October 28th: Edith Head!

Today’s Google Doodle thrills me completely: they’ve honored famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, born on this day in 1897, and they’ve done it in a way that truly recognizes her professional impact.

The Google Doodle celebrating Edith Head, posted on October 28, 2013.

The Google Doodle celebrating Edith Head, posted on October 28, 2013.

The content of the Doodle itself makes clear why Head is the kind of artist and innovator that the Doodles program was designed for. Her illustrious career in costume design lasted decades and she left an imprint on dozens of the most famous films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In this Doodle alone, based on Head’s original sketches, I spot her work on Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, on Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas (absolutely one of my favorite movies — and the costumes are stunning), on Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl, on Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, on Tippi Hedren in The Birds, and on Jo Van Fleet for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. I have to say, though, that I would have loved to see the designs she made for Audrey Hepburn’s roles in Sabrina and Roman Holiday.

That’s about enough gushing about her gorgeous work and the great job the Doodle does of capturing it — let’s learn more about this Hollywood legend. Head actually started her career as a teacher, but found herself responsible for teaching art classes as well. She pursued some additional training in drawing, and was soon working in the Paramount costume department. Her work spoke for itself, making her incredibly popular among actresses, even those who did not work with Paramount. Head also became a household name, unusual for costume designers who typically stayed “behind the scenes.” Head stayed with Paramount until 1967, when she went to Universal. In addition to those highlighted in the Doodle, Head designed costumes for Mae West, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, and more. She was known for restrained, simple designs, and her own signature look of bangs and round, dark glasses.

Edith Head, photographed by the Los Angeles Times in 1976.

Edith Head, photographed by the Los Angeles Times in 1976.

She was also a somewhat controversial figure in the industry. At the time, it was not unusual for the head of a department, like costuming at a Hollywood studio, to take credit for all of the work created by the department. Specifically, Head has been accused of taking credit for Hubert de Givenchy’s work on Sabrina, for which Head took home an Oscar.

Head was nominated for 35 Academy Awards for Best Costume design, and won 8 of those (for The Heiress, Samson and Delilah, All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, The Facts of Life, and The Sting). This makes her the record holder for the most Academy Awards won by a woman. In addition to the Doodle, Head has been honored with a commemorative stamp by the USPS. She passed away on October 24, 1981.

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