As reported by Miss Head’s close personal friend and confidante, Miss Lillian Frost, formerly of Flushing, New York and crowned Miss Astoria Park of 1936.
Los Angeles, California. December 1938.
Morning does not greet Edith Head, bespectacled queen of costume design at Paramount Pictures, as it does us lowly mortals. Morning comes for Miss Head, in the words of the poet Carl Sandburg, on little cat feet. She is awakened in her palatial estate by a chorus of birds chirping in flawless harmony. She dines upon a breakfast of the freshest eggs while contemplating the day’s wardrobe, selecting her attire being so time-consuming an affair that she rises out of necessity with the sun.
Soon she is whisked to work, police escorts from multiple jurisdictions stopping traffic at each intersection to speed her arrival. Miss Head’s mind is already awhirl as she travels. Inspiration is everywhere, the clouds overhead suggesting the drape of fabric. She arrives at her studio salon, a taste of Paris under the palm trees. Famous faces from the silver screen await, eager to absorb her acumen. Miss Head makes subtle suggestions, each accepted as gospel truth. There are no questions. There is only admiration. For luncheon, she—
Sorry. I can’t keep this gag up. I’m no Jack Benny.
Here’s all you need to know about my friend Edith Head: she’s busy. Proof of that pudding is you’re hearing about a day in her life from yours truly instead of the McCoy. Edith? She simply doesn’t have the time.
I can’t tell you when she wakes up because no one’s ever seen the woman sleep. I can tell you she doesn’t live in a palatial estate but a darling cottage on the Silver Lake Reservoir that makes you feel like you’re in Italy. Or at least I assume so. I haven’t yet sallied to the Continent.
Edith drives herself to work, her roadster a winged fury striking fear in the hearts of motorists and pedestrians alike. She’s the first person to arrive at the studio and will be the last to leave. Her office smells faintly of paint because she’s just finished redecorating. Edith hasn’t been Paramount’s top designer very long. Ignore the soft soundtrack of whispers suggesting she pushed her predecessor and mentor Travis Banton aside. It’s the bunk. Her job isn’t so much designing wardrobe for Paramount films as it is walking a tightrope. All day long she deals with directors who don’t understand clothes and actresses who think they’re the next Elsa Schiaparelli. I love Claudette Colbert as much as the next starry-eyed fan—Did you see her in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife with Gary Cooper?—but she told Paramount brass Edith is no better than an art student. An art student! Yet Edith smiles and goes about her business, namely making everyone around her look better.
That includes me. I met Edith last year, when I was a lowly department store salesgirl who’d traded dreams of stardom for steady employment. Then my former roommate was found murdered, wearing an Edith Head original purloined from Paramount. The police initially suspected me. I don’t know why. I don’t look a thing like Peter Lorre. Fortunately Edith got me out from behind the eight ball. She figured out who the real killer was—with a little help from me, I like to think, plus a gracious assist from my favorite movie star, Barbara Stanwyck.
Edith also proved instrumental in my securing gainful employment as social secretary to movie-mad millionaire and all-around good egg Addison Rice. Addison loves pictures so much he’s always willing to let me slip away to visit Edith at the studio—and even, on occasion, to do her a favor.
For instance, she wants me to help Marlene Dietrich find a missing piano player. Marlene is toying with a nightclub act—if you ask me, she’d be swell —but her usual accompanist has disappeared. She’s convinced the Nazis had something to do with it, and I told her that world affairs are a good bit out of my league. But Edith insists that’s just Marlene’s flair for the dramatic. A few phone calls are all that will be required. So naturally I agreed.
I’d do anything to help Edith. And I know she’d never put me in a situation where I don’t look my best.
You can read more about Edith in Dangerous to Know, the second book in the “Lillian Frost & Edith Head” series.
Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names and endless glamour as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department—though her position is precarious and her eight Academy Awards are far in her future.
Lillian recently attended a swanky Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler. Now, a vengeful housemaid with Nazi sympathies has all New York society running for cover—and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges. Lillian tries to lay low while the studio is in an uproar over the scandal, but she has no such luck. Edith asks Lillian to look into the disappearance of Jens Lohse, the émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act, as a favor to Dietrich. Lillian reluctantly agrees, and soon finds him—dead.
Dietrich blames agents of the Reich for his murder, and Lillian investigates further. Could Hollywood—thought to be a safe place for German exiles and émigrés—be hiding a sinister Nazi element beneath its glitzy veneer? As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue that extends from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.
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About the author
Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington. Their debut novel, Design for Dying, is nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and a Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel.
All comments are welcomed.
Dangerous to Know is available at retail and online booksellers or you can ask your local library to get it for you.