The 1930s ushered in the Golden Age of Hollywood when new technological advances brought lighting, photography, and sound to a new level of excellence. Along with these technical advances, wardrobe departments of major motion picture studios were busy as costume designers, with the assistance of skilled seamstresses, milliners, and tailors, produced stunning garments for glamorous movie stars. During the 1930s and 1940s the field of costume design was dominated by men. But, that didn’t stop Edith Head, who would become one of Hollywood’s most prolific designers, working on more than 500 films, a record for a career such as hers.
One thing that separated Edith from her colleagues was that she was making clothes to suit a character; for her, the character always came first. (Head, Forward) It was Edith’s belief that only after an actor stepped into his costume that he truly became the character. If the clothes did not help in the projection of the character, then the designer had failed to do his or her job. Edith took this part of her work seriously and read the script carefully in order to make the character look as good or bad as possible. Due to this attention to detail, Edith Head’s films include some of the best motion pictures ever made. In 1948, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added a category to recognize costume design as integral to the success of movies, and for her work, Edith Head received thirty five nominations and eight Oscars. “Just another remarkable testament to her long and outstanding career” as Bette Davis said in her forward to Edith’s book Edith Head’s
Hollywood “Edith’s life is a tale filled with humor, frustration, and above all, glamour.” Edith was involved with moviemaking for fiftyeight years and during those years she dressed the famous and helped shape the Hollywood of today. She was famous for her tinted eyeglasses and her suits, but once on the set, Edith was only concerned that every costume work as she had designed it. She supervised fittings down to the last detail, she took pride in her work, and it showed. Edith approached her last film Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) with typical enthusiasm, although she was very ill. She became tired easily. Carl Reiner said “If we had known how ill she was, we probably would not have let her take on the film.” (Head, 16) Yet, Edith was on the set for the final scenes and two weeks later she died, two weeks before she would have turned 84. Edith died of a progressive blood disorder known as myelofibrosis. At her bedside was her housekeeper of thirtysix years; she left no family. Elizabeth Taylor, Loretta Young and Jane Wyman were in attendance at the funeral. Her friend, Bette Davis, gave the eulogy: A queen has left us, the queen of her profession. She will never be replaced. Her contribution to our industry in her field of design, her contribution to the taste of our town of Hollywood, her elegance as a person, her charms as a woman none of us who worked with her will ever forget. Good bye dear Edith. There will never be another you. Love from all of us, Bette. (Head, 17) Looking back at Edith’s life, there were many things that Edith was secretive about, for example, her maiden name. Although she told many different and interesting stories about her birthplace, Edith Claire Posener was born on October 28, 1897 in San Bernardino, California. When her parents
divorced she assumed the surname of her stepfather, Spare. She spent her early years in Mexico and Nevada “dressing burros, much as other little girls would play with dolls.” (Head, 12) She eventually graduated from the University of California in Berkeley with honors. It was shortly after beginning a teaching career that she returned to Southern California and “found her niche in Hollywood.” (Head, 12) Edith’s first exposure to a film set was while teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls...
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