Monday, July 28, 2008
Edith Head’s story is as fascinating as the history of the film industry itself. It’s a story filled with humour, frustration and above all glamour - this diva of design helped to define glamour in the most glamorous place in the world - Hollywood!
We caught up with the writer and star of A Conversation With Edith Head to find out more.
Tell us a little bit about A Conversation with Edith Head. What can we expect?
The minute you approach the brand new Leicester Square Studio Theatre with its very own red carpet, you will be swept away into the golden age of Hollywood. The Studio Theatre is being transformed into Miss Head's Salon through vintage photographs, costumes and one-of-a-kind original sketches.
What’s so enthralling about her story?
Edith's story is as fascinating as the history of the film industry itself, filled with humor, frustration and, above all, glamour. This diva of design helped to define glamour in the most glamorous place in the world - Hollywood! Remember, Edith Head did Hollywood Red Carpet commentary while Joan Rivers was still in college.
Edith Head may not be a household name these days, but in her prime she was one of the most colourful characters in Hollywood. She was dishing out caustic fashion advice years before Trinny and Susannah made careers out of it, and was confidante to the stars long before Celebrity Sleuth broadcast their measurements.
As Lucille Ball said, Edith knew the figure faults of every top star. And she never told - Edith always knew how to keep a secret."
Well, in this cozy conversation some secrets might be revealed and fashion tips freely given. As Miss Head says, "If Cinderella had had Edith Head, she would not have needed a Fairy godmother!"
What was it that first inspired you to write the piece?
I first got the idea seven years ago when I was watching a television biography. I contacted Edith's estate and they granted me permission to pursue this project. I madly read anything I could find and when I came upon Paddy Calistro's book, Edith Head's Hollywood, I decided to attempt to locate its author. I called telephone information for Santa Monica, where I thought Paddy lived, and voila, she was listed. I placed the phone call and it was kismet.
At our first meeting in Los Angeles we knew the connection was right and we agreed to collaborate. Paddy had not only written the book but had inherited 13 hours of taped interviews with Edith Head - it was truly a gift from heaven. We can honestly say that A Conversation with Edith is based upon the words and thoughts of Edith Head - the ''Edith-isms'.
"I make people into what they are not - ten years older or younger, fatter or thinner, more handsome or more ridiculous, glamorous or sexy or horrible. The camera never lies, after all, so my work is really an exercise in camouflage."
You've got a striking resemblance to Edith. Was the plan always to star in the show as well?
I literally did a double take when I watched that TV biography. My physical resemblance to Edith seemed uncanny! And what's even more bizarre, we are the same height and both born 50 years apart in October! The more I watched, the more I knew there was a great story to be told.
Having done extensive research, what was it about Edith that made her so successful?
Edith was an executive woman before there was such a thing! It was a boy's club when she started - 1923. Women in the Unites Stated had just recently got ten the vote, if you can imagine. It has been said that Edith had the instincts of a pastry chef and the authority of a factory foreman.
She herself said, "I knew I was not a creative design genius... I am a better diplomat than I am a designer...I was never going to be the world's greatest costume designer, but there was no reason I could not be the smartest and most celebrated."
She knew how to play the game better than anyone. Her concern really was to change actors into characters. Edith said, "I make people into what they are not - ten years older or younger, fatter or thinner, more handsome or more ridiculous, glamorous or sexy or horrible. The camera never lies, after all, so my work is really an exercise in camouflage."
Do you have a moment in the show that particularly touches you?
We set the play in 1981 during the making of her last film, Carl Reiner's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid starring Steve Martin. She died two weeks after the wrap of the film and the film is dedicated to her. Throughout the play we see glimpses of a woman who has outlived all her contemporaries and is wrestling with a lifetime of memories and regrets.
Is there a real difference between costume design and high fashion?
High fashion is of the moment and the best of costume design is timeless. You must remember that costumes were often completed a couple of years before the release of the film.
A perfect example are Elizabeth Taylor's gowns in the 1951 A Place in the Sun . The film was shot in 1949 and released in 1951.The silhouette was the most important aspect of any of the ensembles, therefore the costumes in the Academy Award winning film could be worn to any society event today. The woman wearing it would evoke an era classic couture and look as dramatic as Liz did when she danced with the dreamy Monty Clift!
Edith had the ability to shape each gown to a character or image. This is what made her as popular with film directors as with the glamour girls she dressed in both their private lives and screen roles.
"We act as though we believe that the more we have on the more important we are - if one pin is smart, two pins would be smarter and six would be divine."
Do you share Edith's passion for clothes and fashion?
Absolutely. Edith often quoted Mae West when she said, "Find a magic that does something for you honey and stick with it." I think that defines my sense of fashion. While in Edinburgh last summer, the Sunday Herald did a style piece that captured that philosophy.
Where do you stand on accessories – can girl ever have too many accessories?
They are called accessories, not excessories! Edith said, "We act as though we believe that the more we have on the more important we are - if one pin is smart, two pins would be smarter and six would be divine."
So what's been your most extravagant purchase?
I actually purchased some original Edith Head sketches and costumes at auction which will be on display. I am avid eBayer when it comes to Edith Head memorabilia. Personally, I love to travel and have been know to be extravagant when purchasing a bottle of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame. Champagne is my drink of choice, Edith's was Jack Daniels! Rather than a Grande Dame, Miss Head was a great dame!
Will you be wearing any of Edith's creations in the show?
I won't be wearing any of Edith's creations in the show as when she was at work she wore simple clothes never to upstage the stars she was dressing! You will, however, get to see some original Edith Head costumes as well as some iconic recreations. Did you know Miss Head designed the uniform for Pan Am and the flight attendant in Boeing Boeing is an homage to that design!
Do you have particular favourite costume of hers?
That would be like picking a favorite child! I have to admit I do love the costumes from To Catch a Thief - she had an extravagant budget and a gorgeous star, Grace Kelly - who could ask for anything more.
What's your favourite item of clothing?
I would like to think that the outfit I am wearing at any given time is my favorite.
Style has moved on from Edith's day, do you think she'd approved of the more casual approach to fashion we now have?
Edith always said, "You can be anything you want, as long as you dress for it! Good clothes are not a matter of good luck. I say sacrifice style any day for becomingness, for a look that suits your age and your chassis!"
Have you ever had a Hollywood diva moment?
I'd have to say the night my amazing London producers, Tony Field and John C. Causebrook came to see my performance in Edinburgh last summer. It was one of those magical nights in the theatre when all the ‘stars’ are aligned. Their reputation preceded them and when they introduced themselves after the show said they wanted to produce its West End premiere - it was definitely a ‘Hollywood’ moment!
Why do you think A Conversation with Edith Head is going to appeal to a gay audience?
Because Edith Head represents style, class and lots of sass! Oh, and did I mention Bette Davis?
"You can be anything you want, as long as you dress for it! Good clothes are not a matter of good luck. I say sacrifice style any day for becomingness, for a look that suits your age and your chassis!"
If you were going to be a lesbian for just one weekend, who would you want to go out on a date with?
My partner of 22 years!
What do you want audiences to take with them after having seen A Conversation with Edith Head?
The audience response has been amazing. From Tbilisi to Edinburgh to Chicago audiences have been touched by Edith's story. What they take with them after having seen the performance is truly dependent on what they bring to it.
Film buffs get immersed in hearing stories from someone who has lived through the evolution of contemporary film, older audiences remember always seeing the closing credits, ‘Gowns by Edith Head’, it evokes a bygone era and younger audiences think of the Pixar animated film The Incredibles and Edna Mode, designer to the superheroes.
The universal response is summed up by a note I received from a fan, "My friend saw the show on Saturday and adored it. He said the same as me, i.e. if someone mentions Edith Head to me now, my first reaction will be to say "Oh yes, I met her once and it was unforgetable!"
What are you most looking forward to about performing in London?
The wonderfully brilliant and stylish audiences!
And finally, what's next for you?
I am managing artistic director of the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona. We will kick-off our 38th anniversary season 17 September with the premiere of Dixie Longate in Dixies’s Tupperware Party prior to its national US tour. Audiences will see for themselves how Ms. Dixie became the #1 Tupperware seller in the world - she instructs her guests on the many alternative uses she has discovered for her plastic products!
Find out more at www.edithhead.biz.
A Conversation?With?Edith?Head, by Susan Claassen
Studio Space at the Leicester Square?Theatre (formerly The Venue)
5 Leicester Place
0844 847 2475 / www.ticketweb.com
29 July-31 August 2008
Want more? Then get Edith Head, by David Chierichetti online and save some money to put towards the book that inspired A Conversation With Edith Head, Edith Head's Hollywood, by Paddy Calistro.
Author: Stephen Beeny
Read more by this author
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Playbill News: Dixie's Tupperware Party Will Burp Its Way Across America; Tour Launches in AZ
By Kenneth Jones
24 Jul 2008
Dixie's Tupperware Party, the Off-Broadway comedy that is part interactive play and part Tupperware party, starring 2008 Drama Desk nominee Dixie Longate, will be seen on a 20-city national tour starting Sept. 16 at Tucson's Invisible Theatre.
Produced by Down South LLC and written by Kris Andersson, the show "brought Tupperware-mania to Off-Broadway."
Directed by Patrick Richwood, Dixie's Tupperware Party stars Longate "as the fast-talking Tupperware Lady, who has packed up her catalogues, and left her children in an Alabama trailer park to journey across America."
The "good ol' fashioned Tupperware Party" is filled with outrageously funny tales, heartfelt accounts, free giveaways, audience participation and the most fabulous assortment of Tupperware ever sold on a theatre stage."
The show is "loaded with the most up-to-date products available for purchase." According to production notes, "See for yourself how Ms. Longate became the No. 1 Tupperware seller in the U.S. and Canada as she educates her guests on the many alternative uses she has discovered for her plastic products!"
The show will feature costumes "designed by Miss Longate" and lighting designed by Richard Winkler.
The comedy was originally produced at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival. A more fully realized production played Off-Broadway's Ars Nova in 2007.
For more information about Dixie's Tupperware Party visit www.DixiesTupperwareParty.com.
For the uninitiated, Tupperware is the brand name for plastic storage containers that keep food fresh by providing an airtight seal. The "burping seal" is a famous aspect of Tupperware. The products were uniquely distributed via grass-roots directing-marketing "Tupperware parties" where homemakers would get demonstrations of the product and place orders.
Doug Stone's Sealed for Freshness, a comedy about Midwestern housewives at a Tupperware party, had a brief life Off-Broadway in 2007.
A partial list of the tour cities and play dates for Dixie's Tupperware Party follows:
Sept. 16-Oct. 5
DES MOINES, IA
Oct. 22-Nov. 2
WEST PALM BEACH, FL
Ruth Eckerd Hall
The King Center - Studio Theater
Jan. 7-25, 2009
FT. LAUDERDALE, FL
Feb. 3-8, 2009
March 5-15, 2009
March 24-29, 2009
Diana Wortham Theatre
March 31-April 5, 2009
The Lyric Theatre
April 14-18, 2009
The Virginia Samford Theatre
April 21-May 3, 2009
Off-Bway Play 'Dixies Tupperware Party' Launches Tour (baltimore.broadwayworld.com)
Thursday, July 24, 2008; Posted: 12:39 PM - by BWW News Desk
Dixie's Tupperware Party, the hilarious Off Broadway show starring Dixie Longate-- who recently garnered a 2008 Drama Desk Nomination, will launch a 20-city National Tour September 16th at Tucson’s Invisible Theatre. Produced by Down South LLC and written by Kris Andersson, the show brought Tupperware-mania to Off Broadway and prompted NBC’s Today Show to proclaim “Not Your Grandmother's Tupperware Party!”
Directed by Patrick Richwood, Dixie's Tupperware Party stars Dixie Longate, as the fast-talking Tupperware Lady, who has packed up her catalogues, and left her children in an Alabama trailer park to journey across America. Critics and audiences have howled with laughter as Dixie throws a good ol' fashioned Tupperware Party filled with outrageously funny tales, heartfelt accounts, FREE giveaways, audience participation and the most fabulous assortment of Tupperware ever sold on a theater stage. Loaded with the most up-to-date products available for purchase, see for yourself how Ms. Longate became the #1 Tupperware seller in the U.S. & Canada as she educates her guests on the many alternative uses she has discovered for her plastic products! Dixie’s Tupperware Party will feature costumes designed by Miss Longate and lighting designed by Richard Winkler.
Originally produced at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival, last spring, Dixie brought a more fully realized production to Off Broadway’s Ars Nova .
For more information about Dixie’s Tupperware Party including touring details log onto: www.DixiesTupperwareParty.com
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Setting the stage
A well-crafted set complements the acting
By Doug Kreutz
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 07.11.2008
Editor's note: This summer, we are taking a look at the people who make the arts a reality, from the audience to the artists behind the scenes. This week: set designer James Blair.
James Blair's work is behind the scenes. Literally. As the associate artistic director for the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, he designs sets for the theater's small stage — creating fanciful and realistic backdrops for the scenes that play out there
"It's a great profession. It lets you draw on so many different experiences," says Blair, 56, whose extensive theater experience includes acting and directing as well as set design. "In my work, you're an interior designer, you're an artist, and if you can approach it from a directing or acting standpoint, that makes it even better."
Working closely with Susan Claassen, managing artistic director of the Invisible Theatre, Blair strives to make each set a compelling — but unobtrusive — part of the production.
"Jim Blair is truly a Renaissance man. He is a multifaceted jewel," says Claassen. "We have collaborated for over a decade, and I cannot imagine the Invisible Theatre without him."
Recently, we asked Blair to step off the stage and respond to some set-centered questions.
How did you become a set designer?
"I started designing sets in high school. I had a great drama teacher, Mrs. Tyson, who really just let me go. Then I worked with a community theater that was just starting up. I designed, built and painted probably 12 sets in three years. The first set I did for the Invisible Theatre was in 1989 or 1990."
What's different about designing at the Invisible Theatre compared to other theaters?
"The way the stage sits in the space at IT is very unusual. It is at a 60-degree angle in the room instead of being square on. This means nothing is ever square or symmetrical."
It's a very small stage. What are the dimensions — and how do you design sets for such an intimate space?
"The widest part of the stage is 22 feet, then it drops to 17 feet. All of the sets, whether they are a realistic interior or a fantasy space, are all finished so that the front row, which is 3 feet away, cannot see any seams or nail holes. I probably obsess over details most people never notice."
What's the most challenging set you can recall?
"Every set has its own challenges, even the 'simple' ones. 'When Pigs Fly' is a musical review we did that needed a false proscenium, several sets of curtains and effects like an underwater scene. We had to store some of the costumes and scenery in the lobby!"
Is there a collaborative process in designing a set?
"Susan and I have a wonderful collaboration on the sets. We each approach the process from the design side, as well as a performer and a director. When we brainstorm the sets, it is often a case of finishing each other's sentences and trying to decide who thought of something first. It is the best experience you could ask for."
What are one or two of your favorite sets?
" 'Accomplice' is a mystery set in an old English mill with a waterwheel. It was one of the first I did for IT. It worked just the way it needed to. 'Shirley Valentine' went from a kitchen with a working stove in the first act to the coast of Greece in the second act."
Is there a set you'd like to get a second shot at?
"Not really. You always want more money and more time, but every set is what it is. People ask me if I am sad to tear them down at the end of a run, and I'm not. I think of them like a sand painting that you create, enjoy and then destroy."
Can a set distract from a performance?
"A set that does not serve the play is very distracting. Usually an over-produced set that shows off is distracting."
Are there some subtle little "miracles" that a set designer must perform without anyone noticing?
"Of course there are, but a magician never gives away the secrets."
Any brief words of advice for a young person who wants to become a set designer?
"Get in there and do it. Do as much as you can. Do the building, the painting. Work on the light crew. Lights can ruin or save a set. Act. Suddenly the size of the steps and the distance between the table and chair become very real."
● Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at email@example.com or at 573-4192.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008; Posted: 1:03 PM - by BWW News Desk
Arizona-based actress SUSAN CLAASSEN stars on London’s West End as legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head in “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD”. Anthony Field Associates presents this West End premiere at the Arts Club at the Arts Theatre from Tuesday, July 29 through Sunday, August 31, 2008. The intimate portrait was written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen. The press opening will be on Thursday, July 31 at 8 PM.
“A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD”, based on the book Edith Head’s Hollywood by Edith Head & Paddy Calistro, is a behind-the-scenes feast of great movie legends and delicious stories that provide an insight into Hollywood’s legendary costume designer. In her six decades of costume design, she worked on over eleven hundred films; dressed the greatest stars of Hollywood; received 35 Academy Award® nominations, and won an unprecedented eight Oscars®. Edith Head’s story is as fascinating as the history of the film industry itself, filled with humor, frustration and, above all, glamour. This diva of design helped to define glamour in the most glamorous place in the world - Hollywood!
Edith Head was a Hollywood costume designer for more than 60 years. 44 of those years 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 Ms. Head was invited to join Universal Studios. At Universal she costumed Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting” and won the first-ever Oscar® for a film without a female lead. Her eight Academy Award® celebrated her artistry in “The Heiress” (her first Oscar®), “Samson & Delilah”, “All About Eve”, “A Place in the Sun”, “Roman Holiday”, “Sabrina”, “The Facts of Life” and “The Sting”. Edith Head died in October 1981, still under contract to Universal Studios, having just completed working on the Steve Martin film, “Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid”.
Susan Claassen was inspired to write and star in “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” while watching a TV biography of Ms. Head. The petite, dark-haired actress immediately imagined herself playing Edith Head, “…a perfect fit,” as Claassen describes it. “Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion. Edith did what no woman did in the history of film. She survived the boy’s club world of Hollywood to enjoy a 60-year career, during which she worked on a staggering 1,131 films, earned 35 Oscar nominations and won eight. She stitched Dorothy Lamour into her sarong; put Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in kilts in “The Road to Bali”; created Bette Davis’ glamorous Margo Channing; made teenage girls swoon over Elizabeth Taylor’s white ballgown in “A Place in the Sun”; dressed Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious”, Grace Kelly in “To Catch A Thief”, Kim Novak in “Vertigo”, Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” and Sean Connery in “The Man Who Would Be King”. There are many myths about her but she was a discreet, tenacious personality. She knew whose hips needed clever disguising and made sure those legendary stars always looked the part. Our show gives the inside scoop on Edith and the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
“A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” premiered at the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2002 and was subsequently presented in Chicago; Key West, FLA; at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD; Hartford; San Francisco; Nantucket, and Scottsdale, as well as in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia and a ‘sold out’ engagement at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Out of the 2,000 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival only 200 were officially designated ‘Sold Out’ engagements.) Up-coming performances of “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” include an engagement on March 5-8, 2009 at The Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona. www.invisibletheatre.com
As an actress, some of Susan’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”. In addition to her work with the Invisible Theatre she has been a consultant and director for the Waterfront Playhouse and The Red Barn Theatre in Key West, Florida, and directed Steve Ross in “I WON’T DANCE” at New York’s famed Rainbow and Stars Cabaret and St. Paul's prestigious Ordway Theatre. As Managing Artistic Director of The Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, Susan has produced more than 335 productions and directed more than 50. She is the recipient of the 1985 Governor’s Award for Women Who Create; the 1993 Humanitarian Torch Award for her efforts on behalf of people living with AIDS, and a 1996 Distinguished Service Award from the State Federation for Exceptional Children for her commitment to arts education for special populations. Susan was the 1999 City of Hope “Spirit of Life” recipient (as was Edith Head in 1976), and performs as a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She was recently selected as one of Tucson Lifestyle’s 10 Most Admired Women and will be honored by The Jewish Federation in 2009 as one of Tucson’s 13 most remarkable women.
Much of the dialogue in “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” comes directly from the famed designer. When she was asked to write the authorized posthumous autobiography, Edith Head’s Hollywood, Paddy Calistro acquired more than 13 hours of recollections recorded by Edith Head – including her own snippy “Edithisms” as Ms. Head referred to her own sayings, such as: "I hate modesty, don't you?" and "Good clothes are not a matter of good luck." The show also features insights from Hollywood insiders who knew Ms. Head best: costume designer Bob Mackie, who once worked as Ms. 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 TV’s “House Party”, who brought Edith Head into the homes of America. Edith would stroll through the studio audience with Linkletter, offering brutally critical fashion, diet and grooming advice - all this half a century before the current mania for on-screen makeovers. "Go on a diet!" she would instruct an overweight woman, while instantly making her look ten pounds slimmer by pulling her shirt out of her trousers, whipping a belt around her middle and swapping her cheap gold jewelry for her own signature pearls. Young fans of Pixar’s “The Incredibles” will recognized the superhero outfitter Edna Mode as an affectionate tribute to the legendary Hollywood costume designer.
“A CONVERSATIONWITH EDITH HEAD” is produced by Anthony Field Associates through special arrangement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
Co-author Paddy Calistro is one of the leading authorities on the life and work of Edith Head and is the co-author of Edith Head's posthumous autobiography, Edith Head’s Hollywood. She was selected as Ms. Head’s official biographer based on her experience as a fashion journalist. A former fashion and beauty writer for the Los Angeles Times, Paddy wrote the weekly “Looks” column in the LA Times Magazine for four years. She was the West Coast reporter for Allure and has written for Glamour, Mademoiselle, House Beautiful, Elle, Four Seasons Magazine, Fitness and Los Angeles Magazine. For more than a decade Paddy was the lead interior design writer for LA Magazine, and was also the editor of American Style, a bilingual fashion magazine sold in Mexico and South America. The co-founder of Angel City Press, an independent book publishing company based in Santa Monica, she currently serves as its Publisher and Editor-in-chief.
For additional information about “A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD” go to www.edithhead.biz.