane. There are no bombshells, no big secrets revealed, either about the designer or the stars she dressed. Head believed in keeping them.

To the question "How would you describe your private life?," she responds:

"In a word ... private."

In later passages, the show flirts with deeper implications. Head hints at a psychic pain in being the woman behind the stars, in the intentionally subdued style she adopted so as not to compete with those mighty egos, a virtual self-effacement. Claassen strikes the evening's most poignant note recalling the impact of Gloria Swanson's performance at the premiere of Sunset Boulevard — and wondering whether her design work will be remembered as that of the stars on screen.

But Head is too practical a personality to indulge in self-doubt. She closes reasserting her supremacy — "perhaps not Hollywood's most endearing costume designer, but its most enduring." Who could argue?

Of course, this Conversation is more of an entertainment than a play. But for those who share Claassen's fervor for those great old classic films of yesteryear, it's certainly entertaining.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Play channels classic costume designer Edith Head | Lifestyle/Features | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Play channels classic costume designer Edith Head Lifestyle/Features Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Getting inside her head
By EVERETT EVANS Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 21, 2008, 7:23PM

Famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head returns, after a fashion, for A Conversation With Edith Head, opening tonight at Theater LaB Houston.

Susan Claassen has been channeling Head since originating the solo show in 2002 at Tuscon, Ariz.'s Invisible Theatre Company, where Claassen is managing artistic director. Claassen has performed the work from San Francisco to Chicago to London, where she had an acclaimed monthlong run this summer.

Since Claassen has absorbed pretty much all there is to know about her subject, we decided to have our own conversation with "Edith Head."

Q: You've been described as discreet but also tough and driven.

A: I've had to be to survive six decades in the Hollywood boys' club. People have accused me of being a master of self-promotion. I suppose I am. I hate modesty, don't you?

Q: How would you sum up your philosophy of costume design for film?

A: It must fit the character. At the same time, I've always designed for the actor. How good the clothes look on screen depends on how comfortable the star is wearing them.

Q: Is that why you've sometimes been willing to adapt your designs, to change a detail, to keep the star happy? Producer Hal Wallis said you had "great rapport" with the stars you dressed, especially the women.

A: I never walked off a set in a huff. Early on, I learned the value of understanding their (actors') vulnerabilities. I know how to keep people's secrets.

Q: What designer influenced you the most?

A: Travis Banton, who was the head of Paramount's costume department from 1927 to 1938. (Head was his assistant in those years, replacing him at his departure to become the first woman to head a major studio's costume department.) I learned everything by studying his work, especially the way he created the signature look for the three graces of Paramount: Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert.

Q: You've been quoted as saying that you were sometimes a better politician or diplomat than designer. Could you give an example?

A: On Vertigo, Kim Novak said the one color she absolutely hated to see herself in was gray. Alfred Hitchcock always came into a film with very detailed ideas about what he wanted. And naturally, for a key scene in Vertigo, he had distinctly said, "I want her in a gray suit." So it was up to me to find a way to bring Kim around, showing her swatches and swatches of different grays, until we finally came to a lavender-gray for the suit, and she loved it.

Q: How would you rate yourself among your fellow designers?

A: There probably have been greater designers. No one could surpass the glamor of Adrian designing for Greta Garbo. But where some excelled chiefly at one type of film, I've enjoyed being a chameleon who can do any type of picture, from Westerns to monster movies, musicals to biblical spectacles. Designing gorgeous gowns for Grace Kelly to wear in To Catch a Thief is one kind of thrill. But in The Country Girl (the drab character role for which Kelly won her Oscar), to make Grace Kelly look plain was a challenge unto itself.

Q: How important is authenticity to period or locale?

A: That depends on the project and the director. For The Heiress, I did the kind of research (director) William Wyler wanted, because he was adamant about authenticity. But on the Road pictures, if Bob Hope wanted to wear something just because it was funny, nobody gave a damn. Cecil B. DeMille never made an "authentic" picture.

Q: On House Party, you were known for being frank with the audience members. Such as telling a portly lady, "Go on a diet!"

A: The sponsors requested that I be nicer to the ladies. I tried.

Q: Was it part of your "self-promotion" to make cameo appearances as yourself in films like Lucy Gallant and The Oscar? Did you enjoy being on the other side of the camera for a change?

A: I hated doing them. It's difficult to portray yourself. You have to keep repeating the same thing. I did them because they (the studios) wanted me to do it. When you're under contract to a studio, you do what they tell you to do. After those experiences, I had a greater respect for actors.

Q: What would you like your legacy to be? Is there a single film, even a single costume, that you'd most want to remembered for?

A: For the whole body of work and the recognition it achieved. I worked hard to get the profession recognized. Remember, for the first 21 years of the Academy Awards, there was no category for costume design.

Q: I gather that, unlike some in the industry, you take awards very seriously.

A: They're my pride and joy. There's nothing like eight Oscars for putting the fear of God into an actress who thinks she knows everything about dress design.

Q: Is there a thought you'd like to leave us with? Anything you'd tell young people who aspire to careers in film or design?

A: You can be anything you want in the world, as long as you dress for it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Claassen's 'Conversation With Edith Head' Goes on Tour After UK Run (BroadwayWorld.com)

Claassen's 'Conversation With Edith Head' Goes on Tour After UK Run (BroadwayWorld.com)

Claassen's 'Conversation With Edith Head' Goes on Tour After UK Run
by BWW News Desk

Arizona-based actress SUSAN CLAASSEN has just returned from a highly successful engagement on London's West End as legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head in "A CONVERSATION WITH Edith Head". Presented by Anthony Field Associates, the limited West End engagement at the new Leicester Square Theatre ran from July 29 through August 31, 2008, earning rave reviews. This engagement was preceded by a sold out run at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (see reviews below)

"A CONVERSATION WITH Edith Head", based on Edith Head's Hollywood by Edith Head & Paddy Calistro, is a feast of delicious behind-the-scenes stories about Hollywood's greatest stars that provide an intimate portrait of Hollywood's legendary costume designer. In her six decades of costume design, Edith Head 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!

Ms. Claassen will next bring her 'intimate portrait' of Edith Head to Houston on October 22nd, opening Theater LaB Houston's 16th season with a 5-performance engagement. Performances are Wednesday, October 22nd @ 8pm; Friday, Oct. 24th @ 8pm; Saturday, Oct. 25th @ 8pm; Sunday, October 26th at 3pm and 6pm. Tickets at $20 ($25 on Saturday night)) are available at Box Office at (713) 868-7516 or by visiting www.theaterlabhouston.com. Theater LaB Houston is located at 1706 Alamo (off 2100 Houston Ave.)

Up-coming performances of "A CONVERSATION WITH Edith Head" include:

March 5-8, 2009

Invisible Theatre, 1400 North Frist Avenue, Tucson, AZ

520 882-9721


March 13, 2009

Tubac Center of the Arts, 9 Plaza Road, Tubac, AZ



June 19-20, 2009

Coronado Public Library, 640 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA


June 22-23, 2009

Repertory Theatre, 987 lomas Santa Fe Drive.,

Solana Beach, CA



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 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. Susan Claassen said: "Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion. Edith survived the boy's club of Hollywood to enjoy a 60-year career, during which she worked on 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.)

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.

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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hollywood glamour part of Theater LaB's new season | Fine Arts | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Hollywood glamour part of Theater LaB's new season Fine Arts Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Hollywood glamour part of Theater LaB Houston's new season
By EVERETT EVANS Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 3, 2008, 4:10PM

An intimate portrait of legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, Houston's first look at the work of up-and-coming playwright Adam Bock and two offbeat musicals that found favor at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival and New York International Fringe Festival will make up the 2008-09 season at Theater LaB Houston.

As always, the intrepid little venue at 1706 Alamo is offering all Houston premieres, which Theater LaB chief Jerry LaBita has found off-Broadway, in London and at various arts festivals.

If there's any guiding theme, LaBita says, it's that "after Hurricane Ike, the stock-market roller coaster and an upcoming presidential election that promises more mudslinging," he wanted a season "devoted to entertainment."

Season ticket information is available at 713-868-7516 or at www.theaterlabhouston.com

The schedule:

A Conversation With Edith Head, Oct. 22-26. Guest artist Susan Claassen will perform the show she created with Paddy Calistro, based on Head's posthumously published autobiography written with Calistro.

Head (1897-1981) worked on more than 1,100 films — from a silent Peter Pan in 1924 to Steve Martin's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), including such classics as All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday and The Sting. She earned an unprecedented 35 Oscar nominations and won eight Oscars. The show has her sharing her own story while dishing about her experiences with such stars as Bette Davis, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor.

Claassen has performed the show from San Diego to Chicago to London, where she recently completed a monthlong stand at the Arts Theatre.

The Receptionist, Nov. 12-Dec. 13. Described as a "dark comedy with a Twilight Zone twist," the play depicts a generic office routine that turns increasingly sinister as a representative from the Central Office pays a visit and the audience gradually learns the true nature of the company's business.

The Receptionist premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in fall 2007. Time Out New York praised it as a "pointed, painfully timely allegory" and an "elliptical, provocative play."

Canadian playwright Adam Bock lives in San Francisco, where he is artistic director of the Shotgun Players. He won a 2007 Obie for The Thugs. The Drunken City, his latest, premiered this spring at off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons.

Nursery School Musical, Feb. 18-March 21. Second City meets South Park in a zany musical about 3-year-olds, their parents and their experiences on the first day of nursery school.

Six of the cast members alternate playing parents and kids, while the seventh plays the teacher. Brett and Rachael McCaig penned the book and lyrics; Anthony Bastianon, the music.

The Toronto Sun called it "bright, witty and fun," citing it as one of the 2008 Toronto Fringe Festival's top five shows.

China: The Whole Enchilada, April 8-May 9. What would a Theater LaB season be without at least one entry you'd have to describe as insanely irreverent? Creator Mark Brown shares the same initials as Mel Brooks, which should give some hint of the approach in this spoof.

Three guys sing, dance and clown their way through 4,000 years of China's history, touching such "lighthearted" themes as human rights, racism, genocide and the invention of the fortune cookie.

Time Out New York praised the show, a hit at this year's New York International Fringe Festival, for its "exceptional wit, energy and comedy shtick."