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Pocatello native touched lives with his Hollywood costume creations

December 30, 2018

If you’ve ever cried during “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Sleepless in Seattle,” appreciated the significance of “Citizen Kane,” or laughed at any of Lucille Ball’s television shows made between 1955 and 1968, your life has been touched by Pocatello native Edward Stevenson. If you’ve ever worn a “sack dress” inspired by a Balenciaga original, you can thank Edward Stevenson.

If you’ve visited the children’s section of the Marshall Public Library, you’ve stood on the ground of Stevenson’s boyhood home. When you drive down the streets of Old Town or admire the old railroad depot, you’re experiencing a Pocatello that owes something to … well, Edward Stevenson’s father, Andrew, but your lives have still intersected.

Eddie, as he was known to his friends, was born May 13, 1906, in Pocatello, one year before his dad, Andrew Burtner Stevenson, was nominated as a candidate for Pocatello mayor. His father’s only child, Eddie was named after his dad’s co-worker, good friend, and former roommate, Edward C. Manson.

Eddie’s mom, Jennie Dolly Uhland Stevenson, had first married prominent railroad man Frank Uhland and had two sons with him before his untimely death in a railroad accident. It was the insurance money she received that allowed her to build a rather stately home on South Garfield Avenue, next door to the Kasiska mansion and down the block from doctors William and Minnie Howard and the Pocatello Public Library.

Eddie’s parents had both started their adult lives in the working class, Jennie as a schoolteacher and Andrew as a railroad dispatch clerk. Through hard work, integrity, and a generous nature, Andrew worked his way up to division superintendent while Jennie fulfilled her role as a dutiful wife. By the time Eddie came along, his parents were already approaching middle age and had established themselves well in respectable Pocatello society.

Eddie was educated at St. Joseph’s and enjoyed quiet hobbies, one of which was drawing. He took correspondence art courses and showed real promise. Being much younger than his brothers, Eddie was often left to find amusements on his own. Eddie’s dog, Nipper, and Karl Kasiska were his frequent companions.

Jennie’s health often required trips to California to escape the harsher Idaho climate. Eddie and his mother were especially close so he often accompanied her on these trips. The family’s comfortable income and Andrew’s connections in the railroad helped facilitate the frequent travel.

When Eddie was 13, his father died. The daily stress of dealing with the railroad’s many operational and personnel difficulties had taken its toll, resulting in a partial paralysis that a 10-month rest cure in California couldn’t fix.

The papers reported the cause of death as a nervous breakdown, but the death certificate revealed that Andrew had died of an electric shock and third-degree burns on a paralyzed limb. It was a disturbing end to a distinguished life.

Three years later, Eddie and Jennie permanently relocated to California. Eddie had promised he would graduate from high school, but while he finished his diploma at Hollywood High, he began working as a sketch artist for one of Hollywood’s most important costume designers, Clement Henri Andreani, known professionally as Andre-aní. At the time, MGM was using Andre-aní to design costumes for their most glamorous performers, stars like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Eddie couldn’t have had a better practical education in costume design.

Eddie’s ability to create attractive sketches that sold producers and directors on a costume designer’s idea made him highly desirable and he quickly rose in the industry. He spent a couple of years working as a sketch artist and assistant designer at Fox Pictures before getting his first gig as a contract designer at First National Pictures. In 1928, First National was a major studio that also owned a nation-wide theater chain.

From there, Eddie had a long and varied career in Hollywood. His designs were never self-serving and he was a master at helping tell and sell stories through costuming. He spent 15 years as the head designer at RKO Pictures and also had a short stint at 20th Century Fox. He was nominated for an Oscar three times, winning once. He replaced Lucille Ball’s first costumer on “I Love Lucy” and continued working for the First Lady of Television for 13 more years.

Fifty years ago on Dec. 2, 1968, Eddie had a massive heart attack and died in a Culver City fabric store while waiting on hold for Lucy to come to the phone and approve a purchase. The 50th anniversary of his death demanded some gesture of recognition from the town that gave him birth.

To that end, the Marshall Public Library is highlighting Eddie’s life and work with a display on the second floor until Jan. 12. Included in the display are many photographs of Eddie with his family or with the actresses he dressed. These images are licensed from the Eli M. Oboler Library’s Special Collections Department at Idaho State University. An animated slideshow highlighting many movies Eddie worked on and the costumes he designed for them is also part of the display.

So if Eddie passed away in 1968, how did he have anything to do with Sleepless in Seattle? Well, he costumed the 1939 film “Love Affair” with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. That film proved popular enough to inspire a remake 18 years later called “An Affair to Remember” with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. Without the whole romantic meeting-on-top-of-the-Empire-State-Building thing that came from the original version, Jonah would never have flown to New York to make sure his dad, Sam, could meet the second love of his life, Annie. “Sleepless in Seattle” just wouldn’t have been “Sleepless in Seattle.”

If you’re curious how Eddie contributed to one of the greatest motion pictures ever made or would like to know how he and Lucy set an international fashion trend, come on up to the second floor of the library and explore the display. Get to know the man who quietly touched your life.

Trent Clegg grew up in Moreland and has lived most of his life in Southeastern Idaho. He received an associate degree from Ricks College and went on to Idaho State University, earning degrees in music and theater. During his master’s studies, he helped catalog the Edward Stevenson collection at ISU’s Eli M. Oboler Library and his master’s thesis focused on Stevenson’s life, career, and reputation. Currently employed as a reference specialist at Pocatello’s Marshall Public Library, Trent also serves as music director for Trinity Episcopal Church and maintains a small private voice studio.

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