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Legends of Hollywood

Addressing a costumer to the stars

March 14, 2004|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Sensory overload. It's the best way to describe "The Art of Edith Head" exhibit at the Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor building. Everywhere you look are bugle beads, sequins, furs, eye-popping period costumes and gorgeous dresses and gowns.

Among the 80 examples of the famous Oscar winner's costumes and sketches on display are Hedy Lamarr's seductive two-piece beaded outfit from "Samson and Delilah," Audrey Hepburn's simple but stunning shoulder-tied boat-necked black dress from "Sabrina," Elizabeth Taylor's white strapless evening gown she wore when she kissed Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun," Olivia de Havilland's dowdy spinster dress for "The Heiress," a brown fur-trimmed suit brought to life by Bette Davis in "All About Eve" and even Robert Redford's and Paul Newman's tailored pinstripe suits from "The Sting." Also featured are the outfits Head wore when she picked up her eight Oscars (she was nominated 33 times).

And if you like what you see, you can bid on the Head items at the end of the month at

Though Head was one of Hollywood's top designers until her death in 1981, her work has never been displayed until now.

"There are over 300 costumes [designed by Head] available," says Donelle Dadigan, president and founder of the museum that opened last summer.

During her tenure in Hollywood, Head costumed more than 500 movies, averaging 35 projects a year. From 1938 through 1967, she was head designer at Paramount. After leaving Paramount, she designed for MGM, Universal, Warner, Columbia and Fox.

Dadigan says Head understood the concept of "the flowing of the fabric and material when a woman would glide. So many of these gowns, when ... you see them in the film on these wonderfully beautiful actresses, the gown itself takes on its own life. It's beautiful to see them [displayed], but it would be something to see them in movement."

The costumes are so well preserved that many look as if they were sewn recently.

"They were taken very good care of," says Dadigan, adding that the museum "is all... climate and humidity controlled. This has been a real undertaking here."

In April, the museum will present an exhibit of Bob Hope memorabilia. "This is the largest collection of Bob Hope that has been put on display. We have the original radio years, the vaudeville years.... We went to the Hope family."

Dadigan, the goddaughter of the late pianist and conductor Jose Iturbi who appeared in several MGM films, is a Beverly Hills real estate developer and an ardent Hollywood memorabilia collector.

She spent eight years and more than $8 million restoring the Max Factor Building to its 1930s art deco glory. The building's five floors feature 5,000 displays ranging from Hannibal Lecter's cell (in the basement) to costumes and set pieces from "Moulin Rouge!" to the dinosaur incubator from "Jurassic Park" to makeup and clothes from Mae West, Phyllis Diller and Shirley MacLaine

The first floor includes the restored Max Factor makeup rooms, which were individually designed and colored for blonds, redheads, brunets and brownets (between blond and brunet). Hundreds of vintage photographs and posters adorn the walls.

In searching for a home for the museum, Dadigan said, "The Max Factor Building was not for sale, but somehow I talked Proctor & Gamble into selling it to me. It was wonderful. The expression is 'If these walls could talk,' and they do talk. We have had so many great old actresses from Hollywood's golden era who have come in and told me stories."


`The Art of Edith Head'

Where: Hollywood Museum, 1660 N. Highland Ave. Hollywood

When: Thursdays to Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ends: April 4

Price: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors and children under 12

Contact: (323) 464-7776

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