Edith Head

Edith Head

Lived from 1897 until 1981, Edith Head was a costume designer from America who won seven Academy Awards. She was born and grew up in California, and later on managed to find employment at Paramount Pictures as a costume sketcher sans relevant experience or training. She was first noted for the exclusive sarong dress she designed for Dorothy Lamour and she soon became popular when a new category of Costume Designer was created in the Academy Awards in 1948.

Edith Head was known for her exceptional communication skill and relationship maintenance with her clients that included several important Hollywood actresses. Afterwards, she joined Universal Studios.

She was born in California as Edith Claire Posener to Jewish parents, Anna E. Levy and Max Posener. Her father had a naturalized citizenship in America but came originally from Prussia and moved to United States in 1876 while her mother was from Missouri. It is unclear whether Anna and Max had married each other or not but after Edith was born, Anna married Frank Spare, a mining engineer from Pennsylvania. The family had a nomadic life since Spare’s work moved frequently to different places. The only place Edith remembers is her years in Nevada. Since Spare was a Catholic, Edith apparently became one too.

In 1919, Edith did her bachelor of art letters and sciences with a French honor in Berkeley from the University of California. Consequently, she taught French at Bishop’s School. A year later, she started teaching the same language at Hollywood School for Girls. In order to earn some more money, she requested the school to let her teach art although she didn’t have any professional experience or training in the subject other than studying it in high school. At this point, to hone her skills in drawing, she joined an evening course at Chouinard Art College.

In 1923, Edith married Charles Head, the brother of Betty Head who was one of Edith’s classmate from Chouinard. In 1936, the two divorced after a separation of many years. Despite this, Edith kept his last name as hers for life.

Edith Head created costume for a number of actresses including Mae West, Frances Farmer, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Ginger Rogers, Betty Hutton, Bette Davis, Lorette Young, Hedy Lamarr, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Elizabeth Taylor, Carmen Miranda, Ann Robinson, Audrey Hepburn, Rosemary Clooney, Grace Kelly, Jane Wyman, Anne Maxter, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Natalie Wood, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Tippi Hedren, Claude Jade, Valerie Perrine, Jill Clayburgh and Katharine Hepburn. Actors she designed for include Steve Martin and Danny Kane.

Moving on, Edith made a cameo appearance in Columbo: Requiem for a Falling Star in 1973, as herself. In the film she was a designer for the character of Anne Baxter. In one of the scenes, Edith’s Oscars were showed displayed on a table. Later on, she came in Lucy Gallant, a 1955 film. Moreover, she also appeared in 1961 The Pleasure of His Company.

The designer died in October, 1981 only a few days before her birthday. She suffered from myelofibrosis, a fatal disease of bone marrow.

Edith Head was featured in a Stamp by the U.S. Postal Service Febuary 2003 in a series honoring people behind the camera who make movies. In 2013, her 116th birthday was commemorated with Google Doodle. In the start of the year 2014, she was celebrated through A Conversation with Edith Head, a play premiered in Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Canada.


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