Saturday, May 13, 2017

Movie and Television Costume Designer Eddie Stevenson [otd 05/13]

Susan Hayward costume,
David and Bathsheba, 1951.
Edward Stevenson Collection, ISU.
Long-time Hollywood costume designer Edward Manson Stevenson was born May 13, 1906 in Pocatello, Idaho. Stevenson spent over thirty years designing movie costumes before switching over to television in 1955. Along the way, he created wardrobes for a host of Hollywood’s biggest stars: Susan Hayward, Maureen O'Hara, Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, and many others.

Eddie credited an aunt who ran a millinery store with sparking an early interest in fabrics. He also said his first experience was at Pocatello High School, where he designed costumes for a couple of operettas. Unable to cope with Pocatello’s climate – he suffered from a “chronic respiratory ailment” – Stevenson moved to southern California in 1922.

Even before he graduated from Hollywood High School his abilities were recognized. He landed a job as a sketch artist, drawing images described in words by designers, writers, or actors. That led to some early design work of his own. Eddie’s first credit in the Internet Movie Database came in 1924. He provided “additional costuming” for The White Moth, a silent film released in 1924.
Barbara La Marr, star of The White Moth.
Edward Stevenson Collection, ISU.

Over the next several years, Eddie found steady work. However, not until 1929 did his name carry enough weight to get screen credits. That year, he received designer credit for four movies, and is known to have worked for one other.

Stevenson’s career took off in the Thirties. He was part of 82 productions, and worked with some of the superstars of the industry: Barbara Stanwyck (five times), James Cagney (twice), Joan Fontaine (five), Cary Grant, and others. One of those “others” was Lucille Ball. Eddie first worked with her in 1936 … many years later he would serve as her preferred designer.

During his long career, Stevenson had a hand in over two hundred movies. Those include some of the grandest Oscar-winning Hollywood productions: Citizen Kane, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and Suspicion. Many more of the films he worked on received Oscar nominations: The Magnificent Ambersons, It’s a Wonderful Life, I Remember Mama, The Spiral Staircase, and so on.
Lucille Ball in her “little black dress.”
Edward Stevenson Collection, ISU.

Eddie received his first two personal Oscar nominations in 1950, for The Mudlark and for David and Bathsheba.

Not long after that, Stevenson had to have cataract surgery. Still, despite the visual handicap, he continued as a designer, with some of his best work ahead of him. In fact, he finally won an Oscar in 1960: He shared the award for The Facts of Life, which starred Lucille Ball.

By then, Stevenson designed almost exclusively for Ms. Ball, having started with her for the I Love Lucy television series. That continued with The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and two made-for-TV movies. In all, he designed costumes for over one hundred TV episodes.

Eddie had begun working with Ball for the Here’s Lucy show when he had a heart attack and died in December 1968.
                                                                                 
References: Trent Clegg, A Brief Biography of Edward Manson Stevenson (1906-1968), Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Idaho State University, Pocatello.
"Ex-Pocatellan Designs Comedy Clothes for 'I Love Lucy' Television Series," Idaho State Journal (January 15, 1957).
"Filmography: Edward Manson Stevenson," Internet Movie Database, Imdb.com

4 comments:

  1. I have just watched 'The Spanish main' which showed wonderful gown designs of Mr Stevenson. Thank you for posting this information for all to learn more!
    Rebecca
    UK

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  2. Thank you. Looking over Eddie's "body of work," I find it somewhat strange that he did not receive more recognition and awards. One of the fun things about doing this blog is the opportunity to -- in some small way -- recognize individuals who have been largely forgotten.

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  3. At Idaho State University in the performing arts, we are putting on a production using mainly his designs for costume. I am sewing for the costume shop there. It is really exciting to try and re-create his designs. Did you know that we even happen to own a dress worn by Lucille Ball that sits proudly in our stock room? The Library on campus also has a few of the design sketches that he created for Macy's bridal collection. Amazing!

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    1. I am so glad to hear that ISU is keeping Eddie's name alive. His list of credits is simply amazing. Strange, as I said before, that his designs did not receive more awards.
      That was, perhaps, just Hollywood politics. But it might be because Eddie designed costumes to fit whatever production he was working with, not to bring attention to himself and his design. (I like to think it was the latter.)

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