Edith Head: Designer to the Stars

Today’s post was written by Laney Stevenson, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park.

Although fashion may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of government records and the holdings of the National Archives, fashion and dress has, and continues to be, a significant aspect of life for many women (and men!) across generations and around the world. In celebration of Women’s History Month, it is fitting to share the stories of women in NARA records and to bring to light the accomplishments and achievements of women in the past.

The following article was a United States Information Service (USIS) Feature Story from May 1959 on the life and work of prominent costume designer Edith Head, whose career in Hollywood spanned over five decades, earning her eight Academy Awards for Costume Design, the most any woman has received.

The story and photographs are from Record Group 306, Records of the U. S. Information Agency, Press and Publications Service, Feature Packets with Recurring Subjects, 1953-1959 (NAID 1105040).


Edith Head, for 21 years the chief costume designer at Paramount Studio, studies the sketches of gowns she is planning for a forthcoming film. Her artistry has brought her six Motion Picture Academy Awards. The creations of this internationally known artist have influenced the taste of countless movie-goers around the world.

She Dresses the Stars by Kathleen Ayres

HOLLYWOOD, California – “Fashion is a language. Some know it, some learn it and some never will learn.” The speaker, Edith Head, is one of the most famous of all “linguists” in this medium. As chief costume designer at the Paramount Studio for 21 years, she has been dressing many of the most glamorous film stars and has garnered six Motion Picture Academy Award “Oscars” for her artistry. Continue reading

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Queen Elizabeth II: Changing Circumstances, Changing Titles

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Upon assuming the crown in February 1952, the British “empire” led by Queen Elizabeth II consisted of a conglomeration of states and territories bound together in various ways.  There were a number of sovereign states and their dependencies,[1] territories administered through the Commonwealth Relations Office,[2] British dependent territories administered through the Colonial Office,[3] and condominiums.[4]  Nonetheless, the Queen’s formal title was “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith.”  By late that year the fact that the royal title was not consistent with the relationships within the commonwealth led to an agreement to change the Queen’s title.  In December, the U.S. embassy in London sent the following despatch (from the RG 59 1950-54 Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021) file 741.11/12-1552) reporting on the proposed changes.

As might be expected, such change did not come without protest.  In this March 1953 despatch, the embassy reported on some of the complaints about the revised titles. Continue reading

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Outstanding Women of 1954

Today’s post was written by Laney Stevenson, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park.

In honor of Women’s History Month and with the rousing collective movement for women’s rights and empowerment which has been reignited over the last year, it seems fitting to look back on past recognition of women for their achievements as both a mark of progress and means of appreciation for those that worked to pave a path toward equality and justice. The nine women featured in this post were selected by Mademoiselle Magazine as “Young Women of the Year” for 1954. They were chosen based on “the quality of their performances and the dedication they brought to their chosen fields” which range from politics and science to literature and music.

All of these photographs are from Record Group 306, Records of the U. S. Information Agency, Press and Publications Service, Feature Packets with Recurring Subjects, 1953-1959 (NAID 1105040). The text is taken from captions accompanying each photograph.


Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn – Theater. The “incomparable technique” of this talented British actress was cited by Mademoiselle, a leading woman’s magazine of the United States, when it named Miss Hepburn one of the “Young Women of the Year.” From a “bit” player on the English stage and screen, she rose to stardom overnight in the United States through the title role in the stage success Gigi, the story of a French adolescent. From that triumph she stepped to another in the motion picture Roman Holiday. “She has, like all great actresses, the ability to bridge the gap between herself and her audience, and to make her innermost feelings instantly known and shared,” says Time Magazine.

Miss Hepburn, born in Belgium of Dutch-Irish ancestry, got early theatrical training when she gave ballet performances (behind locked doors during the Nazi occupation of Holland) to raise money for the resistance movement.


Carmel Carrington Marr

Carmel Carrington Marr – Government. This “Young Woman of the Year” was chosen by Mademoiselle, a leading woman’s magazine in the United States, as an outstanding employee of the U.S. Government. A member of the permanent mission of the United States at the United Nations, Mrs. Marr served as an advisor on the staff of U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., in matters affecting the Far East. She was the first American woman to be appointed to such a post. Mrs. Marr studied political science at Hunter College, in New York City, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the national honorary scholastic fraternity. After receiving her law degree in 1948, she practiced law in New York City for five years. Mrs. Marr married Warren Q. Marr, II, a New York City businessman, and at the time, was the mother of two small sons. Continue reading

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What Goes Up Must Come Down: Dealing With the International Aspects of the Demise of SKYLAB, Part II

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park. 

Part I described the SKYLAB program and international concerns about its reentry.

Beginning in April 1979, and with increasing frequency as the date approached, the Department of State informed overseas posts of the date of predicted window of reentry as computed by NORAD.  In the last few days, the prediction was made to the hour and minute using Greenwich Mean Time.  The following table shows how the prediction changed over time.


The Department of State mandated that all posts designate an action officer to handle SKYLAB-related matters, such as conveying the reentry prediction information to host governments, but also to serve as the post’s resource person for answering SKYLAB questions.  That official at any post potentially affected was to be on special duty during the predicted period of reentry.  Posts were warned to use only the official briefing materials sent by the Department when answering questions.  Questions that went beyond that should be referred to the Department rather than be answered on a speculative basis.[1]

Continue reading

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What Goes Up Must Come Down: Dealing With the International Aspects of the Demise of SKYLAB, Part I

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park. 

The reentry of space debris carries the potential to cause a major international incident. While most such remains burn up in the atmosphere, larger pieces can survive and cause damage, injury, or even death when they land. A major instance of this potential problem resulted from SKYLAB.


In May 1973, the United States launched into Earth orbit SKYLAB, a semi-permanent space station. A near-catastrophic launch disaster involving the micrometeoroid shield and the loss of one of its solar power arrays threatened the entire project. NASA technicians and astronauts effected repairs to the station and carried out three highly-successful long-term manned missions that accumulated significant scientific, technological, and medical data.

sky lab 1

sky lab 2

sky lab 3

When the last manned mission left SKYLAB in February 1974, the orbiting laboratory was boosted into a slightly higher orbit and then largely faded from public view. Nonetheless, the laboratory was bound to fall to Earth and expected reentry was predicted as some time in early 1983. NASA eventually considered ways to extend SKYLAB’s life by moving it to a higher orbit or deboosting it in a very controlled manner. Initial planning was for a mission by the planned Space Shuttle to take care of that by deploying a remote controlled propulsion module that would attach to the lab. Delays in the shuttle program and increased solar activity that heated the atmosphere and dragged the workshop down faster than expected rendered that plan impossible. As a result, in December 1978, NASA announced it was discontinuing efforts to boost or de-orbit the lab. After that, NASA had only a modicum of control over the lab. They could “fly” it in an orientation that increased or decreased drag, thus giving some control over where it landed.[1] Continue reading

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With the Pentagon’s Blessing: Hollywood, the Military, and Don Baruch

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives, College Park.

Americans and cinema enthusiasts the world over will be tuning in this weekend to watch who will receive the Academy Awards at the 90th Oscars ceremony. Someone from the Pentagon may also be paying attention to the broadcast beaming out of Hollywood. This is because the Department of Defense (DoD) has maintained a staff dedicated to working with the movie and television industry since 1949. Their records, which attest to a long and enduring relationship between filmmakers and the armed forces, can be found in the National Archives. And among the documents, the researcher will notice that the name Donald E. Baruch appears again and again. For four decades, Baruch served as the Pentagon’s primary liaison with the motion picture industry.

Don Baruch came from a well-known family: his father and three uncles were the famous Baruch brothers from South Carolina. The Baruchs were known for their roles in finance, statesmanship, and diplomacy, although a streak for show business ran in the family. Sailing Baruch, Donald’s father, was a financier who, according to his obituary in the New York Times, had many friends on Broadway; was credited with bringing the first jazz band to New York in 1910; introduced the fox-trot to Broadway; and was a promotor of dancing in many forms in the early 1900s. True to his name, he enjoyed sailing and yachting. The eldest brother, Hartwig, started out as a stage actor in the 1890’s under the name Nathaniel Hartwig but later joined his brothers as a financier and member of the New York Stock Exchange. Herman, a physician, served as the United States Ambassador to Portugal and the Netherlands after World War II. Last but not least, Bernard M. Baruch, the most prominent member of the family, was a famous financier and presidential advisor. The four brothers were the children of Simon Baruch who immigrated to South Carolina from Prussia in 1855 and went on to earn his medical degree and then serve as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. On their maternal side, they were descended from Isaac Rodriguez Marques, a Sephardic Jewish shipowner, Danish citizen, purported pirate, and possible slave trader, who settled in New York in the 1690’s.

Pursuing his own career path, Don Baruch found himself at the Pentagon by way of Broadway and Hollywood. In the 1930’s he produced four Off Broadway plays and then worked in Los Angeles for Hal Roach Studios and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and later for Paramount in New York. During World War II he served in Washington as an officer in the Army/Air Force office of Public Information producing training films. He continued working in this office until the formation of the Department of Defense in 1949, at which point, until his retirement in 1989, Baruch served as Chief of the Motion Picture Production Branch, and its various iterations under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (OASD/PA). In this role, Baruch reviewed movie and television scripts to make recommendations on whether or not the DoD should agree to cooperate with proposed films and television programs that sought military assistance for their production.

When Baruch’s office was created in 1949 it was stepping into an already established relationship that had been in existence between Hollywood and the U. S. Military from the time of some of the earliest movies.

Possibly the first instance of military assistance on a commercial film took place at an air show in Long Island, New York in 1911. Army Lt. Henry “Hap” Arnold (who would go on to create the Army Air Corps and command the Army Air Force during World War II), agreed to be filmed flying stunts in his army plane at the show which appeared in The Military Air-Scout, a romance movie and aviation film.

In 1915, D.W. Griffith, the pioneering filmmaker, received technical advice and vintage artillery pieces from the U.S. Military Academy for the making of The Birth of a Nation, the first feature-length film at 186 minutes and the first blockbuster, attracting long lines of movie goers. The film stirred up controversy as well. Based on Thomas Dixon Jr’s book The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation portrays the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, leading many to boycott and protest its release in theaters. Nine years later, for the filming of America in 1924, Griffith turned to the military again, and with approval from Secretary of War John Weeks received the loan of more than one thousand cavalrymen to recreate a revolutionary war battle scene.


Still image from The Birth of a Nation (NAID 97501). Motion Picture Films 1910-1945, Collection: Moviola Company Collection, 1910-1945. National Archives Collection.

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Cold War Humor, 1953

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, at 9:50PM Moscow time.  First word of his final illness was announced by Soviet authorities a day earlier.  The Soviet bulletin announced that Stalin had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage which led to some paralysis, loss of speech, and unconsciousness.  Upon hearing that news on the BBC, a member of the staff of the U.S. embassy in Brussels prepared a bit of doggerel about the situation.  Ambassador Myron M. Cowen sent the verse to Charles E. (“Chip”) Bohlen at the Department of State in the following telegram.


US Embassy Belgium to Department of State, Telegram 953, March 4, 1953, file 761.13/3-453, 1950-54 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: Department of State

Bohlen was one of the Department’s leading experts on the Soviet Union and held the senior position of Counselor at the time.  A career Foreign Service Officer, he had served in the U.S. embassy in the USSR during the 1930s, had attended the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences as the Russian interpreter for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and was then in the midst of contentious hearings on his nomination as U.S. ambassador to the USSR, where he served from 1953 to 1957.  He was later ambassador to the Philippines and to France and retired from the Foreign Service in 1969.  His final position was Secretary of State ad interim.

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Tribute to a Fallen Diplomat

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park. 

February 14 marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph “Spike” Dubs in Kabul, Afghanistan.  On February 14, 1979, Ambassador Dubs was kidnapped while being driven through the streets of Kabul.  His captors held him in the Hotel Kabul for several hours.  Their purpose in seizing Dubs is not clear.  Ambassador Dubs died during a botched rescue attempt by Afghani forces under circumstances never fully or adequately explained by Afghan authorities or their Soviet advisors.[i]

Ambassador Dubs had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service.  The following entry from the 1974 BIOGRAPHIC REGISTER of the Department of State (the last year the register was published in unclassified form) provides the outline up to that point.  President Jimmy Carter appointed Dubs ambassador to Afghanistan and he presented his credentials there on July 12, 1978.


Continue reading

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“Fake News” 1942: President Roosevelt and the Chicago Tribune

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

During the first months of 1942, two individuals in the Office of Facts and Figures, within the Office for Emergency Management of the Executive Office of the President, drew up lists of newspapers critical of the Roosevelt Administration.[1] At the top of one list was The Chicago Tribune. On the other list appeared an entry identified simply as McCormick-Patterson. The latter was reference to cousins, Robert R. McCormick and Joseph Patterson, the publishers of The Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, respectively.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not need the lists to know the main media critics of his Administration.[2] McCormick, once Roosevelt took office in 1933, became his most vocal critic. In reviewing a biography of McCormick, David M. Kennedy wrote:

His detestation of the New Deal was bottomless. McCormick became the largest single contributor to Alfred Landon, Roosevelt’s Republican opponent, in the 1936 Presidential election. As the campaign began, The Tribune headlined: ”Only 97 days left to save your country!” — a warning that McCormick ordered Tribune switchboard operators to repeat, with appropriate countdown as election day approached, to every incoming caller. ”Mr. Roosevelt is a Communist,” McCormick editorialized, an opinion he never saw any reason to qualify.

Kennedy added:

The New Deal might have been an abomination, but Roosevelt’s intensifying effort to pursue an internationalist foreign policy was anathema. As the world crisis deepened in the late 1930’s, and Roosevelt sought ways to put American influence onto the scales on the side of the democracies, McCormick stepped forward as the most outspoken of isolationists. The United States had nothing at stake in the looming European conflict, McCormick thundered…The miserable failure of that great departure from the ancient American principle of isolationism starkly warned against any further dalliance with internationalist policies. Along with Cousin Joseph Patterson’s Daily News and cousin Cissy Patterson’s Washington Times-Herald, McCormick’s Tribune formed a major platform for those isolationist preachments. Henry Luce called the cousins the Three Furies of Isolation. Roosevelt called them the McCormick-Patterson Axis.[3]

Two days after Pearl Harbor, in a Fireside Chat, President Roosevelt said:

To all newspapers and radio stations—all those who reach the eyes and ears of the American people—I say this: You have a most grave responsibility to the Nation now and for the duration of this war.

If you feel that your Government is not disclosing enough of the truth, you have every right to say so. But—in the absence of all the facts, as revealed by official sources—you have no right in the ethics of patriotism to deal out unconfirmed reports in such a way as to make people believe that they are gospel truth. [4]

Franklin D. Roosevelt having a fireside chat in Washington, D.C

Franklin D. Roosevelt having a fireside chat in Washington, D.C (NAID 196760)

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, critics of Roosevelt and his Administration did not cease their criticisms. McCormick and the Pattersons regularly denounced Roosevelt’s handling of the war.[5] Roosevelt was never one to sit still for criticism. For six months after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt, convinced that McCormick’s papers, as well as those of William Randolph Hearst, were printing pro-German and pro-fascist sentiment, ordered the Justice Department to analyze the content of their editorials and news articles. The department found criticism of Roosevelt in their editorials and news articles, but no propaganda.[6] The heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Facts and Figures subjected these publishers and their newspapers to microscopic investigation for Nazi connections, but found none and had to abandon their efforts. [7]

Poster Appreciate America Do Your Share

Appreciate America Do Your Share (NAID 513872)

On February 10, Representative Raymond S. McKeough (D-ll) denounced an editorial appearing in The Chicago Tribune, and charged the publisher of the paper, Robert R. McCormick, with treason. McKeough read into the House record the editorial and said the editorial constituted an inferential attack upon President Roosevelt. He added: “In any other place, under these circumstances, the Tribune editorial would have no proper place in the high field and splendid service the newspapers of our country are rendering; but now that we are at war I challenge Colonel McCormick’s patriotism, and I say that that language, at this time, makes him subject, at least to thinking people, as being guilty of treason and I so charge him.”[8] Continue reading

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Sometimes the Records Tell Different Stories

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.

 Napoleon Bonaparte

The History of our Revolution will be one continued Lye [lie] from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklins electrical Rod, smote the Earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod—and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislatures and War.

Letter, John Adams to Benjamin Rush, April 4, 1790

The past is the past. History is what someone says about what happened in the past. Historians, and others, consult textual records, oral histories, non-textual records, and artifacts to find evidence of the past. Needless to say, persons writing about people, places, and things observe and/or record those things from their own perception and sources at hand, which might be their own eyes and ears. Thus, it is understandable that two people witnessing the same thing might have a different view of what they saw or heard. To some degree, this should be just common sense to everybody, but it is useful to be periodically reminded of this.

Just look at the stories regarding Judas Iscariot in the New Testament. Almost no two accounts agree on his motivations, his actions, the circumstances of him receiving thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus, and the circumstances of his death. Of course, the authors of the Gospels were writing many decades after the events they recorded, and we do not know what their written and oral sources were.[1] I found in doing research on the death of Adolf Hitler that rarely do those in the Berlin bunker with Hitler during his last days, consistently record or relate what happened. And what they related was often weeks after the events. As a result, I wrote what I thought most likely happened and when it happened.[2] I did so keeping in mind what was written almost sixty years ago: “The historian can rest satisfied even when his explanation is not absolutely probable, provided he has shown that it is significantly more likely than any of the comparable alternatives.”[3]

When faced with conflicting accounts regarding the discovery of Nazi gold reserves in the Merkers Mine in Germany in April 1945, I ended up writing in my article about the subject:

Early the next morning [April 6], two military policemen guarding the road entering Keiselbach from Merkers saw two women approaching and promptly challenged and stopped them. Upon questioning, the women stated that they were French displaced persons. One of the women was pregnant and said she was being accompanied by the other to see a midwife in Keiselbach.[4]

These women related information about a mine in Merkers holding treasures. In researching for the Merkers Mine article, I found three reports about the above incident, all written within 48 hours of the events they recorded. There were inconsistencies regarding the nationalities of the women, which direction they were headed, and whether one of them was a midwife. I selected to use the one that seemed the most likely.

Again, in writing about the capture of one of Hitler’s couriers who was able to escape Berlin with copies of Hitler’s personal will, political testament, and his marriage license, I ran into vague and conflicting information about how the individual, SS Col. Wilhelm Zander, was captured. In my Prologue article I gave a barebones account:

The Americans captured Zander and his documents (including the original marriage license of Hitler and Braun, and the handwritten transmittal letter from Bormann to Doenitz) with the assistance of British intelligence officer Maj. Hugh Trevor Roper, in Bavaria on December 28. [5]

In a blog, dealing with the Hitler documents and the capture of Zander, I was more detailed. I wrote:

With the lead to Aidenbach, Trevor-Roper, accompanied by Weiss, and apparently a CIC officer named Rosener, in a jeep set out from Munich on the night of December 27 for the 90-minute drive to Aidenbach. Clearing through the Regional CIC office and the Degendorf Sub-Regional Office, where an agent named Brickmann joined them, sometime between 3am and 4am on December 28 they found the farmhouse where Zander was supposedly staying. Trevor-Roper posted an American soldier with a revolver at each corner, and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Trevor-Roper ordered a German policeman to climb through the window and open the door. Inside, they found a man in bed who claimed to be a merchant named Wilhelm Paustin. With him was Ilsa Unterholzner. Both were arrested. Trevor-Roper made them dress, and then, with Weiss, drove them back to Munich for interrogation.[6]

If one looks at my footnote citation to the above information it will be seen that I relied on some dozen sources to tell the story. Each source provided somewhat different versions of events. For example, CIC agent Arnold H. Weiss, who was with Trevor-Roper later recalled that as the Military Police broke down the door, a shot rang out from the house. The Military Police found the startled Zander naked in bed with a woman and quickly overpowered him. Weiss grabbed Zander’s Italian Beretta-a memento he kept. Weiss told Zander they had come to arrest him and asked him his name. He said Paustin produced an identity card. Weiss said it was a fake and he was taken into custody and taken to Munich. [7] This account, recalled sixty years after the event, is more dramatic than the other accounts, which were written shortly after the events occurred. Some or all of Weiss’ account may be true, but I decided to tell the story based on a blending of other evidence, which was less dramatic. Continue reading

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