Thursday, October 21, 2010

Style Section Posted: October 20, 2010 Iconic Costume Designer Edith Comes Alive in One-Woman Play!

By Caitlin Monaghan

There are few things that film buffs and fashion fiends wouldn't do for the chance to converse with legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, who dressed the silent film stars of the 1920s, defined the dress of the Hitchcock blondes, turned Audrey Hepburn into a princess and put Princess Grace in gold lamé.

And for a few more days, they may have their chance.

Though Head passed away in 1981, fans can enjoy actress Susan Claassen's one woman show and portrayal of the iconic costumer in A Conversation with Edith Head, which is wrapping up its Los Angeles-area run on October 24.

Students of costume design, who grew up hearing fairy tale-like stories about the icon, will freak when Classen, bearing an eerie, spot on likeness of Ms. Head, discusses career highlights, dishes about Hollywood relationships and even divulges a bit of Head's private side -- a side rarely revealed. Claassen co-wrote the play with Paddy Calistro, the author who personally knew Head and helped pen her autobiography, Edith Head's Hollywood (published 1983) as well as the reissued 25th Anniversary Edition (published 2008).

Two dress forms wearing classic Head designs flank the set -- Bette Davis' brown silk, sable trimmed dress from All About Eve (1950) and Elizabeth Taylor's teen sensation white tulle, floral bud adorned strapless gown from A Place in the Sun (1951). And the host graciously interacts with the guests in her parlour. Head's favorite sketches and autographed headshots sprinkle the back wall. In true Edith style, Claassen is not shy to critique the audience's outfits, but her impromptu conversations reveal interesting characters in the room, like choreographer and actress Miram Nelson (once married to Gene Nelson), who conversed with Claassen's alter ego about the three times the designer and she worked together during their mutual film careers, including Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Film facts, photos and props swirl around the theater during the two-hour play (not including the meet and great and photo ops afterward).

In true Hollywood fashion, Head was terribly competitive (especially during the Academy Award season), and she did not mind bending the truth for her benefit. Though her career is glittered with marvelous achievements, pesky controversies litter her hefty dossier. During her acceptance speech for Sabrina (1954), Head did not honor Hubert de Givenchy, the designer of Audrey Hepburn's most famous pieces in the film, including the little black dress with the bowed boat neck that Head had mass publicized as her own namesake design for years. And the costume illustrator who apparently designed the menswear for The Sting (1973) sued Head after she accepted and was lauded for winning the first Oscar in Costume Design for a film without a female lead. "Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest," was a famous Edithism. Perhaps she interpreted that statement too literally when it came to matters of paying credit where credit is due on her film projects.

Despite gossip and controversy, Head's 50-plus years in film included magical moments. When an assistant's mistaken measurements turned Head's rich brown gown design for Bette Davis into a sack of potatoes, Head was mortified. But Bette Davis simply shrugged the square neckline off her shoulders, thus lifting the waistline into new dimensions, and said, "See, doesn't this look much better." It did. Davis delivered her famous All About Eve (1950) line as Margo Channing in that dress, "Buckle your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Head worked with some of her favorite leading ladies outside the studio as well. Close friends Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck often consulted Head to style and design outfits for various engagements, premieres and events. Head was the costume designer for Alfred Hitchcock's big-budgeted To Catch a Thief (1956), but she felt snubbed when she was not asked to design the future Princess Grace's wedding dress during her nuptials to Prince Rainier. Head instead designed Kelly's grey silk "going away" suit.

Eventually, Edith Head's brand grew from Hollywood back lots to American households. She wrote two books, The Dress Doctor, which sold 8.5 million copies, and How to Dress for Success. She was brutally frank with frumpy American housewives during her guest spots on Art Linkletter's House Party, a radio and television show that featured the first makeover segments of the 1950s and 60s. She and her team even designed "Edith Head Collection" sewing patterns that were sold through the 1950s and 1970s, a testament to Head's mastering of self promotion.

Which she'll gladly tell you about in person at the theatre.

Susan Claassen stars in A Conversation with Edith Head, El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, through Sunday, October 24. For tickets call 818-508-4200 or 800-811-4111 or order online at $35.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD - "It's a wonderful story with a great performance!"
BY MARY HALL 10/13/2010

Many people consider Paris, New York, London or Milan as the fashion capitals of the world. But the fact is Los Angeles has been the home of many wonderful designers. Many of these designers were part of the movie industry. They were not just great dress makers, they were illusionists, bringing glamour and fantasy to the big screen. A good flaws. One of the best, was Edith Head. Edith Head was a Hollywood costume designer for over 60 years. For most of those years, she worked at Paramount Pictures. She dressed stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey and Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly.

Now a wonderful play about her life has opened in Hollywood., not far from Edith Head's last design home at Universal Studios. Aptly named, Conversations with Edith Head, the play is based on the book of the same title by Edith Head and LA author Paddy Calistro. The play, featuring a tour de force performance by actress Susan Claassen, is now playing at the El Portal Theater in North Hollywood. I had the pleasure of seeing the play over the weekend, and it's a wonderful piece. You leave feeling like you really met Edith Head. Actress Susan Claasssen bears a striking resemblance to the designer and the dialogue in the play is from the designer's writings and reminiscences.

Pictured: Susan Claassen as Edith Head with a replica of Elizabeth Taylor's dress from a Place in the Sun (photo courtesy of Susan Claassen.)
It is Edith Head's authentic voice that theater goers hear. And it is her authentic story, warts and all. Edith may have won 8 Academy Awards, but she did not always win the respect of other designers. Some looked at her costume work as fluff and not work of real artistic merit. It may have been Edith's sensitivity to these feelings that lead her to claim sole credit for Audrey Hepburn's Little Black Dress in Sabrina, when it was widely rumored to be the work of Givenchy. But Claassen makes you feel Edith's vulnerabilities which may have lead to her need to take credit for the work of others. Although Edith threw verbal daggers at would be fashionistas on the TV show House Party way before Simon Cowell, Claassen still plays her as a likable and admirable character. Her work ethic and loyalty to those she dressed are highlights of the play. The audience learns that Edith worked hard and learned her craft at the studios during the 1920s. She started as a sketch artist at Paramount and worked her way up the ladder without favors or connections. The female stars she worked with frequently became her friends, and they had a confidence that she would present them to their best advantage on screen. One of the highlights of the play is the many stories of her working relationships with Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck. She was also a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, and you get to see how much Hitchcock respected her work, although he was not regarded as one who had an eye for fashion.

One of the most interesting things about the play, is the opportunity for the audience to ask questions of Edith/ Miss Claassen during the performance. Clearly, Susan Claassen knows Edith Head's history as if she knew her. She is able to answer the questions without any rehearsal or prompting. The questions and answers bring the audience into the world of Edith Head and create a very intimate theater experience. With Los Angeles Fashion Week about the start, it's a fitting time to take a look at a great Los Angeles designer. The play will be showing at the El Portal Theater in Hollywood until Oct. 24th. If you have the opportunity to see it, even if you don't know anything about fashion, take it.a conversation with edith head -

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Goldstar Reviews!

A Conversation with Edith Head, Gossip and Stories from Hollywood's Most Famous Costumer
El Portal Forum Theatre (North Hollywood, CA)


20 Member Reviews 4.8 Star Rating!!!

Goldstar Member
Member since 2007
3 Reviews
Written on Oct 12 2010
My 16-year-old daughter, 81-year-old mother-in-law, visiting from Cape Cod, and I had a wonderful time at El Portal with Ms. Head. I would high recommend this performance. The show was COMPLETELY spot on. We were transported back to 1981 and spent a lovely evening in the presence of Ms. Head. Come with a question or two to ask Ms. Head and enjoying basking in Hollywood of yesteryear.

Goldstar Member
Member since 2005
5 Reviews
Written on Sep 24 2010 not hesitate! I totally was there with Ms. Head in her studio, Ms Claassen was cloned for this production. The venue was very intimate kudos to El Portal.
Sage D.

Judy Pfleger
Member since 2010
1 Reviews
Written on Sep 27 2010
I have been to many events at the El Portal Theatre and I just love the intimacy of it. But this particular venue was way beyond my expectations. I love things about "old Hollywood" and Ms. Head was awesome. She has the character down so well, I was running up after the performance to ask her personal questions about her career-to which she answered without a beat!The simple staging was brought to life by her performance and since the theatre is so small, there are no bad seats. So I felt she was talking to me half the time and missed her when she wasn't looking directly at me. The acting, writing, staging was all perfection. Go, go go and enjoy.
Jude (no friend of any of the cast or crew--honest!)

Member since 2005
3 Reviews
Written on Oct 12 2010
Three of us went and loved it. We felt we were in the same room with the real Miss Head. Susan Claassen did a fabulous job - so much so, that at one point, while she was interacting with the audience, I wondered "What will Miss Head think of what I wore to this event?"

Goldstar Member
Member since 2008
7 Reviews
Written on Oct 12 2010
A specialized piece of material (Hollywood costuming in the "Golden Age", long gone) but within that framework a PERFECT one-woman show vehicle. Ms Claassen and her co-author provide historical context, fascinating name-dropping, and a delightful non-stop 90 minutes in a wonderfully intimate theatre (three VERY WIDE rows!). Susan Claassen's performance is skin-tight and could not be bettered, drawing the audience into her world, circa 1981 until you don't want it ever to end.

Goldstar Member
Member since 2007
1 Reviews
Written on Oct 12 2010
Great show! I really felt like I was transported back in time. Highly recommended!

Member since 2010
2 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
First of all, I was charmed by the El Portal and how it was set up into different theatres, This play took place in the more intimate setting in which you felt you were in Ms. Head's living room Ms.Claassen certainly became Ms. Head and didn't break character even after the play was over. She did an outstanding job in the knowing of her character's life. If you are a fashion lover, you will relish all the Hollywood insider tidbits you will learn about in this play!

Goldstar Member
Member since 2006
2 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
Wow!! What a joy! We loved it and I may have to go see it again. You feel as if you are with Miss Head in her private studio, so intimate and entertaining. We have our picture with Miss Head at the end of the show to remember the day!
Thank you!

Bobbie Bates
Member since 2008
1 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
Loved the show! A must see for any fan of fashion, costuming, and Hollywood history. Susan Claassen IS Edith Head. A delightful experience that I will never forget.

Goldstar Member
Member since 2003
4 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
Excellent acting and excellent production. Perfect for this small venue.
A delightful surprise . You actually believe that she IS Edith Head.
Very enjoyable.


Member since 2010
2 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
I spent a simply wonderful afternoon with one of my favorite Hollywood icons, eight time Oscar winning costume designer Miss Edith Head (portrayed to absolute perfection by actress and playwright Susan Claassen). The set was decked out in reproductions of Head’s costume sketches, photos, two Oscars and two dresses one worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve for which Miss Head won an Oscar. I sat in the front row of this charming 99-seat Equity waiver house. After the show all guests were invited to have a picture taken with Miss Claasen where she signed programs as well. Your name and email address were taken and the picture was sent to you by days end. Signature baseball caps and dress form lapel pins were on sale in the Green Room along with the 25th Anniversary edition of Edith Head's Hollywood.

Shelli Place
Member since 2010
1 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
A gem of a production. Susan Claassen's performance is enchanting. You will leave with a great sense of the person, the creativity and the magic of Edith Head. Make sure you look at the photos and Renderings in the Lobby. A good time had by all in the audience.

Goldstar Member
Member since 2003
1 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
This show was participatory, informative, amusing and touching. All you could ask for from a night of theatre! Ms. Claassen truly engages and listens to the audience thus each performance is guaranteed to be unique. And the subject leaves you full of nostalgia for the golden age of cinema.

Member since 2005
3 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
Loved everthing about this show, before, during and after. The setting was perfect, so personal. It would have been lost in a large theater.
Thank you for an enjoyable time.

Goldstar Member
Member since 2008
3 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
Excellent! Well researched and wonderfully executed. The author(s) and actress catch the woman in her entirety.

Member since 2010
3 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
Excellent- Funny, entertaining,informative. Fabulous one woman show.

Kim Nagele
Member since 2007
35 Reviews
Written on Oct 11 2010
A wonderful idea for a nostalgic performance. Well acted and great sets. Good interaction with the audience. Quite an entertaining evening.

Member since 2010
1 Reviews
Written on Oct 04 2010
well worth the drive. claassen embodied edith...literally. the walk, the acerbic tale-telling, the ego. all there. great fun.

Member since 2003
49 Reviews
Written on Sep 24 2010
Very enjoyable production. The resemblance of the actress to Edith Head was amazing. Very intimate feel, too, as "Edith" spoke with audience members and remembered their names!

Friday, October 8, 2010




Norman Lear with Susan Claassen

Susan Claassen With Barbara Rush

The radiant Barbara Rush along with Norman Lear congratulates their favorite designer, Edith Head, as portrayed by Susan Claassen at the LA Premiere of A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD at the El Portal Theatre. Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head worked with Barbara Rush on the 1963 Norman Lear film COME BLOW YOUR HORN and WHEN WORLDS COLIDE (1951).
Photos By: Leigh Ann Rahn
AT 7:24 AM

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Compelling MUST SEE doozy, for all lovers of fashion, and old movie buffs!

by Pat Taylor

Only one production to discuss this week…
By Pat Taylor on October 6th, 2010 Printer-Friendly
But it was a compelling MUST SEE doozy, for all lovers of fashion, and old movie buffs!

A Conversation with Edith Head

Susan Claasen as Edith Head with film star Barbara Rush on the opening night of A Conversation with Edith Head.

Edith Head…the cleverly ambitious and undisputed Diva of fashion design from the 1920’s until her death in 1981, was quite a woman! She started out as a young costume sketch artist at Paramount Studios in 1924, and became a Hollywood legend! Having worked on 1,131 films, she was nominated for 35 Oscars in all, and WON a whopping eight of the coveted “golden statues” during her illustrious career.

Susan Claassen is a mesmerizingly focused and entertaining actress, who brings Edith’s personal journey and colorfully true “show-biz” stories to life, in her brilliant one woman play. Feisty, funny and flawless, she gives a fabulous performance, holding us captivated throughout! Touring this show in the U.S., London’s West End, and at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, since 2002, this is the L.A. debut…running in our own Noho Theatre District.

Delightfully decadent, and deliciously juicy, stories unfold “behind the scenes,” about the industry’s beloved movie stars. We are privy to a wealth of informative “inside stories”…served up with a double dose of laughs! Such legendary talents as Claudette Colbert, Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Grace Kelly, Garbo, Hedda Hopper, Elvis, Redford and Newman (…just to name a few) must surely be either “giggling” or “grimacing” in their graves, as her “telling tid-bits” are told.

On a stunning set, loaded with film star photos and memorabilia, designed by Claassen and James Blair, with costume recreations by Chris Brewer and Maryann Trombino…We savor the taste of old Hollywood! Co-scripted by Claasen and Paddy Calistro, (who is a leading authority on Miss Heads life, and author of her posthumous autobiography) much of the dialogue comes directly from the famed designer, herself.

Every performance will be a bit different from the last…as Edith spontaneously answers pre-written audience questions, and responds to the scripted interruptions from a man in the front row…well played by a charming Stuart Moulton!

For a totally enjoyable evening of theatre, boasting a “tour de force” performance by a diminutive woman who bears a striking resemblance to Edith Head…This is the one to catch! Billed as “An Evening of Wit, Wisdom, and a Whisper of Gossip…” we enjoyed every moment!

Running through October 24 at the El Portal Forum Theatre,5269 Lankershim Blvd. in Noho. For tickets call (866) 811-4111.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

PHOTO FLASH: Norman Lear and Barbara Rush Attend Opening Night of A Conversation with Edith Head By: Brian Scott Lipton · Oct 5, 2010 · Los Angeles

Barbara Rush and Norman Lear and Susan Claassen
(© Leigh Ann Rahn)

A Conversation with Edith Head, at the El Portal Forum Theatre, officially opened at October 1 at 8pm. The solo play stars Susan Claassen, and is written by Paddy Calistro and Claassen.

In this show, Edith (played by Claassen) shares her humorous and fascinating stories of working with Hollywood stars, directors, and producers from Mae West to Grace Kelly to Steve Martin, and shows actual wardrobe pieces, designs, and inspirations for some of America's most famous movies.

Attendees included producer Norman Lear, actors Barbara Rush, Paige Davis, Paul Sand, and Gregory Zarian; fashion expert Lawrence Zarian; costume designers Jean-Pierre Dorleac, Chiff Chally, and Jacqueline Saint Anne; Mary Rose, president of the Costume Designer's Guild, and Head's longtime friend, Tim Malachosky.

Edith Head Comes to Vibrant Theatrical Life @ the El Portal Read more:

by Paddy Calistro & Susan Claassen

El Portal Secondstage
through October 24

Edith Head describes the incredible Miss Bette Davis as a whirlwind. Well, as portrayed by the incredible Suan Claassen, Miss Edith Head must have been a volcano, or at the very least a small raging dust storm. When she enters her office with portfolio neatly tucked under her arm, it is a brisk distinguished stride that marks forever the great businesswoman/designer that was Edith Head. Now at the El Portal in NoHo, A Conversation with Edith Head is an authentically documented and loving tribute to the singular woman by a great actress in a detailed, tour-de-force performance.

With eight unprecedented Oscars, Head was a champion in a man's world and respected by both the clients she served and the big boys themselves. Clients included Clara Bow, Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Davis, Grace Kelly, ElizaBeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, to name a few, and monumental directors including DeMille, Wyler and Hitchcock and studio execs like Lew Wasserman who set her up like a queen on the Universal lot, when she made her transition from Paramount.

Claassen looks remarkably like Head, and focusing on the characteristic bangs and bun on top of her head with pencil in place and dark-rimmed glasses, one could swear they were in the presence of the lady herself. Her posturing and hoity toity voice are executed undeniably well, making the total performance genuine and bizarrely alluring. Always aware of her unattractive size and smile, she considered herself an artiste of camouflage when it came to dressing others.

Stuart Moulton serves as moderator opening the 90 minute piece. Audience members are requested to write out questions before the show which Claassen addresses from the top in perfect Head matter-of-fact style. Answering the questions. she works in the framework of Head's life and career (beginning as a sketch artist in 1923 - 1981) and the amusing, sometimes saucy anecdotes about the various celebrities. Head loved most of the actresses, but, without Claassen going into detail, disliked Claudette Colbert. Claassen also has some fun comments about Stanwyck's low butt and Audrey Hepburn's long odd neck, which of course proved obstacles to easy fashion design. Intermittently, she asks audience members to stand up and cautiously appraises their apparel and sense of fashion. She called one poor man from Orange County a farmer because of his casual attire. Because of Claassen's quick wit, spontaniety and great ease in telling a story, the evening moves swiftly and never lapses into boredom. As the play takes place in 1981, when Head was working on Carl Reiner's film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, she was declining healthwise. To Claassen's acting credit, she shows the tormented side of Head, lapsing into moments of forgetfulness and ambitiously taking credit for designs she did not create. It is here that Moulton gets her back on track, caringly redirecting her distractions to serve the audience present with correct statistics.

The set design is credited to Miss Claassen and James Blair, and the beautiful gowns - Davis' Margo Channing's 'bumpy night dress' from All About Eve and Taylor's scrumptious white gown from A Place in the Sun -deliciously adorn opposite ends of the office set. On the walls there are a great number of autographed photos of the actresses Head attended and on small tables miniature manikins sporting different costume designs.

Calistro's wonderful script is based on the autobiography she co-authored with Head herself Edith Head's Hollywood, so what you get is the truth and nothing but the truth. Most actors and artists can relate to Head's insecurity about her profession: what it meant to be in the shadows behind those she served, making them look good.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable, rich and enlightening evening of theatre not to be missed.

Read more:

LA Times - Edith Head's legend endures A new book, a reissued volume and a one-woman show attest to the celebrated costume designer's lasting appeal.

Edith Head's legend endures
A new book, a reissued volume and a one-woman show attest to the celebrated costume designer's lasting appeal.

"Susan Claassen nails 'Edie' in her one-woman show, A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD."

By Julie Neigher
Special to the Los Angeles Times
October 3, 2010

It's been almost 29 years since Edith Head's died, but interest in the enigmatic American costume designer with the signature, seemingly impenetrable, circular eyeglasses has never waned. This fall, the Hollywood legend is the subject of a new book, as well as a one-woman show about her life that opens Oct. 1 at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.

Why is she so fascinating to so many people? It's a combination of the eye-catching designs she created for the industry's grandest stars and the force of her bigger-than-life personality. Head claimed to have worked on more than 1,131 films in a career lasting from 1927 until her death just a few days shy of her 84th birthday in 1981, and she remains one of the most remarkable women in Hollywood history. No woman has equaled Head's 35 Oscar nominations or eight wins (for "The Heiress," 1949; "Samson and Delilah," 1950; "All About Eve," 1950; "A Place in the Sun," 1951; "Roman Holiday," 1953; "Sabrina," 1954; "The Facts of Life," 1960; and "The Sting," 1973).

Head's output was prodigious. In the 1940s, she produced costumes for 40-plus films a year. Savvy about advancing her career, she made sure to cement relationships with essential players. Barbara Stanwyck, Dorothy Lamour, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly often demanded in their contracts that Head design their wardrobes. Iconic director Alfred Hitchcock used her on 11 of his productions.

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Despite, or perhaps because of, her success, Head had a dark side. She was notorious for her tendency to treat staff sharply. To many of her associates, that famous bun with its array of pins seemed the perfect analogy for the designer's prickliness. And she wasn't shy about taking credit even if, on occasion, it was for someone else's labors. Although Hubert de Givenchy was the designer of Audrey Hepburn's classic black dress with its cutting-edge bateau neckline in "Sabrina," it was Head who took the bows for its creation.

Susan Claassen nails "Edie" in her one-woman show, "A Conversation With Edith Head," which premiered in 2002 and has traveled the United States and Europe, with a recent five-week run in London's West End. Claassen, at 5-foot-1 a remarkable fascimile of the diminutive designer, explains why it's taken eight years for the tour to reach Los Angeles, the place one might most expect for it to be performed: "We wanted to make sure when we came into Edith's home we came in the right way, through the right venue, so it would be showcased to pay tribute to the legacy," she says. "So even though we've played Southern California, this is the L.A. premiere."

The play is inspired by former fashion journalist and Los Angeles Times writer Paddy Calistro's book, "Edith Head's Hollywood," originally published in 1983. (A 25th anniversary edition came out in 2008.) Calistro and Claassen collaborated to create the one-woman show, and many of the insights into the designer's life were culled from intimate and lengthy taped interviews that journalist Norma Lee Browning had begun with the designer in 1979. Calistro was asked to complete this unfinished autobiography. Much of the play's dialogue is taken directly from Head's lips.

It's an intimate experience, and the small stage is replete with memorabilia (meticulous copies of Elizabeth Taylor's famous tulle dress with its 19-inch waist, adorned with violets, from "A Place in the Sun," and the sumptuous brown gown Bette Davis wore in "All About Eve" are displayed on mannequins). The production will satisfy those curious about costume design or gossip from Tinseltown's golden days, and, of course, those keen to understand the elusive Head.

Jay Jorgensen's new book, "Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer," a nearly 400-page hardcover, adds extra insight. The book features 350 high-quality images of previously unseen color pictures of costumes and behind-the-scenes action. Although many of Head's masterpieces were reworked, taken apart or no longer exist, Jorgensen's tome acts as a fundamental catalog featuring rare sketches and photos that visually archive pieces essential to costume design history.

There are the famous jaw-droppers: Grace Kelly's couture-quality wardrobe designed for "To Catch a Thief" that outshone sparkling gems even in the eyes of ex-jewel thief Cary Grant. Though nominated for her work on the film, Head lost to Charles LeMaire for "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing." She called the loss "the single greatest disappointment" of her career. As Jorgensen writes, "And while Edith could hold back telling an actress or director what she really thought, she had no trouble letting LeMaire know her true feelings about the loss … that her ornate gowns for 'Thief' were better than the traditional Chinese cheongsams that he designed."

Another costume, flamboyant as it is famous, is the ornate peacock-feather-emblazoned cape worn by Hedy Lamarr in "Samson and Delilah." Though she did win one of her beloved statuettes for this film, Head resented what she regarded as Cecil B. DeMille's garish taste in overruling one of her designs and insisting on the feathers. A stickler for authenticity, she was convinced that such feathers didn't exist in the region where the film was set. However, DeMille was adamant, and suggested that she hand-gather feathers from his own ranch. So Head and her team sifted through 2,000 plumes that had shed during molting season. In later years, she would always sneer when asked to discuss the wardrobe from the movie, especially when she found out, as Jorgensen notes, that "after the film's release archaeologists discovered the city of Philistia, and proved that DeMille had gotten it wrong."

Despite the Technicolor intensity of the peacock feather anecdote, most of the images in the book are humble ones: Head's publicity shots, catching her off-guard while working among her peers; images from her childhood; and intimate moments with her second and much-loved husband of 40 years, art director Wiard Ihnen (a two-time Academy Award winner himself). The woman in the photos isn't always the designer with severe bangs and dowdy suits. Often, shot without those intimidating spectacles, she reveals warm, brown eyes, and the typically pursed lips flatten into a calm, almost lighthearted, pout. There are glimpses of a playful young Edith in braids wearing colorful Mexican-inspired dresses. And we learn that at her treasured home, Casa Ladera in Beverly Hills, she displayed her more accessible side when she cooked and entertained.

But the overall impression is one of a piercingly intense woman whose passions most often settled on the dark side.

When asked his assessment, Jorgensen concludes that "Edith started out from almost nothing … She became one of the hardest-working executives in Hollywood, at a time when there were hardly any female executives at all. Of course, she had her faults, the biggest one being that she often lied to get her way. But she also loved what she did … I came to have a great respect for her determination. I think Edith's personality was formed at a very young age … I think she was always driven, and it paid off. [Head] felt being a star herself was the surest way to maintain her position at the studio, and she was right. I don't think Edith was any more corrupt than anyone else who achieves success in Hollywood. Nobody as famous as she was can be everything to everyone. Edith's worst trait was her inability to share credit. Her best traits were her charm and her intelligence."

Paddy Calistro also expresses conclusions about Head in the author's note from her book. "Was Edith Head talented? Yes, but … Was she a great designer? No. Will she continue to be the most famous designer in Hollywood history? Yes." Calistro's thoughts are clear-cut with respect to her subject's legacy. And she captures the great designer's essential duality well: "People despised her and people loved her."

"Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer," by Jay Jorgensen, Running Press, available at bookstores and online, $75.

"Edith Head's Hollywood: 25th Anniversary Edition," by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro, Angel City Press, available at and Barnes & Noble, $25.

Susan Claassen in "A Conversation With Edith Head," El Portal Theatre, through Oct. 24. General seating with no intermission. $35. Contact (866) 811-4111 or
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thalians Red Carpet!

The ever-stylish and vibrant Ruta Lee with "Miss Head" on the Red Carpet for the Thalians benefit concert featuring the incomparable Debbie Reynolds!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Just us, the cameras, and those lovely people out there in the dark!"

Norma Desmond


Edith Head straddled most of the 20th century, making her mark on the fashions and looks of the silver screen deities of golden age Hollywood. Though her film legacy can still be viewed, the best way to understand her is to see A Conversation with Edith Head, the one-woman play starring Susan Claassen, and wrtten by her and Paddy Calistro. It opens September 23, 2010 at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood and runs through October 24, 2010. Susan Claassen brings Edith back to life in a way that can not be missed - she will send thrills down your spine.

The costume design sketch above was done by Edith Head for her own costume where she plays herself in the movie The Oscar, 1966.

Here is Susan Claassen playing Edith Head in Conversations with Edith Head, opening at the El Portal Theatre.

Edith Head became the head designer at Paramount Studio in 1938, following the immensely talented Travis Banton who mentored her. Here is a portrait of her taken at about the time she took over the head costume designer duties.

Trim suits with broad shoulders were popular in the early 1940s when Edith Head made the above costume design sketch. The silhouette changed over the years, but suits remained a staple in her costume designs.

Another Edith Head costume sketch above, this one for Betty Hutton in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, 1944. This was a smart outfit and coat that Betty wore in this wonderful screwball comedy.

Edith Head's long career meant she designed for movies like Harlow in 1966 when she had been around when the real Jean Harlow was a star in the 1930s. The design above was done for Carrol Baker by Edith Head for her role as Jean Harlow in that film.

The photo above shows Edith Head with Olivia de Havilland. Edith is shown wearing her favored necklace made of antique French ivory theater tickets. She willed the necklace to her friend Elizabeth Taylor, who had always admired it.

Edith Head is shown above in her office at Paramount along with her many costume sketches rendered by artist Grace Sprague. Edith always believed in dressing well but in basic suits that did not compete with the appearance of the stars she dressed. She saved her flamboyant dressing for home.

Hollywood studios and the costume designing process was changing in the 1960s. Her contract at Paramount was not renewed in 1967, where she had been for 44 years. She moved on to Universal Studios, where she remained until her death in 1981. If you want to get a glimpse into her psyche and her soul and have the opportunity, go to the El Portal Theatre and see Susan Claassen's performance, you'll be happy you did.



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The first blog post by the Silver Screen Modiste centered on costume and fashion designer Adrian, and specifically his suit designs. While he was not the first to capture my attention, he soon engulfed all of it. But the other great screen costume designers will also get featured, as well as the stars and studios that brought their work to life. Adrian is more than just the first among equals, however. Genius mingled with wit in equal proportions in his work, and his "droll" sense of humour let the air out of the often over-inflated world of high fashion and movie star egos. And if you wonder why the name of Adrian is not as well known today, or fully commercialized, it's because he wanted it that way. He was Adrian, no one else was. Stay tuned and we'll see more of why he was lionized in his day and still influences current fashion. And like the Renaissance, great costume and fashion designers and artists all influenced each other and the times. This blog will attempt to pay homage to the great work of the Hollywood costume designers of the past.

The Silver Screen Modiste covers classic Hollywood film costume design and its influence on fashion. The designers, the stars and the studios will be interrelated with fashion, art, and modern popular culture. Musical and period costumes will share their colorful images on these pages, where the work of skilled motion picture artists and the movie stars is brought back to life.


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Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label - Monacelli Press/Random House, by Christian Esquevin

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Special Performance of A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD will be held on September 30 at 8pm to benefit the MPTF's Pet Care Program!

A Conversation with Edith Head

An Evening of Wit, Wisdom and a Whisper of Gossip!
A Special Performance of the show will be held on September 30 at 8pm to benefit the MPTF's Pet Care Program.

By Pegge Forrest
Event dates: September 23-October 24, 2010

Off the Aisle Productions in association with Invisible Theatre proudly presents A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD starring Susan Claassen; written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen. There will be preview performances of show September 23 - September 30 with the Costume Designers Guild Gala Press Opening on Friday, October 1 at the historic El Portal Forum Theatre in North Hollywood, California.

On October 1, the Costume Designer’s Guild will host a CHAMPAGNE RECEPTION after the performance to honor Ms. Claassen for keeping this iconic Costume Designer in the public eye.

Actress 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." 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 ball gown 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 in Tucson, Arizona in 2002 and was subsequently presented in Chicago, Key West, at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD, Hartford, San Francisco, Nantucket, San Diego, Houston, Austin, and Scottsdale, as well as in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia , London’s West End and a ‘sold out’ engagement at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Regular Schedule:
Thursday – Saturday at 8pm
Saturday & Sunday Matinees at 3PM

$25 & $35

For Tickets call: 818-508-4200 or 866-811-4111
Or order online:

Monday, June 28, 2010


It's True...

California Here We Come!
Off the Aisle Productions presents the
Los Angeles premiere
A Conversation with Edith Head

You're Invited

Edith Head's Hollywood
On sale at all performances!
Angel City Press

After amazing touring seasons in Edinburgh and London, we are packing our bags, costumes, sketches and Oscars® and "Head"ing to the beautiful and historic El Portal Forum Theatre in North Hollywood!

One Location - Two Theatres!
5269 Lankershim Blvd

North Hollywood, CA 91601
Pegge Forrest and Jay Irwin, Managers


September 23 - October 24, 2010

(Gala Opening October 1, 2010)

Tickets available at El Portal Box Office
and online now
or by calling 818-508-4200

Mention SUZ code for
$5 pre-sale discount per ticket!

Thank you ...
We hope you and your friends will be able to "design" your plans to include one of our performances at the historic El Portal Forum Theatre in North Hollywood. Make sure you let us know you're coming and do stay after the show to say hello!

"Edith" on YouTube

Why not make a weekend of it and see
Debbie Reynolds (one of Edith's favorites)
in her amazing ALIVE & FABULOUS
at The Historic El Portal Mainstage Theatre?!

September 23 - October 3, 2101

One location - two theatres!
See us both!!
El Portal Theatre

Monday, April 19, 2010

FairyFiligree: A Conversation with Edith Head

A Conversation with Edith Head

A Conversation With Edith Head is a glorious 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 1,131 motion pictures, dressed the greatest stars of Hollywood, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won an unprecedented eight Oscars - a record that will never be broken. This exclusive interview with impersonator Susan Claassen delves deeper into the character of this extraordinary woman.

FF: How did you 'meet' Edith Head?
I first got the idea nine years ago when I was watching a television biography. I literally did a double take when I watched that TV biography. My physical resemblance to Edith seemed uncanny! And what's even more bizarre, we are the same height and both born 50 years apart in October! The more I watched, the more I knew there was a great story to be told.

I contacted Edith's estate and they granted me permission to pursue this project. I madly read anything I could find and when I came upon Paddy Calistro's book, Edith Head's Hollywood, I decided to attempt to locate its author. I called telephone information for Santa Monica, where I thought Paddy lived, and voila, she was listed. I placed the phone call and it was kismet.

At our first meeting in Los Angeles we knew the connection was right and we agreed to collaborate. Paddy had not only written the book but had inherited 13 hours of taped interviews with Edith Head - it was truly a gift from heaven. We can honestly say that A Conversation with Edith is based upon the words and thoughts of Edith Head - the ''Edith-isms'.

FF: What intrigued you about her apart from the fact that you resemble her so much?
Edith was an executive woman before there was such a thing! It was a boy's club when she started - 1923. Women in the Unites Stated had just recently got ten the vote, if you can imagine. It has been said that Edith had the instincts of a pastry chef and the authority of a factory foreman.

She herself said, "I knew I was not a creative design genius... I am a better diplomat than I am a designer...I was never going to be the world's greatest costume designer, but there was no reason I could not be the smartest and most celebrated."

She knew how to play the game better than anyone. Her concern really was to change actors into characters. Edith said, "I make people into what they are not - ten years older or younger, fatter or thinner, more handsome or more ridiculous, glamorous or sexy or horrible. The camera never lies, after all, so my work is really an exercise in camouflage."

FF: What were the challenges of doing this part?
It is a privilege to keep her legacy alive. The preparation to be comfortable in some else's skin is enormous. I must always be present to be able to respond to any question. I want them to feel as if they have just met Edith Head. I am constantly researching and trying to understand this amazing woman. I have my rituals before every performance. It is an enormous responsibility but well worth the effort. I feel so blessed. The audience response has been amazing. From Tbilisi to Edinburgh to London to Chicago audiences have been touched by Edith's story. What they take with them after having seen the performance is truly dependent on what they bring to it.

Film buffs get immersed in hearing stories from someone who has lived through the evolution of contemporary film, older audiences remember always seeing the closing credits, ‘Gowns by Edith Head’, it evokes a bygone era and younger audiences think of the Pixar animated film The Incredibles and Edna Mode, designer to the superheroes.

The universal response is summed up by a note I received from a fan, "My friend saw the show on Saturday and adored it. He said the same as me, i.e. if someone mentions Edith Head to me now, my first reaction will be to say "Oh yes, I met her once and it was unforgetable!"

FF: Did you get to research her costume design work?
Yes, and I own many original sketches in addition to the reproductions on the set. Edith'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! Remember, Edith Head did Hollywood Red Carpet commentary while Joan Rivers was still in college.

Edith Head may not be a household name these days, but in her prime she was one of the most colourful characters in Hollywood. She was dishing out caustic fashion advice years before Trinny and Susannah made careers out of it, and was confidante to the stars long before Celebrity Sleuth broadcast their measurements.

As Lucille Ball said, Edith knew the figure faults of every top star. And she never told - Edith always knew how to keep a secret."

Well, in this cozy conversation some secrets might be revealed and fashion tips freely given. As Miss Head says, "If Cinderella had had Edith Head, she would not have needed a Fairy godmother!"

FF: Which costumes did impress you most & why do you b elieve she achieved such huge success in Hollywood?
That would be like picking a favorite child! I have to admit I do love the costumes from To Catch a Thief - she had an extravagant budget and a gorgeous star, Grace Kelly - who could ask for anything more.

High fashion is of the moment and the best of costume design is timeless. You must remember that costumes were often completed a couple of years before the release of the film.
A perfect example are Elizabeth Taylor's gowns in the 1951 A Place in the Sun . The film was shot in 1949 and released in 1951.The silhouette was the most important aspect of any of the ensembles, therefore the costumes in the Academy Award winning film could be worn to any society event today. The woman wearing it would evoke an era classic couture and look as dramatic as Liz did when she danced with the dreamy Monty Clift!

Edith had the ability to shape each gown to a character or image. This is what made her as popular with film directors as with the glamour girls she dressed in both their private lives and screen roles.

FF: Did you ever meet her personally or get anywhere near her, her home, her studio?
No, but I feel as if I have met her. I know we would have been great friends.

September 24, 2010
Hollywood Premiere
El Portal
North Hollywood, CA

Friday, February 26, 2010

Silver Screen Modiste: DESIGNED BY EDITH HEAD

Silver Screen Modiste: DESIGNED BY EDITH HEAD


It's ironic that the costume designer whose name virtually everyone would recognize lacked a fashion style with any signiture. And few would be able to identify her costumes save for a few movie costume aficionados, researchers, and the fashion savy with long memories. Regardless, Edith Head was the ultimate costume designer. She could be a strong-willed promoter of herself, but never so at the expense of the costume she designed nor of the star she was to dress. Her costume designing was fully engaged in furthering the role of the actor and the needs of the scene. Her dresses and gowns needed to catch attention certainly, but Miss Head was not intent on creating a fashion statement. Look carefully at the stars wearing her designs. They look all-of-a-piece. No garment jars unless it is meant to. None is flashy unless the role is. When the role dazzles so do the gowns. She often bent to the desires of the stars, just as she did to that of the directors. After looking at scores of her costume sketches, I can attest that many of the actual costumes were changed by the time the actors wore them on screen. She did not hold a rigid idea of what the design should look like. Yet many of her costume designs have become as memorable as the roles portrayed and the stars that wore them. As examples, look back at Liz Taylor wearing the white gown with a big tulle skirt and white violets covering her bodice in A Place in the Sun; Kim Novak in the blue-gray suit in Vertigo; Bette Davis in the brown satin coctail gown with off-the shoulder, fur-trimmed sleeves in All About Eve; Gloria Swanson in the black dress with white fur muff and white fur-rimmed hat and white plume in Sunset Boulevard: Barbara Stanwyck in the white belted dress and house pumps with pom-poms in Double Indemnity; and any of the costumes Grace Kelly wears in To Catch a Thief or Rear Window. These are a few of the thousands of costumes she designed in a career that spanned nearly fifty years.

Edith Head is pictured above wearing her favorite necklace made of antique French theater tickets carved in ivory. She willed the necklace to her friend Liz Taylor at her death.

Susan Claassen as Edith Head

We no longer have Edith Head. We are very fortunate however, to have Susan Claassen, who has brought Miss Head back to life in her one-woman show, A Conversation with Edith Head. Susan Claassen is the Managing Artistic Director of the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona. Paddy Calistro, author of Edith Head's Hollywood, and Susan Claassen co-wrote the play that A Conversation is based on. The play begins late in Miss Head's career, as she reflects on the accomplishments and defeats of her life, and her eight Oscars. Miss Claasen brings it all back to life. You share Miss Head's life-story monologues like a guest in her own studio. You laugh and cry with her. Should Susan Claassen and A Conversation with Edith Head come to your town, don't miss it. If it comes to the region, make the trip. It will be worth it."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Media Release - Rand and Patti Berney Honorary Chairs For PTAC Gala -

Media Release - Rand and Patti Berney Honorary Chairs For PTAC Gala -

Rand and Patti Berney Honorary Chairs For PTAC Gala

BARTLESVILLE, OK – Price Tower Arts Center is pleased to announce that Rand and Patti Berney are the honorary chairs for the 2010 gala fundraiser to be held on January 30, 2010. The theme for this year’s event is Star Struck … Lights! Camera! Gala! which ties in with the exhibition, Lights! Camera! Fashion!: The Film Costumes of Edith Head, opening on January 22nd.

“I am thrilled that Rand and Patti Berney have agreed to serve as honorary chairs of this year’s PTAC Gala. Since returning to Bartlesville, Rand and Patti have tirelessly volunteered their time to improve various organizations in our community,” said Kimberly Doenges, 2010 gala committee chair.

Rand C. Berney is the senior vice president for Corporate Shared Services at ConocoPhillips. He began his career with Phillips Petroleum Company in 1981. He was named to his current position in 2009. Mr. Berney holds a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Kansas State University. He also earned his MBA from Oklahoma State University.

2010 GalaPatti Berney has been an active member of the Bartlesville community for many years. Her involvement has extended from the Red Cross, Greenspoint Mission, Target Hunger and the Special Olympics. Currently, Mrs. Berney serves on the boards of Mary Martha Outreach, Family Crisis and Counseling, Friends of Frank Phillips Home and Price Tower Arts Center.

“As this year’s Gala chairman, I know the event will be spectacular and Rand and Patti's involvement makes it even more special,” added Doenges.

The fundraiser will begin at 6 p.m. with a VIP Reception in Copper Bar inside Price Tower Arts Center. The reception will include Susan Claassen’s portrayal of Edith Head and special guests Anne Coco and Adriana Petrova.

The gala event will begin at 7 p.m. in the Bartlesville Community Center. Dinner is being prepared by Chef Tim Inman of Tulsa’s Stonehorse Café. There will be live musical entertainment from the Full Flava Kings. And, those attending will also get to participate in silent and live auctions. Some of the auction items include a week’s stay in a London flat, a Henry Dunay ring, original art work and an Odegard area rug. Tickets are available by calling 918.336.4949 or online at

Kimberly Doenges is the chair of the 2010 PTAC Gala Committee. Other members include Patti Berney, Tracy Boles, Jessica Butler, Dawnette Brady, Elizabeth Gallery, Tracy Harlow, Sheryl Kaufman, Jane Kirkpatrick, Beth Maddux, Theo Silas, Lynda Tippeconnic and Barbara Williams.

The Price Tower Arts Center 2010 Gala Fundraiser is made possible, in part, by C.J. ‘Pete’ and Theo Silas, Joel and Patricia Romines, Boles Jewelry, ConocoPhillips, Doenges Toyota, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, More Branding, 66 Federal Credit Union and Western Printing.

About Price Tower

The landmark destination for art, architecture and design, Price Tower Arts Center, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, provides local, regional and global audiences with the experience of great art, architecture and design in an arts complex whose centerpiece is Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper, the Price Tower.

This National Historic Landmark building, completed in 1956, contains a museum with permanent and changing exhibition galleries; original and restored historic Wright interiors (available by tour); and The Wright Place museum store.

Visitors may also experience Wright's masterpiece as guests of Inn at Price Tower, a high-design hotel that the Arts Center has created within Wright's skyscraper, along with the Inn's eclectic Copper Bar.

Historic tours are available with advanced reservations. Admission is $10 adults, $8 seniors (65+), $5 students and children 16 and under and includes admission to the museum exhibitions (tax not included as may be applicable). For more information, the public may call 918.336.4949 or visit the web site at