Edith Head

Edith Head

Infobox Actor
name = Edith Head
birthname = Edith Claire Posener
birthdate = birth date|1897|10|28
birthplace = Searchlight, Nevada
deathdate = death date and age|1981|10|24|1897|10|28
deathplace = Los Angeles, California
spouse = Charles Head (1923-1938)
Wiard Ihnen (1949-1979)
yearsactive = 1927 - 1981
academyawards = Best Costume Design, Black-and-White
1949 "The Heiress"
1950 "All About Eve"
1951 "A Place in the Sun"
1953 "Roman Holiday"
1954 "Sabrina"
1960 "The Facts of Life"
Best Costume Design, Color
1950 "Samson and Delilah"
Best Costume Design
1973 "The Sting"
awards = Walk of Fame - Motion Picture
6500 Hollywood Blvd

Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981) was an American costume designer who had a long career in Hollywood that garnered eight Academy Awards -- more than than any other woman in history.

Early life and career

She was born Edith Claire Posener in Searchlight, Nevada [http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/edith-head/] , the daughter of Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Her father was a mining engineer in the gold mine there. Whether her parents were married is unknown but, in 1901, her mother married Frank Spare and Edith was passed off as his child. Though her birth parents were Jewish, Head would claim to be a Catholic later in life.

She moved to San Bernadino, California and at an early age. She received a BA in French at the University of California at Berkeley in 1918 and an MA in Romance Languages from Stanford University in 1920. [http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/edith-head/] She became a Languages Teacher (specialising in French). Her first teaching position was at Bishops School in La Jolla, California, however after one year she took a position teaching both Languages and Art at Hollywood School for Girls. To improve her drawing skills (which at this point were rudimentary) she took evening art classes at Chouinard Art College. On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates Betty Head. This marriage was short-lived, ultimately ending in divorce in 1936, after a number of years of separation, though Edith continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.

In 1924, despite lacking art design or costume design experience, Head was hired as a costume sketch artist in the Paramount Pictures in the costume department. Later Head admitted to borrowing another student's sketches for her job interview. She began designing costumes for silent films commencing with "The Wanderer" in 1925, and by the 1930s had established herself 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, possibly prompted by her extensive work for director Alfred Hitchcock, who had moved to Universal in 1960.

She married set designer Wiard Ihnen, on September 8, 1940. Their marriage lasted until his death in 1979.

The Paramount Years

During her long career she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, including every year from 1948 through 1966, and won eight times – more Oscars than any other woman. 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 in films. 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.

Although Head was featured in studio publicity from the mid-1920s onward, she was originally over-shadowed by Paramount's Head Designer, first Howard Greer then Travis Banton. It was only after Banton's resignation in 1938 that she achieved fame as a designer in her own right. Her association with the "sarong" dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in "The Hurricane" made her well known among the general public, albeit as a more restrained designer than either Banton or Adrian. In 1944 she gained public attention for the top mink-lined gown she was credited with designing for Ginger Rogers in "Lady in the Dark", which gained notoriety as it was counter to the mood of wartime austerity. The institution of an Academy Award for Costume Designer in 1949 further boosted her career as it began her record breaking run of Award nominations and awards, beginning with her nomination for "The Emperor Waltz".

Head was known for her low-key working style, and unlike many of her male contemporaries usually consulted extensively with the female stars she worked with. As a result she was a favourite designer for several of the leading female stars of the 1940s and 1950's; Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley Maclaine and Anne Baxter, and was frequently 'loaned' out by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars. She was also known for her restrained designs, and during the 1950s was dubbed the "queen of the shirtwaisters" by her detractors. However, it should be noted that this approach to costume design was in line with studio policy which did not want films (especially late release or re-released films) to become instantly dated through the use of short-lived costume fads. Despite this, or even because of this trait, she has been cited as one of Alfred Hitchcock's favourite custome designers and had a long association with Hal Wallis among others.

During her long career Head was occasionally criticized for her working methods. Early in her career she opposed the creation of a union to represent studio based costume designers and outfitters, and she was accused of being "anti-union" on several occasions. Her design trademark of restraint also on occasion brought her into conflict with the wishes of film stars or directors. Claudette Colbert apparently being one star who preferred not to work with her, while her relationship with flamboyant film director Mitchell Leisen was by all accounts quite tense. Despite her own design accomplishments, she also had a reputation for taking credit for others' work. However, this practice only became controversial in the latter part of her career, since in the era of studio-dominated film production, a department head commonly claimed credit for design work created in his or her department. Privately, she was a warm and loving hostess, hosting fabulous soirées at her and her husband's Benedict Canyon home.

The Universal Years

In 1967 she left Paramount Pictures, and joined Universal Pictures where she remained until her death in 1981. As studio based feature film production declined, and many of her favoured stars retired, Head became more active as a TV costume designer often designing costumes for film actresses, like Olivia De Havilland, who were now involved in TV series or film work. In 1974 Head enjoyed a final Oscar win for her work on "The Sting". This film, which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford, was notable for its nostalgic recreation of America life in the 1930s.

During the late 1970s, Edith Head was asked to design a woman's uniform for the United States Coast Guard because of the increasing number of women in the Coast Guard. Head called the assignment a highlight in her career. Also during this period her designs for a TV mini-series based on the novel "Little Women" were notable. 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 accurately re-created fashions of the 1940s, matching the extensive use of film clips from classic "film noir" motion pictures. It was released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.

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 dark shades of gray. They were worn originally 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. These features and the consistency of her appearance over the decades helped make her an instantly recognised figure.


She died on October 24, 1981 in her sleep while coughing violently, and ruptured her esophagus. The cough resulted from a rare bone marrow disease.

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6504 Hollywood Blvd.

Actresses designed for

Among the actresses Edith Head designed for were:
*Mae West in "She Done Him Wrong", 1933, and "Myra Breckinridge", 1970
*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)
*Olivia de Havilland in "The Heiress", 1949
*Hedy Lamarr and Angela Lansbury in "Samson and Delilah", 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 and "Elephant Walk", 1954
*Joan Fontaine in "Something to Live For", 1952
*Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday", 1953
*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
*Tippi Hedren in "The Birds", 1963 and "Marnie", 1964
*Claude Jade in "Topaz", 1969
*Jill Clayburgh in "Gable and Lombard", 1976
*Valerie Perrine in "W.C. Fields and Me", 1976

Oscar nominations

*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
*:Although Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, most of Audrey Hepburn's outfits were in fact created by Hubert de Givenchy and chosen by the star herself. Edith Head refused to be shown alongside Givenchy in the credits, so she was given credit for the costumes, even though the Academy's votes were obviously for Hepburn's attire. Edith Head did not refuse the Oscar, however.Fact|date=July 2008
*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"
*Oscars no longer awarded separately for Color or Black and White
*1970 – "Sweet Charity"
*1971 – "Airport"
*1974 – "The Sting" – won
*1976 – "The Man Who Would Be King"
*1978 – "Airport '77"

Homage to Edith Head in other media

As part of a series of stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service 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. [ [http://www.ew.com/ew/report/0,6115,735650_1_0_,00.html Who is the 'Incredibles' fashion maven based on? | The Incredibles | Movie News | Movies | Entertainment Weekly ] ]

The rock group They Might Be Giants made reference to her in a song called "".

In the animated television Futurama episode "That's Lobstertainment!", Edith Head was pictured as a head in a jar sitting in the front row at the Oscars.


*cite book|author=David Chierichetti|title=Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer|location=New York | publisher=HarperCollins|year=2003|id=ISBN 0-06-019428-6
*John Duka "Edith Head, Fashion Designer for the Movies, Dies." "The New York Times". October 27, 1981.
*cite book|author=Edith Head|title=Edith Head's Hollywood|location=New York | publisher=Dutton|year=1983|id=ISBN 0-525-24200-7
*cite book|author=Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore|title=The Dress Doctor|location=Boston | publisher=Little, Brown |year=1959|id=ISBN 999750030X
*cite book|author=Edith Head with Joe Hyams|title=How to Dress for Success|location= New York | publisher=Random House |year= 1967|id=LCCN 66012021, ASIN B00005W3J7

External links

*imdb name|id=0372128|name=Edith Head
*tcmdb name|id=83672|name=Edith Head
* [http://claudejade.ifrance.com/portrait/68-01g.jpg
* [http://vintagepatterns.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Edith_Head Sewing patterns by Edith Head]

NAME= Head, Edith
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Posener, Edith Claire
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Fashion designer
DATE OF BIRTH= 1897-10-28
PLACE OF BIRTH= San Bernadino, California
DATE OF DEATH= 1981-10-24
PLACE OF DEATH= Los Angeles, California

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