Monday, September 19, 2022

Q&A with Jeanne Walker Harvey



Jeanne Walker Harvey is the author of the new children's picture book biography Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head. Her other books include Ablaze with Color. She lives in Sonoma, California.


Q: What inspired you to write this picture book biography of costume designer Edith Head?


A: First of all, thanks so much for inviting me to talk about our new book, Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Costume Designer Edith Head.


So what inspired me to write this began when I was a girl growing up in Southern California. Every year, I would watch the Academy Awards telecast filmed in nearby Hollywood.


My mom and I would look for the easy-to-spot Edith Head with her distinctive haircut, round dark glasses, and wonderful gown she had designed for herself. And then we would root for her to win an Oscar which she often did. She was actually nominated for 35 Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, and received eight Oscars which is more than any other female, including actresses.


I savored watching those wonderful Hollywood movies with glamorous costumes. I noticed that Edith Head was often listed as the costume designer. I’m always drawn to writing about creative people in my picture book biographies, and she seem like a perfect topic – creative, persistent, and resolute about following her dream of being a costume designer.


Q: How did you research Edith Head’s life, and what did you learn about her that especially fascinated you?


A: As a picture book author of biographies, I’m always thrilled to find first person accounts. So I looked for interviews of Edith Head, and articles, and books she wrote.


I particularly savored the experiences she shared in her autobiography/advice book titled The Dress Doctor. I loved learning that she grew up in a remote part of the Mojave desert near a town named Searchlight, Nevada. Such a perfect pairing with the town where she ultimately finds success -- Hollywood, a place filled with searchlights of movie premiers.


I was fascinated to learn how persistent she was in following her desire to become a costume designer. She essentially didn’t know how to sketch costumes when she applied for the job, but talked her way into it. Whenever Edith Head faced challenges or hurdles, she overcame them with determination and finesse


Q: What do you think Diana Toledano's illustrations add to the book?


A: Diana’s drawings are wonderful! She absolutely captures the essence of Edith as a young child and then as a young woman striving to become a costume designer and then ultimately as a successful designer achieving the fame of receiving her first Oscar.


And the illustrations incorporate such whimsy and delightful details, such as textile patterns that reflects Edith Head’s creative use of fabrics as a designer. And the animals she dresses up, first as a girl in the desert, and then as a struggling designer, are absolutely adorable


Q: How would you describe Edith Head's legacy today, and what do you hope kids take away from her story?


A: I hope children find Edith Head is an inspiring role model. She was an innovative designer who truly helped moviegoers be transported into the worlds and plots by, as Edith said, “creating the illusion of changing actors into what they were not.”


But also with her independent spirit, savvy, and determination, she rose to the top of the male- dominated Hollywood movie costume world as the first female chief designer of Paramount Studios. She dressed the movie stars, and was a star in her own right. And I hope Dressing Up the Stars encourages children to let their own stars shine, in whatever they want to pursue.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I always have several projects going on at once. I find that taking breaks on one project and then going back to it gives me fresh eyes to look at it again more critically. Recently, I’ve mainly been working on another picture book biography of a creative female artist which I hope will be announced soon. Stay tuned!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’d really like to share how grateful I am to be represented by the amazing Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. She is so supportive, encouraging, inspiring, fun, and truly cares about all of us (and I feel so lucky to be in such amazing creative company).


Deborah has an incredible talent for finding the right homes for our work – not an easy endeavor! She has extensive knowledge of the industry, including previously working within the publishing world as the VP/director of sales at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Deborah has a gift and flair for motivating and connecting with each of us.


I love what she said in an SCBWI interview – that she enjoys her work because the main goal of authors, illustrators, and editors is “to create books that are both windows and mirrors for today’s young readers. We need those books more than ever!”


Many thanks for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers about our Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Costume Designer Edith Head. I so enjoyed your questions!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jeanne Walker Harvey.

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