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American Film (1978) - Dialogue on Film: Edith Head




Dialogue on Film: Edith Head

An inquiry into the arts and crafts of filmmaking through interview seminars between Fellows and prominent film-makers held at Grey stone, under the auspices of The American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Film Studies. This educational series is directed by James Powers.

What do we recall from a movie long after we've seen it? Unless we're rabid students of cinema, most of us soon forget the astute directing, the crisp editing, the crackling dialogue, even the memorable acting. What we're likely to retain years afterward is an image of a particular moment — Cary Grant impeccably framed in a door-way, Mae West in erotic locomotion across a room, Audrey Hepburn angelically poised, Paul Newman brimming with warmth.

For more than fifty years, the entire modern period of movies, the redoubtable Edith Head has seen to it that we retain those images. Edith Head is the doyenne of Hollywood costume designers: She has worked on more than a thousand films — everything from She Done Him Wrong to The Big Fix. (Her next major project is Alfred Hitchcock's tentatively titled The Short Night, and she has just completed work for a television remake of Little Women.) She has collaborated with virtually every major director — from Cecil B. DeMille to George Roy Hill. She has dressed almost every important screen star — man, woman, child, and, as Head is quick to note, animal.

But creating clothes to adorn stars has never been Head's primary task. She has sought, as she sees it, to create character through clothes — and to evoke in our minds those memorable moments when star and character became one.

When we recall Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress or Bette Davis in All About Eve or Dorothy Lamour in Road to Morocco or Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun or Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief or even Robert Redford in The Sting, we recall them — as characters and as stars — in the clothes Edith Head designed for them. We could no more imagine, for example, Dorothy Lamour without a sarong than we could imagine Cary Grant wearing a pair of jeans.

Edith Head has tried to dress characters as they would dress themselves — allowing, of course, for the peculiarities of directors and producers and the times. In the late thirties, for example, the movies delighted in a parade of fashion; tuxedos and exquisite gowns filled the screen; period movies were a showcase of imaginative, if not always accurate, design. Edith Head recalls that golden age with a special fondness and looks askance at the present decline in costume designing. In witty moments, she wonders if several pairs of jeans wouldn't do for most of the movies that are made today.

Her career, of course, goes farther back than the golden age; it even goes farther back than sound. She started at Paramount in 1923 — she was still a teenager — as a sketch artist for the designer Howard Greer. She was soon designing clothes for minor characters in films, graduated to horse operas and other B-pictures, and rose to become the studio's head designer. But it was not until The Lady Eve, in 1941, that she became a formidable name in Hollywood and beyond. Head's designs for Barbara Stanwyck, using a Spanish motif, caused something of a sensation. The designs flattered Stanwyck, and Spanish styles swept the country.

Soon Edith Head was being loaned out regularly to the other major studios, and "Costumes Designed by Edith Head" became a familiar rubric in picture after picture. But for forty-four years, until 1967, her home was Paramount, and there she designed for such stars as Ingrid Bergman, Gloria Swanson, Ginger Rogers, Veronica Lake, and Shirley MacLaine. When the studio was sold in 1967, Edith Head moved over to Universal, and there presides as she has for more than half a century.

In the Dialogue, Edith Head talks with a light wit about her Oscar films, the changes over the decades in costume designing, her work with Alfred Hitchcock, how clothes reveal character, and the one star she regrets never having designed for.

Question: You're apparently as busy as ever, but the great days of costume design in the movies seem to have passed. What brought about the change?

Edith Head: Today, designers don't have the time or the budgets they once had. In the past, the designer was much more important because everything for a film was made. If the star had to wear an old, ragged apron, we made it because she was a star. But today, partly because so many films are contemporary, instead of period, we buy blue jeans, sweaters, skirts. For a certain film, a chorus of fifty boys and girls had to have blue jeans. The designer was told to buy them, but she said, "But I don't ever buy clothes. I always design and make them." But the studio made her buy them. Do you know what she did? She ripped every one apart and had them all sewn together again. That's an example of the way it used to be in the good old days. Then, every designer in Hollywood was working, but today a lot of them are unemployed.

Question: What sort of budget did you have in the past?

Head: In the earlier days, I had no real budgets. I never knew what I had to spend. The designer would make a dress, and if the actress didn't like it, the designer would make another. But today, we are all so tightly budgeted that, in a way, the budget comes before the design. Something else has changed which is even more difficult for a designer. In the old days, every studio had its own stable of stars. I knew with whom I was working. I was at Paramount, and I knew I had Grace Kelly, I knew I had Dorothy Lamour. I knew I had Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and obviously I was going to do the "Road" pictures. I could plan, I would order fabric. Now I am working with the director Jeremy Paul Kagan on a picture called The Big Fix. At the moment I'm doing a character named Aunt Sonya, who is between a size fourteen and a size sixteen. That's all I know about her. The actress is coming tomorrow, and she will probably start work on Monday. So things have changed. Today, a designer has neither the time nor the money to do great designs. Of course, with the kinds of films we're doing now, great designs don't matter.

Question: Once you have an assignment for a film, what sources do you draw on — fashion books?

Head: No. I think a good designer — either in motion pictures or in couture — draws on a certain instinct and years of experience. Don't forget that I have designed practically everything known to man, woman, child, or animal. I've designed costumes for more than a thousand films. I have a good background, and I've traveled all over the world. When a director says he wants something, I think of all the times I have done it before. When he says, "I want a sexy, frilly, white dress," I think, Aha, I know exactly what he wants.

I think the brain of a costume designer has a storage area for everything he has done in the past; everything is categorized. A great couture designer like Dior shows pure creativity in one line only. But a studio designer is so flexible that he can create anything — good, bad, or indifferent, and also funny.

Question: You've designed for an extraordinary range of movies. But are there types of movies you've avoided?

Head: No, I think every movie I've done — even the ones in which the clothes were not particularly interesting — has been useful in giving me a backlog to draw upon. If you want to know what the easiest film to design is, it's a period film. There you're not creating; you're really recreating. What is more stimulating is a contemporary film, in which fashion plays a very important part. Then there's a chance to express yourself.

Question: How much time did you once have to design costumes for a film?

Head: On an average contemporary picture, say an Alfred Hitchcock film, I would have from two to eight weeks to prepare. That would give me time to decide what I needed and to make things. On a Cecil B. DeMille picture, like The Ten Commandments, we would have fifteen months to three years to prepare. For The Big Fix, instead, I will go to the studio and meet the size sixteen lady tomorrow, then I'll go out and shop with her, and she'll shoot on Monday. Now that is not ordinary. But we're trained so that we can handle it. We have a crew that can work twenty-four hours and work well enough so that nobody would know that something was done quickly. If I had to, I could make a dress overnight.

The next film I'm doing is "The Short Night" by Hitchcock. It's being shot in Finland, and it will be a contemporary film. But with Hitchcock I will know in time who's going to be in the part and what's needed. I already know it's the kind of picture where the girls wear sweaters, skirts, sport clothes. Ten or fifteen years ago we would have had the sweaters and skirts made to order. Today nobody, not even Hitchcock, does that, because the financial situation has changed.

Question: You've done the costume designs on a good many of Hitchcock's films, haven't you?

Head: Not for the early ones, but I've done all the later American ones, except for Psycho.

Question: Are his meticulous scripts a special help to your work?

Head: Alfred Hitchcock is the only person who works on a script with such detail that a designer could go ahead and make the clothes without discussing them with him. It's so completely lucid. For example: "She's in a black coat, she has a black hat, and she's wearing black glasses." That's from Family Plot, the last one we did. However, I do prepare sketches for him, and, because I've worked a great deal with him, I know his likes and dislikes. He has a complete phobia about what he calls "eye-catchers," like a scene with a woman in bright purple or a man in an orange suit. Unless there is a story reason for a color, we keep the colors muted, because Hitchcock believes they can detract from an important action scene. He uses color, actually, almost like an artist, preferring soft greens and cool colors for certain moods. But a lot of directors couldn't care less what color a dress or a suit is, or what material it's made of.

Question: You have been designing for the movies for so many years — and designing so well — that people probably consider you a fashion designer. Do you see any similarity between your work and the work of a commercial designer?

Head: I think there is really no similarity. A couture designer turns out so many collections a year, and they express his own ideas. They have his stamp on them, so that you can say, "I know what an Oscar de la Renta dress looks like." But a studio costume designer has absolutely no control over what he does. He is given a script, and, after he's read the script, he has a conference with the director or the producer and with the stars.

Question: What do you see as your role on a movie?

Head: What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen he's become a different person. That isn't Robert Redford at all, that's the Sundance Kid. That's the difference between clothing in pictures and clothing in real life: In real life it's worn for protection or to look well or for whatever reason you like. In pictures it's to give the impression that the actor is the person about whom the story is told.

With men it doesn't matter so much, but with women we are able to do magical things, particularly in period films. We can change their figures and make them over. We'll use any kind of device we can to break the mold. If it's an actress who is known for wearing a certain kind of clothing, we'll usually go to the extreme to break the usual concept. In other words, we try almost to shock the moviegoer into saying, "I don't believe that's Grace Kelly after all."

The point that's important and interesting is that a costume designer can translate someone into someone else through the medium of clothes. I would like to think that if the sound went off during a movie, you would still know a little about who the characters were by how they were dressed. There are, though, two schools of thought about costume design. One school says, "It's all right to have the heroine look like a heroine and the villain look like a villain." The other school says, "Let's fool the public. Let's have the heroine look like a dangerous woman." But when you sit and talk with a director or producer, you find out immediately what point of view he intends to take.

Question: What are the first steps for you in doing costume designs for a movie?

Head: If you're under contract, as I am, you're sent a script and, whether you like it or not, you do it. You read the script, and then you break it down into a very concise "wardrobe plot," in which every actor, and every actress, and every part is defined. You take that into your preliminary meeting with the director or the producer. But if the director is Alfred Hitchcock or George Roy Hill or Joseph L. Mankiewicz, each works in a completely different way. Hitchcock will send me a script, and if I say, "Hitch, what do you like?" he will reply, "My dear Edith, just read the script." That's all. Until you have sketches ready to show him, there's no point in asking him what he likes. Now George Roy Hill, when we did The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, had done as much research as I had done. In fact, in some instances, he had done more than I had. He had every book of research I had. For The Great Waldo Pepper, he knew what an aviator wore and things of that sort. He is an absolute perfectionist. When you work with him day by day, you work as though he were another designer. When Mankiewicz made All About Eve, he borrowed me from Paramount just to do clothes for Bette Davis. He called me and said, "I love your work. Just do what you think is right." You see, that's three different languages. There is no rule. You can get directors who are charming, others who are uncooperative, but you always hope you don't get a director who is not interested, because then he's impossible.

Question: In what category do you put Jeremy Paul Kagan?

Head: Jeremy Paul Kagan never shoots anything until he has seen the clothing and approved it. When costumes come in, even if it's late at night, he stays and examines them. He seems to know fabric, and he seems to know color. He must have studied the script thoroughly, because he knows ahead of time what clothing will help motivate a scene.

Question: Is that something you also do when you examine a script?

Head: Yes, I have to. As I make a costume plot, I'll make little side notes, for example, "Ask the director if he thinks that if she wore a hat with a veil in this scene, it would help the mystery."

Question: Are you sometimes involved when the script is being prepared?

Head: Yes, a lot of times I'll work with the writer. He'll describe a costume he has in mind, or he'll want to know what sort of clothing might help motivate a particular scene.

Question: What do you concentrate on in your designs to suggest character?

Head: I think I mostly concentrate on interesting colors and interesting necklines because so much of a film is done in close-up. I think you see colors before you see details, and certain cliches will work — virginal white for a girl, black for a vamp. Over the years, we've come to accept certain connotations from certain colors. If I'm doing a very sweet old lady, I'm apt to consider lavender or purple and old lace.

Question: Let me be more specific. How would you suggest, say, a self-centered woman?

Head: That's a delicate trait to bring out, but I would try to suggest a selfish woman by giving her a covered-up look.

Question: And a woman who is open and generous?

Head: Soft tones, clothes that look easy and that give a little.

Question: A shy or rigid woman?

Head: Perhaps a collar that stands up around her face, or cuffs that go down over her hands, a lot of ruffles. But I can take a plain dress and make it appropriate for seven or eight different women. I can take a simple dark dress and put a white collar on it, or cuffs, or ruffles. I can give it a pearl necklace or a corsage of flowers. I can cut it low and make it look voluptuous. In other words, I make clothes work for me.

Question: Bringing out character through clothes must be more of a problem when you design for men. There's so much less variety in their clothes.

Head: Men are much more difficult. You have to do it mostly by pattern, fabric, or color. Because of close-ups, the important thing becomes the kind of collar or necktie or scarf the man wears.

Question: With moviegoers more sophisticated these days, do your designs often run against type?

Head: In the early days we played type — the villain looked like a villain, the vamp was in her prototypical black, low-cut dress. Today, I would avoid that; I would be more subtle.

Question: How did you get started in costume design?

Head: I'm an ex-schoolteacher. When I was teaching, I didn't have enough money during the summer, so I looked for a job. There was an ad in the paper: "Wanted, sketch artist for Howard Greer at Paramount Studio." I had just started studying at the Chouinard Art School, and I borrowed a lot of sketches. As a result, I had a fantastic portfolio. I had seascape, landscape, portrait, costume design. I showed them to Greer, and he said, "I have never seen so much talent in one portfolio." I got the job. But the next day didn't go as well, because I wasn't very good at drawing, and my sketches showed it. Fortunately, Greer had a sense of humor, and I stayed on. It didn't occur to me until afterward how dishonest I had been.

I worked as a sketch artist and as an assistant for many years with Greer and Travis Banton, who were top designers. For years they would do the great stars, like Marlene Dietrich and Claudette Colbert, and I would do the grandmothers, the aunts, the relatives. I did all the B-pictures and the horse operas. I've become an expert on how to dress a cowboy or a horse, because I did that for years. In fact, the first picture I ever did with real stars was She Done Him Wrong, with Cary Grant and Mae West. In big pictures, like those of DeMille, as many as seven designers would be at work. I would do, for example, Delilah, somebody else, say Dorothy Jeakins, did the men's clothes, and another designer did the horses, because in DeMille pictures the horses were very important. When you were working with seven designers, it was lovely.

The only trouble I ever had with DeMille was working on his elephant pictures. Nobody told me that elephants eat leaves. I had great blankets of flowers and grapes made for an elephant, and leglets of roses for each leg. The elephant just took up his trunk and ate practically everything. I've had problems with animals. The Lady Eve, with Barbara Stanwyck, had a snake in it, and we were asked to design a little necklace with a bow for it. But every time the snake wiggled away, the bow stayed behind. When I'm interviewed, I'm always asked, "What is the worst time you ever had?" Really, it's been not with people but mostly with animals.

Question: In the films of the twenties and thirties, was there less of a demand than there is today for accuracy in costuming?

Head: In the early days, there was no such thing as complete accuracy. I did a picture once in which a woman was crossing the prairie from the East to the gold rush in a prairie schooner. She had to face a buffalo stampede, three Indian attacks, and a prairie fire. But every morning the heroine came out of the schooner wearing white ruffles and her hair done up in curls. But nobody cared, because then the public accepted motion pictures only as a fantasy and an amusement. In period pictures, we used to give the women low-necked dresses with the bosoms hanging out. I would say, "But, you know, they didn't wear low-necked dresses in the old days!" The director would say, "My dear Edith, if everybody had worn high-necked dresses, you wouldn't have been here today. There would've been no sex."

We did things then that were outrageous. But today, perhaps because the public is much smarter, or reads more, or looks at more television, I have to be more careful. Otherwise, we get insulting letters saying, "That's not right. They didn't wear that material in that time." Of course, in the early days, we also had to deal with censorship. Did you know that you could show a man's navel but not a girl's navel? In all of those pictures with Hedy Lamarr, we had to stuff pearls in the dancing girls' navels or give them diamond belts. But Victor Mature went around in little shorts with his navel exposed. I could never figure out that rule. You could show a girl with a white slip, but if the slip had lace on it you couldn't, because that was sexy.

Question: You've worked with directors who have an obsession for accuracy, like William Wyler.

Head: William Wyler is such a perfectionist. The Heiress, for example, was set in the 1840s and the 1850s, so we had to deal with two periods. We had crinolines, and we also had hoops, which is a slightly different silhouette. There were scenes in which Olivia de Havilland got dressed. You saw her in petticoats, in little corsets, and in corset covers. Wyler even sent me to a fashion institute in New York, which carried a great collection, to be sure that every button and every buttonhole was absolutely accurate. If I had to choose a picture I did that was absolutely perfect down to the tiniest buttonhole, it was The Heiress. Wyler insisted on it. In fact, there wasn't a single zipper; everything was done with little buttons.

Question: Did you work closely with the movie's designer, Harry Horner?

Head: Definitely. He's a brilliant person, of course. Half the fun for me is working with an art director who has the same artistic feeling toward the material.

Question: What's the usual working relationship between you and production designers?

Head: The production designer is the man to whom I show the sketches even before I show them to the director. I'm married to one, incidentally. I think that unless clothes are synchronized with a room that is a cool color, or a hot color, or that's going to have a floral pattern, or no pattern at all, it's impossible to do a coherent job of designing. I not only work with the art director, but also with the set decorator, because I know that people have been caught doing a blue nightgown in a blue room, in a blue bed, with blue pillows. In fact, that was done in a Mae West picture, so it really didn't matter.

I also work with the cinematographer. Now it isn't so bad, but before color we did have a great problem, because there were certain colors cinematographers wouldn't shoot. Dead white, for example. I've discovered it's much safer to ask somebody with whom you are working for information, so when you present your sketches at least you know that there's not going to be trouble later. Sometimes there is trouble. You do a red dress, and you find out the lady is lying on a red sofa.

Question: Does your choice of colors influence the art director's choice during the preparations for a picture?

Head: No, I think the art director has more choice over the color concept because he rules things. But I don't think we've ever had any great conflict.

Question: You seem to imply that your approach to color is cautious.

Head: You always think of a color as a very dangerous thing to use, because a color or a fabric can be an eye-catcher and do terrible things to a scene. In television, on the other hand, color is not handled quite so carefully.

Question: In the days when most people eventually saw color movies on black-and-white sets, the selection of colors must have presented special problems.

Head: Most designers know by heart the colors that are a problem in black-and-white. We know that certain shades of red, for example, go to a particularly dirty gray in black-and-white.

Question: Does the sound of certain material present problems?

Head: Not any more. We don't use taffeta any more, and we have to be careful of beads that have a certain metallic ring when they fall against each other. We also have to be careful of a certain type of jewelry. Once, in the period movies, we used a great deal of beaded fringe, which would go ding, ding, ding. But I think any designer today knows these sounds. They're particularly a problem, of course, in period films with great hoopskirts with multiple petticoats.

Question: Have you ever worked on a film where the director wanted a costume to make noise?

Head: I think in The Heiress there was one scene in which Wyler wanted the rustle of Olivia de Havilland's petticoat as she went up the stairs. We used taffeta, and they put the sound camera quite close so you heard the rustle.

Question: In the early movies, there's often a discrepancy between the period costumes and the hairstyles and makeup.

Head: One of the sad facets of that era is that the star sometimes had so much power. If she didn't think she looked pretty in a period hairdo, she would wear her own hair. But it might be completely wrong for the type of clothes. As a courtesy now, I send the hairstyling and makeup people my sketches. If a dress is going to have a high collar, they won't give the actress long hair. I'm not sure other designers do this, but to me, it's self-preservation.

Question: Do you consult the performers these days?

Head: I believe you should allow an actor or actress to discuss and criticize. Someone might say, "I cannot wear this because I cannot do this." I always check before we get on the set. But occasionally someone will wait until she gets on the set to say, "I can't wear this, it's too tight." Actresses in the early days were much easier to work with than some of the young actresses of today who think they know All About Everything. They are concerned with what they like. You will have someone who says, "I don't like pink. I don't want to wear pink." Well, who cares! I get so mad at them.

Question: Are men as much of a problem?

Head: When in doubt, dress men — it's a lot easier. Men are not as involved in what they like and don't like. Women have favorite colors and favorite necklines, and they like belts, or they don't like buckles. Men are not nearly as fussy.

Question: Do your designs take into account action scenes?

Head: When I fit an actor or an actress, I have them practice any action in my fitting room. That's why I have a large fitting room. When Bette Davis was being fitted for All About Eve, all of a sudden she threw herself on the floor. We all thought that somebody had stuck a pin into her or that she was having a fit. But there was a scene in the picture in which she had to throw herself down, and she wanted to see if the dress would work. We always make sure that clothes fit for a reaching scene, or whatever. If there is any question of a change of action, we have the director or the assistant director come and watch the second fitting. It's that important.

Question: For All About Eve, you were hired just to do Davis's clothes, weren't you?

Head: Yes, and it's probably one of my favorite pictures. I think if somebody asked me which costume I'm most proud of, I would say the dress Bette Davis wore when she came down into the party. She looked fabulous.

Question: Did you work closely with her?

Head: Of course, I always work with her, and it's always such fun. She's exciting, and she's so professional.

Question: Designs in movies sometimes influence clothes styles. For example, your designs for Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve in 1941 set off a Latin trend. Is that potential influence on your mind when you design a costume?

Head: No, the influence is purely accidental. I was the first to use the Latin motif, which soon became part of our way of living. For Sabrina, I did a neckline that ties at the shoulders, and that's still called the Sabrina neckline. My dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun was taken up by a manufacturer of debutante party dresses. Someone at Paramount once counted at a party thirty-seven Elizabeth Taylors dancing. I think all the studio designers have created something that influenced fashion. I think two ingredients are necessary: You must have a successful film and a successful design. But a good costume designer shouldn't try to influence style, though naturally he hopes to hit upon something that many people will like.

Question: All About Eve and Samson and Delilah came out at the same time, but no two films could have been farther apart for you as a costume designer.

Head: A DeMille picture was completely different from anything in the world. It meant spending lots of time and attention and money. But because of censorship the cor rect costumes were not allowed. In designing the costumes for a picture like Samson and Delilah, there was not much to go by, though we checked Egyptian, Babylonian, and other early sources. But when you present someone in a bodice, you immediately have a costume that's not historically right. But the headdress and the jewelry were accurate. Because a woman's navel was censorable, you will notice that Hedy Lamarr's costumes all had a narrow jewel belt.

Question: Did the double standard in censorship annoy you?

Head: I never thought of it. Isn't that strange? I just accepted it. We all took it for granted, and it never occurred to us that we should be free altogether from censorship.

Question: What's your reaction to directors who want to underplay or even overplay historical accuracy in the costuming?

Head: I have the right to argue with a director and to say that I think this or that. There are certain periods — the bustle period, for instance — in which clothes can look ridiculous. But for every big bustle there was a medium bustle. Does the director want the clothes noticed or not noticed?

Question: Has any one director been a strong influence on you?

Head: I think that every director in some way has influenced what I have done. I have been fortunate, of course, to have worked with some of the great directors.

Question: After All About Eve and Samson and Delilah , you won an Oscar for A Place in the Sun, with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Did that offer any particular challenge?

Head: That was a charming movie because it had two persons from completely different levels of society. The visual elements were very important in showing the two sides of life, and the clothes helped.

Question: Beautiful clothes, obviously, are not the standard for an Oscar in costume designing.

Head: The basic rule for the Academy Award nominations is not how costly or beautiful the costumes are, but how much they contribute to the film.

Question: You said earlier that contemporary pictures allowed you some creativity. Fantasy films, science fiction films must also give you some leeway. Head: The fun of doing a picture in the future is that at least you can use imagination. So much of a designer's work is tied down by a certain period, or a certain story, or a certain characterization.

Question: Roman Holiday has a certain fantasy element — Audrey Hepburn is a princess and her ball gown has a magical quality.

Head: I went for the most fantastic brocade I could get. I felt the gown should have an almost fairy-tale look about it. It should look romantic, and she should look like a princess. I was enchanted with Audrey Hepburn. She's a lovely, slim woman, and she has a great flair for clothes. Incidentally, from the point of view of fashion, I think To Catch a Thief is my favorite of all the pictures I've ever done.

Question: You also won the Oscar in 1960 for The Facts of Life, with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. No princesses, no ball gowns.

Head: It was a very honest story of people in today's world. It had no great fashion show; it was almost a documentary in its simplicity. I wanted to pretend that it wasn't a picture but a true story.

Question: It was also a comedy. With two stars like Hope and Ball, were you tempted to use clothes for comic effect?

Head: With those two people it was easy to go overboard, but, actually, I think I underplayed the clothes. They both said they were not playing Bob Hope or Lucille Ball, but two ordinary, well-dressed people. I think I very successfully played down anything that would make them stand out as stars.

Question: We've talked about your designs for women, but The Sting — another Oscar for you — let you concentrate on men, particularly Paul Newman and Robert Redford. What problems did the film give you?

Head: Fewer problems than any other film. George Roy Hill is as interested in costumes as I am; he was almost a co-designer. Also, I had two great men of charm and handsome figures.

Question: Hill was looking for period accuracy?

Head: Down to the last collar button. But I had to take the period and make it fit the characterization in the picture. Newman and Redford were not dressed like the men you would find in the men's fashion books. There had to be enough offbeat details so that they wouldn't look like the man in the street.

Question: How many costumes were prepared for a movie like The Sting ?

Head: I'd say we made about sixty costumes. The most I've ever done, by the way, was for The Man Who Would Be King, and there I had 40,000 people to dress. It was up in the Atlas Mountains, and they were supposed to be a race of people who had never been seen before. Alexander the Great had once come through, so there was a slight Greek influence to the costumes. We were shooting near Marrakesh, and we were using people from tiny mountain villages. They'd come down in their costumes, and we'd put these other costumes on them. The next morning we couldn't find them. They'd disappeared with the clothes.

Question: How long did it take you to design those sixty costumes for The Sting?

Head: Working with George Roy Hill, I would say about six weeks, because he's a perfectionist. I had to show him all the fabrics. He has a tremendous interest in everything. I like working with someone like that.

Question: How much are costume designers generally paid today?

Head: I think designers can get from $500 a week up to $3,500 a week, depending on what kind of picture it is and what kind of budget it is. I am under contract at Universal, so I don't know what I get per picture.

Question: What's your procedure in doing designs for a budget-conscious production?

Head: If you have a budget picture, you try to dress them out of stock. At Universal, we have four or five different floors of men's clothes, women's clothes, and character clothes.

Question: Where do you have your costumes made?

Head: All my clothes are made here at Universal or at Western Costume.

Question: Universal can draw on its own stock of costumes. Where do independent companies go?

Head: They buy or rent. But even we at Universal rent a great deal from Western, particularly when it comes to period clothes, because no studio would have enough to do a large period picture. Period films are complex, because it isn't just a costume. It's the hat, it's the wig, it's the jewels, it's the gloves. Incidentally, I did a picture last year called Airport '77, and in the picture Olivia de Havilland was to have a black silk coat and black gloves. You know, I could not buy a pair of black suede gloves in the city of Los Angeles. Everyone said, "Madam, we don't sell them any more." Finally I let her use a pair of my own.

Question: What happens to the costumes after the film?

Head: Usually the costumes, after they are used, are put in stock. Then if they are used on a secondary character, a different collar, for instance, is put on. The third time around maybe we will shorten a skirt and put a ruffle on it. After that the costumes go into the background or extra class.

Question: Do you do sketches even if you are planning on buying clothes?

Head: When I go to see a director, I take a sketch pad and a pencil, and as he talks I sketch. That's why I think people should know how to draw a little. I'll say, "Do you like this sort of thing, withtA turtleneck sweater," and he'll say, "No, I see it with a low neck, with a scarf." I quickly sketch that so I won't waste time shopping. I've discovered it's much better to communicate with the eye than with the ear. Most directors and producers, and even actors and actresses, like to see something drawn, even if it's just a small pencil sketch. Whenever I have time, I go to the stores and find out what is available. I don't like to get trapped into drawing something and then saying I can't find it.

I have to keep in touch with contemporary fashion, but I have to avoid anything whatsoever that is outstanding or unusual or extreme. Most designers try not to commit themselves to anything that can quickly look out of date in a film. You remember the terrible thing that happened during World War II. Everybody was conserving fabric, skirts were short, and then Dior dropped the hemline. All the pictures suddenly looked out of date. We also have to be careful with fabrics. For instance, one year every skirt had butterflies all over it. If you had used that skirt, the film would have been dated the next year.

Question: You shop for the accessories, too?

Head: Accessories, too, and they may be an important part of a picture. For instance, there may be a scarf so the character can be strangled with it later, or something cheerful like that.

Question: Which stores do you shop at?

Head: We go to every store. I spent a very unpleasant morning the other day at Sears, but they had the best workman's blue jeans for a scene of people in jail. But if I buy blue jeans for the leading lady, who is very elegant and chic, I go to Saks. I do a great deal of shopping with stores that will let us take things out on approval. A lot of stores do not want to be bothered with our taking out a lot of clothes and holding them until we fit them. So we have a list of cooperative and uncooperative stores.

Question: Do you often do screen tests of your clothes?

Head: Not any more. We used to do screen tests of everything, but they were so expensive. Now the director comes and looks at the clothes, and, I hope, guesses right. Sometimes we take Polaroids. That whole beautiful day of screen tests seems to be gone. But the great problem today is that you get a script and you don't know who the actor or actress is until the last moment. What you can do to one person, you can't do to another. If you get a Redford, or a Newman, you can do anything with them because they have wonderful physiques. If you get somebody who is bottom-heavy or top-heavy, you've got problems. I don't mean to keep talking about the good old days, but, in the past, you did have certain directors and certain actresses with whom you'd work all the time. But today, except for an occasional Hitchcock film, most pictures are not what we call clothes pictures. Most pictures today are dominated by men, and all you have to get is a pair of blue jeans. The only important women's pictures lately have been Julia and The Turning Point.

Question: Have you done any stage work?

Head: Yes, the last play I did was The Pleasure of His Company in New York, and it was a rather pleasant experience.

Question: What's the difference between film work and theater work for you?

Head: In the theater you have to project to the highest balcony, and you have to do clothes which last. Detail has to be broad enough to carry through an entire house. In pictures, if a dress collapses after one day, it really doesn't matter; you are also designing for close-up. Marlene Dietrich has the record here. She once stood for eight solid hours fitting a beaded dress. "Now this bead will go over here, and this bead we'll move over there." Two fitters collapsed, but she didn't. In the picture, the beaded dress looked beautiful, and everything was in the right place. In the theater, such detail wouldn't have mattered.

Question: You've done some television work.

Head: I've done only two important things in television, a drama about Amelia Earhart with Susan Clark and "The Disappearance of Aimee" with Faye Dunaway and Bette Davis. Now I'm doing Little Women for television. But it's very hard for me to adjust to the hurry of television.

Question: You recently designed new uniforms for the women of the U.S. Coast Guard. How did that come about?

Head: You'll never guess. Remember Jaws? Jaws was made at Universal, and the Coast Guard provided very important help. So, at the end of the filming, Universal said, "What can we do for you?" The reply was, "The women of the Coast Guard have not had a new uniform for forty years." So, that's how I happened to do the women of the Coast Guard.

Question: Lately you've been designing for Vogue Patterns. What led to that?

Head: When I make a beautiful dress for a star, you see it once. This way I can dress thousands of women with my designs.

Question: What's your view of today's fashion trends?

Head: There's a complete return to femininity. Women are tired of looking like boys. Clothes are becoming prettier and more romantic. Softer fabrics and brighter colors. There's more versatility. Women can express themselves with their clothes.

Question: There must be films you've done whose costumes you might like to revise if you had the chance. But what films would you redo exactly as you first did them?

Head: If I could do them again without changing a thing, I would do The Heiress and Roman Holiday.

Question: You've designed for what seems like all the major screen stars. Have there been favorites?

Head: You always have favorites, of course. I would almost rather work with Bette Davis than anyone else. She can wear any kind of clothes and make them come to life. She simply has a magic. I think for fashion and elegance, I would choose Grace Kelly. She is a designer's delight.

I think Audrey Hepburn definitely for high style fashion. If Audrey Hepburn had not been a great actress, she would have been a great designer.

Question: Is there an actress you regret not having designed for?

Head: Yes, all my life I've wanted to design for Greta Garbo. She's a superb-looking human being, and whatever she wears she wears with such panache and elegance. She's also beautifully proportioned.

Question: Any actors?

Head: I've designed for Cary Grant, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. What more could any woman want?