Edith Head (October 28, 1897 - October 24, 1981) was an American costume designer who had a long career in Hollywood that garnered more Academy Awards than any other woman in history.
She was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Whether her parents were married is unknown, but in 1901, her mother married Frank Spare and Edith was passed off as his child.
She graduated from the University of California in 1919 and became a school teacher in Los Angeles. On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head. (They would divorce in 1936.) With no experience, Head answered an advertisement to work for Paramount Studios in the costume department. She borrowed another's sketches and passed them off as her own. She began designing costumes for silent films and by the thirties had established herself as one of the leading designers. She worked at Paramount for forty-four years until she went to Universal Pictures on March 27, 1967.
Head was a very private woman, a trait well illustrated by the dark sunglasses that became her trademark. Originally the lenses were blue, but later they were increasingly dark shades of gray. The glasses and her unchanging hair style helped aid her in hiding 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.
She married set designer Wiard Ihnen , nicknamed Bill, on September 8, 1940. Their marriage would last until his death in 1978.
During her long career she was nominated for thirty-four Academy Awards and won eight times, more Oscars than any other woman has won. She was responsible for some of the best known Hollywood fashion images of her day, with her costumes being worn by the most glamorous and famous actresses of the day in films seen by millions. Head's influence on world fashion was far reaching, especially in the 1950s when she began appearing on Art Linkletter's television program and writing books on fashion.
Ms. Head was known for her no-nonsense, assertive working style. Despite her own accomplishments, she also had a reputation for taking credit for others' work--but in the studio days a department head not uncommonly claimed credit for everything in her department. Privately, she was a warm and loving hostess, presiding over fabulous soirees at her Benedict Canyon hacienda, with her husband.
She died in 1981 from bone marrow disease and was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6504 Hollywood Blvd.
Head was a lifelong friend of actress Anne Baxter. Upon Head's death, Baxter's daughter Melissa Galt was bequethed Head's extraordinary collection of jewelry. Other bequests by Head included prominent artworks to Roddy McDowall and to Elizabeth Taylor. The last film she worked on was was Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.
As part of a series of stamps issued in February 2003 commemorating the behind-the-camera personnel who make movies, Head appeared on an American postage stamp honoring costume design.
To many viewers of the 2004 Pixar/Disney computer-animated film The Incredibles, the personality and mannerisms of the film's fictional superhero costume designer Edna Mode suggest a colorful caricature of Edith Head. Edna Mode's sense of style, round glasses, and assertive no-nonsense character are very likely a direct homage to Head's legendary accomplishments and personal traits, but the film's director, Brad Bird, has not yet confirmed or denied this.
Actresses Head Designed For
Among the actresses Edith Head designed for were:
Mae West in She Done Him Wrong, 1933
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
Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, 1946
Dorothy Lamour in most of “The Road” movies.
Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter , 1947
Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, 1949
Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve, 1950
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, 1950
Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, 1951
Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953
Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954, and To Catch a Thief, 1955
Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956
Marlene Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution, 1957
Rita Hayworth in Separate Tables, 1958
Kim Novak in Vertigo, 1958
Tippi Hedren in The Birds, 1963 and Marnie, 1964
Edith Head’s Oscar Nominations
- David Chierichetti . Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 0060194286
- John Duka. "Edith Head, Fashion Designer for the Movies, Dies." The New York Times. October 27, 1981.
- Edith Head. Edith Head's Hollywood. New York: Dutton, 1983. ISBN 0525242007
- Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore . The dress doctor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959. ISBN 999750030X
- Edith Head with Joe Hyams. How to dress for success. ASIN B00005W3J7
New York: Random House, 1967.
Last updated: 08-03-2005 09:52:08
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13