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Edith Head is richly illustrated with more than 150 images, including family snapshots, sketches, and studio portraits of the stars and roles she helped to create. With a full-color photo insert, this informative, thorough, and important biography is also engaging and entertaining, and will appeal to designers, scholars, and film buffs alike.
"I didn't have what you would call an artistic or cultural background. We lived in the desert and we had burros and jackrabbits and things like that."
With those two sentences, Head dismissed her whole childhood the first time I interviewed her. Throughout her life, Head rarely revealed any details of her birth or childhood, though on a small table in her dressing room she kept studio portraits of both her parents. Jane Kesner Ardmore, who cowrote Head's autobiography The Dress Doctor, recalled, "Edith was strictly today and tomorrow. She didn't like thinking about yesterday. At first I insisted that she tell me something about her childhood, and she insisted she couldn't remember anything. So I said, 'At our next meeting, I want you to bring along all of your childhood photos.' Edith said she grew up in Mexico and they never took any. I said, 'I've lived in Mexico too, and I've seen peasants carry their children for miles to have them photographed.' So at the next meeting she came with a whole suitcase full of photos. She showed me a picture of one man and said, 'That was my father.' Then she showed me a picture of another man and said that one was her father. I told her they were obviously two different men. She finally admitted that the second man was her stepfather. She found it painful to admit that her mother remarried."
Edith Head was born Edith Claire Posener on October 28, 1897, in San Bernardino, California. Her biological father, Max Posener, was a naturalized American citizen who had come to the United States from Prussia in 1876, at the age of eighteen. Her mother was Anna E. Levy, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1874, to an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother. There is nothing to document how Max and Anna met, or if they moved to California together, or met after arriving there. Together they traveled around Southern California and lived in various cities. Shortly before Edith's birth, Max took out a $1,500 promissory note from the San Bernardino National Bank to set up a haberdashery on Third Street. It failed within a year, and the bank sued. Max's stock and fixtures were sold for a fraction of their worth, and he left town. The 1900 census found Max living in an El Paso boardinghouse and working as a merchant of millinery goods. He said he had been married for five years and listed "Annie" and Edith as fellow boarders. It is the last record of the three living together.
In The Dress Doctor, Edith makes only one mention of Max Posener, referring to a visit she paid him in El Paso after her mother had remarried, and describing him as a "slender man, with brown hair, thinking eyes and a moustache. He was a fine Latin scholar, my father, a man who read a great deal." Posener stayed in her life, however, as people at Paramount remembered him visiting her there when he was elderly. Edith's maid Myrtle City later described him as looking like "a little Jewish peddler man."
Was Anna Levy ever married to Max Posener? There is no record of a marriage or a subsequent divorce. In 1901, in San Bernardino, Levy married Frank Spare, a mining engineer born in Pennsylvania in 1856. At the time of their marriage, Levy said she had not been married before and had no children, though her daughter, Edith, was three years old at the time. The family moved around often as Spare's mining jobs changed locations. The only town Head remembered well enough to name was Searchlight, Nevada. Jane Ardmore remembered seeing a photo of Edith, perhaps five or six years old, sitting alone on the porch of Spare's cottage in Searchlight, without another person or even any vegetation to be seen for miles around.
Frank and Anna Spare passed Edith off as their mutual child, and since Spare was a Catholic, Edith became one too, or at least she pretended she was. I wondered later if she ever officially converted herself to Catholicism after an exchange one night when she was joking about the fact that she and her second husband, Bill Ihnen, were "living in sin," since they had had a civil wedding and were never remarried in any church. It was the only time I ever saw Bill come close to losing his temper with Edith. He said, "I've told you before, Edith. Let's go see the priest and find out what I have to do and we'll get married again." She nervously jested, "Oh, I think it's much more fun to live in sin," and quickly changed the subject.
Maybe having to hide the fact that Spare was not her real father and that she was Jewish started Edith on a lifelong pattern of lying. Of course, dissembling would often be necessary at the studio, to be diplomatic; there were times when telling somebody they would look great in a costume (when obviously they wouldn't) was unavoidable. However, Edith's designing colleague Natalie Visart commented, "Edith lied when the truth would have served her better." These lies gave her the confidence that she was in control of the situation. This would become the aspect of her personality, even more than her blazing ambition, which turned people against her.
Frank Spare's mining activities seemed to bring him a measure of affluence, for he took his wife and daughter to Chicago when Edith was about five and to New York when Edith was eight. In New York she was fitted with glasses for the first time. Gradually his assignments were more and more often south of the border (something she could not bring herself to admit in The Dress Doctor, though she talked of visiting Juarez as a tourist). Shortly before her death, she asked me to be her biographer, and I gently reminded Edith that I would have to know more about her childhood ...Edith Head
Posted November 20, 2006
This book was one the worst written pieces of non fiction I've ever read. The author know nothing about form or style. It was disjointed, rambling and very disorganized. He would put parts of sentences in parentheses instead of using a semicolon, he would add stupid comments instead of sticking to the story and didn't seem to understand the one thought per paragraph idea. Halfway through the book, I was so disgusted, I only skimmed the book and looked at the pictures. I stopped counting after 12 the references to the 'Dress Doctor' , which was another book written about Ms. Head. The more I read of this drivel, I wished I had purchased the 'Dress Doctor' instead.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 31, 2000
Edith Head created so many beautiful wardrobes for earlier movies and I'm glad that that there's finally a book to chronicle some of the best.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2010
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