|SUSAN CLAASSEN, managing artistic director of the Invisible Theatre, was named Best Actress by Phoenix New Times for her performance in A Conversation with Edith Head|
|Edith Head was a fashion legend in her own time|
Happy May Day!
In the entertainment industry, the key to success lies in knowing how to protect yourself. The subject of my blog today, and the subject SHE celebrates, both know/knew how to do that in spades. Today, I celebrate TWO extraordinary women.
My introduction to Susan Claassen first came through KT Sullivan. KT had performed at the Invisible Theatre and suggested I contact Susan. We chatted a few times over the phone and last year I was lucky enough to be among the packed house at the National Arts Club here in New York for her one woman celebration of Edith Head. Leaving that night, I felt that I had spent an evening WITH Edith Head.
Susan and I sat down this AM to discuss the journey that has gotten her to this point and where she goes from here.
My first question for Susan comes from Tommy Tune.
|Susan as Edith|
How does Susan begin her day? With coffee! She hugs her partner, first of all, and says, "I love you. Did you sleep well?" THEN, she has her coffee.
Susan has been managing artistic director of Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona for thirty nine years.Thirteen years ago, Susan came up with the idea of doing a play about Edith Head.
That came about simply by watching the Biography Channel.
As a director and primarily as an artistic director, Susan had put shows together for other people. She has created and directed a lot of cabaret shows.She also has appeared in one person scripted shows. Watching the Biography Channel, a biography of Edith Head came on. Susan thought that she looked a little bit like Edith Head. No one had ever told her that she looked like Edith Head prior to her doing the show. Susan had always been aware of Edith Head. She was of the age that she had heard about Edith Head all of her life, but she never really knew her story. As Susan watched, she realized it was an amazing story. Edith called herself an executive woman before there was such a thing.
Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF). She held a staggering resume at Paramount for 43 years before moving to Universal Pictures. She has created attire for celebrated films, such as Funny Face.
Susan immediately contacted MPTF to get right of likeness and right of publicity.She desired to do everything in the proper way.Susan started researching to see what books she had. There was The Dress Doctor and How to Dress for Success. Then there was this book called Edith Head's Hollywood. This book was published posthumously. This was an autobiography written with Paddy Calistro. The book was long out of print, the publisher was long gone, but Susan decided to search for Paddy in the Los Angeles area where the book said she resided and owned Angel City Press.
Susan called "information" and found her. Susan called Paddy and said, "Hello,My name is Susan Claassen and I am the artistic director of an intimate theatre in Tucson, Arizona and I am very interested on doing a theatrical piece on Edith Head. Are you the Paddy Calistro who wrote Edith Head's Hollywood?" Susan could hear this reticence in her voice. Paddy answered, "Yeesss...." Susan offered to fly over to discuss this. Susan flew over and they were like two magnets.
They chose to collaborate and they became best friends. Through Paddy, Susan met her brother, who passed away a few years ago. He programmed the LA County Film Series and was very connected in the film community.
Paddy's publishing house, Angel City Press does a lot of books on Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. They went to the Academy where the Margaret Herrick Library is housed. Edith had left her papers to the Academy. It's in Beverly Hills and is the Academy's library. Anyone can go and peruse papers that have been donated from film and literally everything else. In addition to her papers, Edith left her sketches to the Academy. Paddy and Susan researched for about six months before they even did the first reading of the piece.
|Susan as Edith!|
It was well received and Paddy had done work with the LA Times and reached out to them. Paddy told Susan that didn't mean that they would do anything. They requested high res photo images which Susan sent. Once again, Paddy told Susan that didn't mean anything would be done. THEN, the calls started coming in...at four in the morning. Susan's pals in New York were calling and asking, "How the hell did you get this kind of coverage in the Times with a big picture?" Immediately, Susan got a call from the Chicago Historical Society in the costume guild saying, "Do you tour?" Like any good actor, the answer is always, "Yes! Of course!!" She spoke with Jim Blair, her technical director, and said, "We need to devise a touring set." That was the birth of A Conversation with Edith Head. They realized when they went to Chicago that they could set the show anywhere.
|Edith Head sketch for Joan Crawford|
|This sketch, signed by Head, is for a costume to be worn by Jeanmaire in Anything Goes (1956).|
People, however, desire to believe. They want to remember a film they saw or a person they saw or a movie palace they went to or when they met Edith, because she was so accessible, or when they went on the Universal Studios tour and Edith would have been the biggest celebrity they met. It is an incredible joy for Susan to be able to keep Edith's legacy alive.
Renate of Burbank. She is Mr. Mackie's wig designer. She has done all the Cher and Carol Burnett wigs in the heyday. The famous House of Westmore, Mike and McKenzie Westmore, McKenzie is probably best known for Faceoff, and Mike is an Academy Award winner for Mask. The first time they came to see the show, Susan got the "back story" that Mike's office was next to Edith's at Universal. His wife, Marion (McKenzie's mom), was a model for Edith. Mike saw her in a wedding dress, fell in love, and they have been married ever since. They have become dear friends of Susan's and huge fans. They have seen the show three or four times. Tippi Hedren has been to the show three times. Elke Sommer, Sally Kirkland, people who worked with Edith have all been to the show.
There have been many iconic people attending including contract players at Universal.
Artists know that when they can impact and pass something on to a new generation, it is a wonderful thing to be able to do.
When asked what her favorite part of the show, Susan says she really does love every part of it. What she thinks is the one thing that most people don't realize about Edith, because her exterior has a fierceness about it, is that she was very funny. She had a great sense of humor. Underneath it all, a great vulnerability. When she questions whether the costume designer is really important at the end of the show, that's actually transcribed from something she said. It's an amazing moment in the show. To think that someone so successful and iconic, underneath it all, like ALL of us, has that same vulnerability.
It's all speculation, of course, but, first of all, Susan feels, as do I, that Edith would be thrilled with this presentation. It was very important to her that her persona would live on. She had no children. She defined herself by her work. A Conversation with Edith Head presents a full picture.
She couldn't show vulnerability for the sixty years she worked in the business.
|with Tippi Hedron|
Paramount did not renew her contract in 1967 when Gulf+Western took over. The Studio System was changing.Edith, threw her friendships with Alfred Hitchcock and Lew Wasserman, maneuvered her way to Universal. She accepted a big salary cut. She did what they desired her to do. She was an enormous team player. She did
Susan leaves on Tuesday for Asheville, North Carolina. She will be doing a month long run at North Carolina Stage. She will be doing twenty performances there. Of course, "Edith" will be talking about Ava Gardner, who Edith dressed, a North Carolina native.
"Edith" will be making an upcoming appearance on the Red Carpet at the La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival July 24th-26th doing commentary. Edith was doing this LONG before Joan Rivers. Edith started the commentary.
THEN, it's off to the Decorative Arts Center in Lancaster, Ohio. Paramount has restored forty original Edith Head costumes. The archivist at Paramount, Randall Thropp, is curating an exhibit there of the costumes. Susan will be going in and introing two films, The Lady Eve, which is a fabulous film starring Barbra Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Edith was really instrumental in redesigning Stanwyck's look. The other film is To Catch a Thief, which is one of the most gorgeous films ever. There are fabulous costumes, all Edith, no Givanchy. That will be a full weekend. Edith will be taking people on tour with Randall, giving the back story on the costumes. She has done this type of event before.
A Conversation with Edith Head and subsequent appearances as Edith Head has far exceeded wildest
In between running a theatre, Susan has toured. She would like to do a lot more. When she did National Arts Club here in NY, where I saw her, this show had never played New York before! She's played London! She played London before she played Los Angeles. Since then, she has done three runs in Los Angeles.
It was great to do the National Arts Club. It was packed. According to Susan, there were about thirty people there who knew Susan and had a personal investment in her. The bulk of that audience, Susan had no idea who they were! To get a reaction like she got in a very crowded room was tremendous. It took her eight years of touring before she took it to Los Angeles. She desired to make sure the venue was just right. These are the things that are really important to Susan. The producing entity must be correct and the venue must be right. That paid off. She has had three successful runs in Los Angeles. First at the El Portal in North Hollywood. She has played the Odyssey Theatre on the West Side. She has also played the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at The Pasadena Playhouse. That was lovely to do because Carol Burnett named that theatre upstairs in memory of her daughter. Carrie Hamilton died from
It was nice to play that theatre.
Why does Susan perform?
It's something in her DNA that provides her great joy. She cannot imagine herself doing any other profession.
WE all are the better for it. I hope all producers who see this will join me in working to bring this show to New York! It's time!
Thank you Susan Claassen AND Edith Head for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
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Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!
Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY