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Edith Head

AKA Edith Claire Posener

Born: 28-Oct-1897
Birthplace: San Bernadino, CA
Died: 24-Oct-1981
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - Bone
Remains: Buried, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, CA

Gender: Female
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Designer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Hollywood costume designer

For more than fifty years, Edith Head designed the wardrobes of Hollywood stars, defining cinema style through the Golden Era and into the early 1980s. She won eight Academy Awards, designing for Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah, Bette Davis in All About Eve, Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Sabrina, Lucille Ball in The Facts of Life, and Eileen Brennan in The Sting. Her familiar screen credit, "Gowns by Edith Head", graced such classics as Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. She won more Oscars than any other woman, was Oscar-nominated a remarkable thirty-five times -- and perhaps even more remarkably, had no formal training for her career.

She worked as a high school teacher, and when the school's principal asked her to also teach art classes she took night classes to learn how to draw, and found she had an aptitude for shapes, figures, and outfits. When the Famous Players-Lasky Studios listed an opening for a sketch artist she applied for the job, fudging her portfolio with some drawings borrowed from other art students. She began her career as an assistant on Wings starring Clara Bow, which won the first Oscar for Best Picture, in 1928. Famous Players-Lasky evolved into Paramount Pictures, and after about ten years as an assistant Head was promoted to designer, beginning with She Done Him Wrong starring Mae West. Five years later, in 1938, she became the studio's top designer -- and the first woman to hold that title in Hollywood. She left Paramount in 1967, and finished her career at Universal Studios.

Edith Head became a celebrity in her own right, known for a rather severe flat-top hairdo, oversized sunglasses, and a reluctance to smile when she knew she was on camera. She was a frequent guest on Art Linkletter's House Party, and played herself in several films and a memorable episode of Columbo. She also designed the uniforms that were worn for decades by Paramount security guards on the lot. She died two weeks after finishing her last film, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and left her estate to charity.

She rarely spoke of her childhood. Her parents had never married, and she grew up with her mother and stepfather in an isolated part of Nevada. She later said her best friends as a young girl were dogs, cats, and donkeys. She was Jewish by heredity, but was raised Catholic. Her first husband, Charles Head, was a traveling salesman with a drinking problem, and she eventually divorced him. She later married Wiard Ihnen, a well-respected art director for motion pictures, and they remained together until his death. Ihnen's work included Duck Soup starring the Marx Brothers and Jane Eyre with Joan Fontaine. He won Oscars for Wilson starring Alexander Knox and Blood on the Sun starring James Cagney.

Father: Max Posener (mining engineer, b. 1876)
Mother: Anna E. Levy (b. 1874)
Father: Frank Spare (stepfather, m. 1901)
Husband: Charles Head (traveling salesman, m. 1923, div. 1938)
Husband: Wiard Ihnen (art director, m. 1949, d. 1979)

    High School: Los Angeles High School, Los Angeles, CA (1914)
    University: BA French, University of California at Berkeley (1918)
    University: MA Romance Languages, Stanford University (1920)
    Teacher: Spanish and English, The Bishop's School, La Jolla, CA (1920-21)
    Teacher: French and Art, Hollywood School For Girls (1921-23)
    University: Otis Art Institute (night classes)
    University: Chouinard School of Art (night classes)

    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1950 (Black & White) for The Heiress
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1951 (Black & White) for All About Eve
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1951 (Color) for Samson and Delilah
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1952 (Black & White) for A Place in the Sun
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1954 (Black & White) for Roman Holiday
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1955 (Black & White) for Sabrina
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1961 (Black & White) for The Facts of Life
    Oscar for Best Costume Design 1973 for The Sting
    Hollywood Walk of Fame 6504 Hollywood Blvd (motion pictures)
    Paramount Pictures Head of Costume Design Dept. (1938-67)
    Universal Studios Head of Costume Design Dept. (1967-81)
    German Ancestry Paternal
    Jewish Ancestry

    The Oscar (4-Mar-1966) · Herself
    Lucy Gallant (20-Oct-1955) · Herself

Author of books:
The Dress Doctor (1959, with Joan Kesner Ardmore)
How to Dress for Success (1967)
Edith Headís Hollywood (1983, with Paddy Calistro)

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, 37 cents, depicting Ms Head at work, issued 25-Feb-2003

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