EDITH HEAD by David Chierichetti


The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer
Email this review


A former costumer who knew the doyenne designer late in her career pens an “official” bio that corrects some of her autobiographical fancies.

Born in 1897 (she said 1907), Edith Head was a slightly cross-eyed, noticeably strong-willed little lady given to occasional prevarication and, at odd times, pinching undeserved acclaim. With her trademark horn-rimmed shades and false bangs, she was the best-known Hollywood costume designer from the days when Clara Bow wore ankle socks with high heels through the zenith of the studio system until her last assignments designing for Miss Piggy and dressing Steve Martin in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Through the years, she had only two facelifts and only two husbands (self-indulgent Mr. Head and devoted art director Bill Ihnen). As drawn by Chierichetti, her life seems a bit dreary, especially considering the divas and directors with whom she worked. The author describes costumes and explains how fabric, color, and line were marshaled to camouflage the physical flaws of screen goddesses. Dorothy Lamour “had round shoulders and massive buttocks and thighs”; Barbara Stanwyck’s “waist was long and her buttocks flat until they jutted out like a shelf”; and Bette Davis “had several serious problems: bowed legs, very round shoulders, and a long and broad neck. Worst of all were her breasts, which hung almost to her waist.” Also featured: Mae West, Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and a large supporting cast. The journeyman text, basted together with movie titles and appliquéd with bust pads, decks out the life of a woman, skilled at studio politics, who craved credits. Head won eight Academy Awards, and her respectful biographer insists that she really could design and draw well. Nevertheless, he depicts a bleak life.

Appealing mostly to film buffs—but certainly useful for drag queens. (8 pp. color illustrations, not seen, b&w illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: March 7th, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-019428-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2002


NonfictionNOBODY'S GIRL FRIDAY by J.E. Smyth
by J.E. Smyth