Name: Susan Claassen 'Edith Head'
1.) Tell me about Edith Head for those not too familiar with her?
Edith Head was Hollywood’s most celebrated costume designer from 1923-1981. She received 35 Academy Award nominations and won an unprecedented eight Oscars. She was head of costume design at Paramount for 44 years and went over to Universal for 14 years. Edith dressed most of the great stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Cary Grant. Her designs were timeless – she felt that to further the narrative of the film with her designs was very important. She was a better diplomat than a designer and she knew how to play the game.
2.) How/When did you become interested in Edith Head?
It all began when I became of an age that I was able to see her on television. “Watching the biography channel on her – I thought to myself this is interesting and I look like her.” I began to research if any theatrical piece had been done on her and found out nobody had done such a thing. Our research led us to “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills – this is where Edith Head left most of her sketches, 8 Academy Awards, and other important papers. I applied for the right of publicity and began to check out books – “How to Dress for Success” and “The Dress Doctor.” I then located Paddy Calistro – which not only had written a book but had also inherited 13 hours of taped interviews with Edith Head. I premiered the show in 2002 and a miracle happened – New York Times covered it! We set the show in any location.
3.) What does Edith Head mean to you? Did you have an opportunity to meet her?
I never met her. However, I feel as if I knew her - I have researched her so much. It is a true privilege to keep her legacy alive.
4.) Let’s talk about your performance – how did you get the idea of creating a theatrical presentation of Edith Head?
As a director and actor – I had always put shows together for other people but never put one together for myself. From the biography, I got the idea of creating a theatrical presentation, which took me six months of pure research and preparation.
5.) Are the sketches and items you use on stage the originals?
Some are. I own original sketches and 7 original costumes. The miniatures in the show are recreations of two iconic dresses worn by Elizabeth Taylor. We can use real photographs. The Oscars are the replica used to set the shots at The Academy Awards.
6.) How long have you portrayed Edith Head?
12 wonderful years.
7.) How do you prepare for your performance and transform into Edith Head?
Well, this is a longer prep than for any performance. I am very superstitious therefore I have the same ritual. I wear a full wig designed by Renate of Burbank - which takes an hour to take off. It takes quite the preparation time to get into her head. Altogether, she did the red carpet, commentated fashion shows, and many other wonderful things and I feel very comfortable in that marvelous responsibility. Once I am in the full Edith Head mode I never become me.
8.) What do you believe Edith would think of fashion today?
I believe she would like the timeless fashion -style comes from the inside out.
9.) What advice would Edith Head give to aspiring designers today?
Be aware get out to the world – see, experience, and always realize as a costume designer your job is to create the magic. Understand that your costume doesn’t stand alone because it transforms into the character they portray.
10.) Would you ever consider making a movie about Edith Head?
I would love to!! Her story is one that inspires people in every profession. I often do my show for middle school kids and when they come to see the show they all relate to it in a way. I believe it captures the essence of magnificent fashion. Designer Betsey Johnson related to Edith Head but yet held on to their style and adapted to their own time. Altogether, Hollywood influenced what fashion would be.
'Edith Head' Oscar Awards Won: ~ Won Best Costume Design in 1974 for 'The Sting' (1973)
~ Won Best Costume Design in 1961 for 'The Facts of Life' (1960)
~ Won Best Costume Design in 1955 for 'Sabrina' (1954)
~ Won Best Costume Design in 1954 for 'Roman Holiday' (1953)
~Won Best Costume Design in 1952 for 'A Place in the Sun' (1951)
~Won Best Costume Design in 1951 for 'All About Eve' (1950) and 'Samson and Delilah' (1949)
~Won Best Costume Design in 1950 for 'The Heiress' (1949)
~Won Best Costume Design in 1949 for 'Emperor Waltz' (1948)
"I had the privilege of meeting Susan Claassen as Edith Head and let me just tell you that she is beyond an amazing lady. Her dedication to Edith Head is very inspiring! I truly loved interviewing such a wonderful and talented lady." -BM