Thursday, March 10, 2011

And The Winner Is.... Edith Head.

I think the clothing or costuming in a movie is very important. If the clothing is wrong, especially in a period film, the whole feel of the movie would not be right. So where would we be without wonderful costume designer like, Edith Head? (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981), She had a long career in Hollywood, that won the most Oscars by any woman with 8 for her costume designs listed below:

The Heiress (1950)

Samson and Delilah (1951)

All About Eve (1951)

A Place In The Sun (1952)

The Greatest Show on earth (1953)
(no photo)

Carrie (1953)

Roman Holiday (1954)

Sabrina (1955)

The Facts of Life (1961)
(no picture)

The Sting (1974)

She received a BA in Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1918 and earned an MA in Romance Languages from Stanford University in 1920 and then became a Language teacher. She wanted to improve her drawing skills so she took evening art classes at, Chouinard Art College.

In 1924, Head was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures, in the costume department. She began designing costumes for silent films starting with film, The Wanderer (1925) and by the 1930s was known as one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. She worked at Paramount for 44 years until she went to Universal Pictures on March 27, 1967, to work for director, Alfred Hitchcock.

Head was originally over-shadowed by Paramount's Head Designers, Howard Greer then Travis Banton. It was only after Banton's resignation in 1938 that she became famous as a designer. Her design of the "sarong" dress made for Dorothy Lamour, in the film,The Hurricane, made her well-known among the women of the era.

In 1944 she designed the top mink-lined gown she was credited with designing for Ginger Rogers in the film, Lady in the Dark.

The institution of an Academy Award for Costume Designer, in 1949 helped her career as it began her record breaking run of Award nominations and awards, beginning with her nomination for the film, The Emperor Waltz.

Head, was well loved by actress because she consulting with them while designing their costumes. Some of her favorite clients were: Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Baxter, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Head, was frequently 'loaned' out by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars. In the 1950s she was famous for her "queen of the shirtwaisters".

She was one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite costume designers. While filming, Rear Window, sometimes, problems would emerge on set concerning the wardrobe. Like when rehearsing one scene the sheer nightgown that Grace Kelly was wearing, Hitchcock, decided to contact Edith Head and said, "Look, the bosom is not right, we're going to have to put something in there." While in Grace Kelly's dressing room Edith said, "Mr. Hitchcock is worried because there's a false pleat here. He wants me to put in falsies." Grace Kelly said, "You can't put falsies in this, it's going to show and I'm not going to wear them." And Edith said, "What are we going to do?" So they made some adjustments and Grace Kelly stood as straight as possible without her falsies. When Grace Kelly walked out onto the set Hitchcock looked at her and at Edith and said, "See what a difference they make?"

She also worked with Hal Wallis, who was head of production at Warners. His spanned more than fifty years and he was involved with more than 400 movies. Head, had been famous for her work with Audrey Hepburn in the film, Roman Holiday. She designed the costumes for many Jerry Lewis films, while he was at Paramount.

In 1967, she left Paramount Pictures, and joined Universal Pictures, where she remained until her death in 1981. As many of her stars retired, Head became more active as a television costume designer, often designing costumes for film actresses, like Olivia De Havilland, who began working in television series. In 1974, Head won her final Oscar 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. Head called the assignment a highlight in her career, and she was awarded the Meritorious Public Service Award for her work. Her last film project was the black and white comedy, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner, in which she re-created fashions of the 1940s, using film clips from classic film noirs. It was released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.

Dark sunglasses became her trademark. Originally the lenses were blue, but later they were dark shades of gray. They were worn to see how the clothing would appear in black and white. The glasses and her unchanging hair style helped her to hide her true age. In the 1920s, she wore a Colleen Moore Dutch boy cut, but in the 1930s she noticed Anna May Wong's style and copied it: flat bangs with a chignon at the back. She would wear it for the rest of her life.

Among the actresses Edith Head designed for were:

Mae West in She Done Him Wrong, 1933, and Myra Breckinridge, 1970, and Sextette in 1979

Frances Farmer in Rhythm on the Range, 1936 and Ebb Tide, 1937

Paulette Goddard in The Cat and the Canary, 1939

Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels, 1941 and I Married a Witch, 1942

Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire both 1941 and Double Indemnity, 1944

Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark, 1944
Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, 1946

Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane, 1937, and in most of "The Road" movies.

Betty Hutton in Incendiary Blonde, 1945 and The Perils of Pauline, 1947

Loretta Young in The Farmer's Daughter, 1947

Bette Davis in June Bride (1948) and 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 and Elephant Walk, 1954

Joan Fontaine in Something to Live For, 1952

Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953 Sabrina, 1954 and Funny Face, 1957

Ann Robinson in The War of the Worlds, 1953

Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954, and To Catch a Thief, 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
Patricia Neal in Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961

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 and Marnie, 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

Head received 35 Academy Awards nominations for Best Costume Design for the films:

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
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.  Because the costumes were made in Edith Head's Paramount Studios costume department, some felt that doing so created enough of a technicality to nominate Edith, instead of Monsieur Givenchy. Edith Head refused to be shown alongside Givenchy in the credits, so she was given credit for the costumes. Edith Head did not refuse the Oscar.

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: 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

This video is a mini bio.

Made cameo appearance as herself in one of my favorite TV shows Columbo: Requiem for a Falling Star(1973) as the clothing designer for Anne Baxter's character. Her Oscars were displayed on a desk in the scene.

Appeared as herself in the film, Lucy Gallant (1955). Jane Wyman, plays the main character, Lucy Gallant. The story about how Lucy Gallant, is left at the altar and she moves to a oil town, where she opens up a boutique. Rancher Casey Cole (Charlton Heston) does not believe in "working women", but he's madly in love with her. Lucy nearly loses her business due to financial problems, but Casey secretly pumps money into her operation.


  1. Dawn,
    What an interesting post. I have always wondered about the dark glasses. I thought the clothes in "To Catch a Thief" were so wonderful, expecially Cary Grant's. I guess he could have worn anything tho, and looked great! :) I would love to see a post about The Westmore's, too!

  2. This woman was incredible -- what a list of achievements! I always thought it was cute that she designed such feminine, gorgeous clothes for other women, but like Katharine Hepburn, she herself dressed in slacks and jackets. I didn't know about the sunglasses either, and that is interesting.

    I always have to laugh a little when I think about Edith head because of an incident in our family. When Trivial Pursuit game was big, we always played The Silver Screen edition -- I always won. After a while, nobody would play with me! One of my sisters always seemed to get a question about who designed costumes for some movie. She didnt' do well at Silver Screen, but she just always answered Edith Head and was always right. It's a running joke in our family now.

    Wonderful tribute to Edith, Dawn. She deserves it!

  3. Great post. I love tidbits like the fact that she based her hair style on Anna May Wong and that she wore the sunglasses to see the costumes in black and white.

    And I can't resist quoting Edna Mode from The Incredibles, who was based on Edith Head: "No capes!"

  4. Robin@DecoratingTennisGirl, Thank you. I absolutely loved the clothes in the film, "To Catch a Thief". I will look to see what I can find on the, Westmore's, and write up a article.

    ClassicBecky, Thank you. I agree... She designed such gorgeous clothes. I think she even has patterns that you can buy to make your own Edith Head, outfit.

    Your story about playing Trivial Pursuit, with your family is a wonderful story.Thank you fro the smile.

    Mythical Monkey, Thank you. Loved your Edna Mode quote..

    I also, have been wanting to tell you much I have enjoyed reading your blog. Very Well done.


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