Quick, who holds the record for the most feature film Academy Awards won by a woman? If you said “Edith Head,” congratulations: You’re either an Academy Awards trivia buff or a connoisseur of Hollywood costume design. Head was the proudly eccentric doyenne of Hollywood costumes from 1950 (when she won her first Oscar for The Heiress) to 1982 (her last credited film was Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid). She is also the subject of Susan Claassen’s show, A Conversation with Edith Head, which comes to Center Stage Theater this weekend. Claassen is the managing artistic director of the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, but for the last 10 years, she has received increasing recognition as the stage incarnation of Edith Head, a role she originated and one that still confounds many people. “Edith Head died in 1981, but she’s still one of those figures that people don’t completely know is dead,” said Claassen. “Although I never get confused as to who I am, there have been moments when other people think that I am actually Edith Head.”
The project began innocently; Claassen was watching an episode of A&E’s Biography and noticed that she bore a marked physical resemblance to Head. “I suddenly had the realization that I looked like her, and that got me thinking about how great a story she has. She was a successful woman and a creative force at a time when all the big Hollywood executives were male” said Claassen. “I was fascinated by the degree to which she was able to subordinate her own ego to the work and to the demands of each director’s individual style. She was a chameleon, and perhaps a better diplomat than she was a designer.” Indeed, a substantial aspect of Head’s fame stemmed from her ability to keep a secret, a quality much valued by all the stars she dressed. “Lucille Ball said, ‘Edith knew all our secrets, but she never told anyone,’” said Claassen. But that’s all over now, as the show finds Claassen as Head finally telling all — as well as taking questions from the audience.
A Conversation with Edith Head opens at Center Stage Theater on Friday, November 2, and runs through Sunday, November 4. Call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org for tickets and info.