There aren’t many behind-the-scenes Hollywood figures worthy of a one-person show, but Edith Head wasn’t just anyone. She was synonymous with costume design for the movies, with eight Oscars, 35 nominations, and over a thousand films to her credit. She became a TV personality and author who was recognized by the public, famous for her work with everyone from Clara Bow to Grace Kelly. (She even inspired a character named Edna Mode in the Pixar animated film The Incredibles.) Now actress Susan Classen is bringing her to life onstage in a play called A Conversation with Edith Head, which opens at the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles this Friday, October 28, and runs through November 13. Glancing at the actress in character it’s hard to believe it isn’t Edith Head herself.
Classen co-authored the play with Paddy Calistro, a former fashion journalist who interviewed Head for the—
—designer’s posthumously published autobiography, Edith Head’s Hollywood. She had thirteen hours of taped interviews to draw on for this play, which has been performed around the world and sold out its engagement at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the launchpad for many successful shows. In real life, Classen is Managing Artistic Director of The Invisible Theater in Tucson, Arizona, while Calistro operates Angel City Press, a savvy Los Angeles publishing house.
Head was a Character with a capital C, unafraid to blow her own horn yet scrupulous in protecting her public image. One of her more famous quotes: “I hate modesty, don’t you?” Because of Calistro’s wealth of interview material, much of the dialogue in this play consists of direct quotes from the designer.
I’m fond of Paddy and her Angel City Press, which is responsible for many wonderful books about Los Angeles and the movie world (the latest being Darrell A. Rooney and Mark Vieira’s beautiful Harlow in Hollywood), which is why I’m happy to promote this play. I wish it a long life here and hope it travels to other cities around the country. After all, Edith Head wasn’t just a Hollywood legend: she was a household name.