"Sunset Boulevard" will be aired at 6:00 P.M. (EDT) today on Turner Classic Movies. I couldn't pass up the chance to share a story that Edith Head* tells about working on the film with Gloria Swanson.
While we were working on Sunset Boulevard I was apprehensive about working with Gloria. Yes, I had dressed a great number of stars, but in my mind Gloria represents the greatest from the days when I was just a beginner. She was a legend when I was walking around with stars in my eyes. Dressing her meant dressing an idol; that was frightening. She had been dressed by my teachers, Banton and Greer. They had told me that she was especially meticulous about her costumes--that she fancied herself a designer as well as an actress. I knew, too, that she had owned her own apparel manufacturing company in New York for a while, so she actually was savvy about design and construction. Since she had worked with all the great designers of Hollywood's past, I wondered how she would like me, a relative newcomer. It was not until many months later that I learned she had requested me.
The first day we met was in Billy Wilder's office at Paramount. I immediately noticed her tiny feet. I had forgotten how small they were. I had seen the size 2 1/2 marked Swanson in wardrobe stock, but to see such a small shoe actually on a foot was extremely impressive. She complimented me by saying that she was aware of my work and glad that we were finally doing a film together. I found her not only easy to work with but particularly helpful because she had so many costumes already planned in her mind. It became a project where I actually designed with the star instead of for her, because she was re-creating a past that she knew and I didn't.
She showed me how she would be moving in each scene and she was careful to point out the differences between how she would have done things in the early days of Hollywood and how they were being done in 1950. She didn't want me to be confused. She was very aware of the nuances that were involved in this role.
. . .
Imagine . . . an actor who knew her own job AND the costume designer's but respected Edith Head enough professionally to be able to work WITH her!
It's quite a difference to now with the likes of Tom Cruise going on the TODAY SHOW and telling the country that he knows more than we do!
*Edith Head, Edith Head's Hollywood, (with Paddy Calistro); E. P. Dutton, Inc.; 1983; pages 90 - 91.