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IMG_3111Susan Claassen WAS Edith Head! – down to the owlish specs, thick bangs and tailored suits! I was astonished by Claassen’s performance in “A Conversation with Edith Head: An Evening of Wit, Wisdom and a Whisper of Gossip!” at the Working Wardrobes offices in Costa Mesa. How appropriate that Claassen’s performances would benefit Working Wardrobes’ mission to dress men and women overcoming difficulties to help them enter the work force with dignity and respect. Working Wardrobes’ Founder/CEO Jerri Rosen was delighted!

Did you know Miss Head received 35 Academy Award nominations for Costume Design in her storied 58-year career and won a record-setting eight Oscars? She mentioned it more than once in her one-women show, saying, “There’s nothing like a row of Oscars for putting the fear of God into an actress who thinks she knows everything about dress designing” or when asked who the favorite men in her life were, she quipped, “All eight of my Oscars!”

Head dressed nearly every major star in the industry but did have one regret. “I never dressed Marilyn Monroe,” she said. “Elizabeth Taylor was the most beautiful woman I ever dressed, Claudette Colbert the most difficult and Barbara Stanwyck the most challenging (‘she had a long waist and low derrier’),” she stated. She made Kim Novak’s gray suit in Vertigo a fashion statement and was Bette Davis’s favorite costume designer, making her shine in All About Eve, for which Head won an Oscar. Her work in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard dressing Gloria Swanson as the infamous Norma Desmond was a high point for Head. “However,” she said, “I wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar!” Her work with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief was memorable she said because Kelly met Prince Rainier on the set. Head did say she regretted that not one of her Oscars was with Kelly. She dressed Katharine Hepburn (see sketch) and John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn, Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity (see sketch) and, of course, there are the two fabulous Audrey Hepburn films for which she won Oscars – Roman Holiday and Sabrina. Perhaps surprisingly, she confided, “I would rather work with men.” She dressed Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in all their road show films and Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting, for which she won her eighth Oscar. The list of film stars and the stories go on and on. She had an amazing life!

Claassen got the idea of recreating Head’s life on stage after watching a television biography of her, “and I literally did a double take,” she said. “The physical resemblance was uncanny.” Collaborating with Paddy Calistro, who wrote the book, “Edith Head’s Hollywood,” brought the play to life, much to the joy of many audiences. The play has played coast to coast and had runs in the Republic of Georgia, Edinburgh and London.

Edith Head fan and accomplished designer, choreographer and director Stuart Moulton welcomed everyone and set up the play, relaying that it took place in 1981 with Head working on her last film, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. She died two weeks after completing her work on the film. The lowly sketch artist for Cecil B. DeMille in 1923 had played her part to the very end.

Please take note that Claassen as Edith Head is returning to Working Wardrobes to host a luncheon and fashion show, for which she will moderate the fashions and PBS SoCal personality Ed Arnold will serve as master of ceremonies.The event will be held at the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel on Friday, March 15, 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m. Email Charla Batey at charlab@workingwardrobes.org or call her at 714-210-2460 for tickets. You don’t want to miss it!