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Edith Head

July 2, 2011

There is no name more synonymous with Old Hollywood fashion or more integral to its glamour than Edith Head.

Once quoted as saying, "If it's a Paramount film, I've probably designed it," Edith Head (born Edith Claire Posener) didn't set out for a career in Hollywood costume design. The California native first earned a BA from Berkeley and an MA from Stanford and started her professional career as a language teacher at the Hollywood School for Girls in 1932.

She was hired by Paramount Pictures designer Howard Greer in the early 1930s and rose through the ranks to become head designer by 1938. She worked with the studio for 44 years. During her tenure her work earned 34 Oscar nominations and eight Academy Awards, garnering her the dual distinctions of being the most honored costume designer and the most honored woman in Academy history.

Her Oscars were awarded for 1949's The Heiress and Samson and Delilah; All About Eve (1950); A Place in the Sun (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Facts of Life (1960) and The Sting (1973). But she cited her gold gown for Grace Kelly in 1955's To Catch A Thief as her favorite assignment ever.

In her last film, 1982's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which starred Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, and Carl Reiner (who also directed), Head was tasked with matching the wardrobes of modern actors to the '40s and '50s attire the film parodied.

Ms. Head continues to influence today's popular culture. In 2003, a photograph of Head working on a dress design appeared on a U.S. 37-cent commemorative postage stamp, celebrating American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes.

In 2002, "Me and Edith Head," a short story about a girl whose dream of being an actress in the school play is quelled when she's assigned as costume designer was nominated for a Best Short Story Eisner Award. The story, penned by Sara Ryan and drawn by Steve Lieber, quoted one of the many books Head authored, 1967's How to Dress for Success.

And, of course, last but not least, the wildly popular Edna Mode of Pixar's Incredibles fame was modeled on the ubiquitous and heralded Edith Head.

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