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Theatre Review (LA): A Conversation With Edith Head at the Odyssey Theatre

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Nine years ago, actress Susan Claassen was watching a biography about the famed costume designer Edith Head when she realized her physical resemblance to the designer was uncanny. After some research she realized that there had never been any sort of theatrical treatment of Edith Head. She contacted the Motion Picture and Television Fund that managed Head’s estate and got permission to pursue the project. Next Ms. Claassen contacted Paddy Calistro, whose book Edith Head’s Hollywood is considered a prime source for all things Head, and together they embarked on what was to become a fascinating study of the iconic designer. Claassen interviewed many people who had dealings with Ms. Head and wrote, in conjunction with Calistro, a script based on Edith Head’s actual words and thoughts – her “Edithisms.”

The audience is greeted at the door by “Miss Head’s Host” as portrayed by Stuart Moulton, who collects questions to be answered by Head during the course of the evening. His pose is that of a devoted fan who has seen every one of her movies. (Edith Head had won a total of eight Oscars, more than anyone else, and designed clothes for Barbara Stanwyck, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Dorothy Lamarr to name but a few.)

The set, beautifully designed by James Blair and Ms. Claassen, represents her design studio, with walls covered with her sketches and pictures of the stars she dressed. Also on the set are reproductions of several of her most famous designs, including a dress worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve and one worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County. The play covers both her years at Paramount and her time at Universal.

Ms. Claassen interacted with the audience, some of whom she knew, and exchanged bits of history, gossip, and wisdom with those present. This was a unique event, followed by a birthday party for Ms. Head with designer cookies and cakes. I had always wanted to know more about Edith Head ever since I took the Universal City Tour, which went past her studio. This evening was a pleasant way to stitch it all together. A Conversation with Edith Head will play at the Odyssey Theatre until November 13.

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