A Conversation with Edith Head - Arts Theatre
Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle
SUSAN Claassen stars as the legendary Hollywood designer in A Conversation With Edith Head, which runs from Tuesday, July 29 to Saturday, August 30, 2008, at the Arts Club at the Arts Theatre.
Based on Edith Head and Paddy Calistro’s book Edith Head’s Hollywood, A Conversation With Edith Head is described as a glorious behind-the-scenes feast of great movie legends and delicious stories – stories gleaned from Head’s six decades of costume design.
During that time, she worked on 1,131 motion pictures, dressed the greatest stars of Hollywood, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won an unprecedented eight Oscars.
Head was, in fact, a Hollywood costume designer for more than 60 years. Of those, 44 were spent at Paramount Studios, where she worked with the most famous actors of the time – from Mae West and Clara Bow to Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis. When Paramount failed to renew her contract in 1967, Alfred Hitchcock stepped in and she was invited to join Universal Studios.
It was there that she designed the clothes worn by Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting and won the first-ever Oscar for a film without a female lead. Her other successes were for The Heiress (her first Oscar), Samson and Delilah, All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Sabrina and The Facts of Life.
Head died in October 1981, still under contract to Universal Studios, having just completed work on the Steve Martin film, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
Claassen was inspired to write and star in A Conversation With Edith Head while watching a biography of the legendary designer on TV. She immediately saw herself as “a perfect fit”, for as she herself put it, “Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion.”
Much of the dialogue in A Conversation With Edith Head comes directly from the famed designer. Not surprising considering that Calistro acquired more than 13 hours of recollections recorded by Head – “Edithisms” as Head referred to her own sayings – when she was asked to write the authorised posthumous autobiography.
The show also features insights from Hollywood insiders who knew Head best. They include costume designer Bob Mackie, who once worked as Head’s sketch artist; her dear friend Edie Wasserman, wife of the late Universal Studio head Lew Wasserman; and Art Linkletter, award-winning host of House Party, the daytime American TV show of the 1950s that brought Edith Head into the homes of America.
As an actress, Claassen’s most memorable roles have been Bella in Lost in Yonkers, Alice B. Toklas in Gertrude Stein and a Companion, Hannah in Crossing Delancey, Shirley in Shirley Valentine and Trudy in The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. She also performs as a clown in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
A Conversation With Edith Head is produced through special arrangement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture and Television Fund.