Max Factor Going To The Big Medicine Cabinet In The Sky

Max Factor cosmetics will begin disappearing from U.S. store shelves in early 2010, reports the Wall Street Journal. A sad end for an American "pioneer" of makeup.

Although Max Factor will still be sold internationally, the brand born in Hollywood just wasn't popular enough here in the States. (Max Factor ranks among the top brands in strategically important markets such as Russia and the United Kingdom, corporate owner Procter & Gamble says.) P&G bought Max Factor from Revlon in 1991, but the brand is a classic American success story.

According to John Updike's excellent article last year in the New Yorker, Max Faktor (he changed the spelling later) was a five-foot tall Polish Jewish fugitive who left Russia in 1904 and arrived in California, breaking into Hollywood via manufacturing cosmetics for the film industry. When film changed — from black and white to Technicolor — Factor changed the chemistry and formula of his makeup, and actresses who wouldn't appear under harsh lights — Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Claudette Colbert — had new products, which were more flattering. When the company started selling to the public, it often used actresses in its advertising. (Check out some ads below; there are more here.)


Max Factor Going To The Big Medicine Cabinet In The Sky

"Max Factor Hollywood" lipstick, featuring Susan Hayward, 1947.


Max Factor Going To The Big Medicine Cabinet In The Sky

Max Factor's "Tru-Color Lipstick," featuring Evelyn Keyes, 1942.


Max Factor Going To The Big Medicine Cabinet In The Sky

Max Factor's "Pan-Cake," featuring Maguerite Chapman, 1946.

One of Max Factor's most famous inventions was Pan-Cake makeup, which was originally designed for use on Technicolor film and under harsh light. But actresses kept stealing it from the set, so the company made it for public consumption, and it "immediately became the fastest- and largest-selling single make-up item in the history of cosmetics," outselling all sixty-five of the imitations advertising themselves with the now magic word "cake."

Max died in 1938, but his son Frank changed his name to Max, so the business transition was seamless; and one of the company's claims to fame was supplying the green makeup that Margaret Hamilton wore as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

One interesting detail the recent book about Max Factor points out: Unlike some other make-up artists, he was never painted as an effeminate type: "Photographs of Factor show him simultaneously as makeup artist, chemist, and father figure."


Max Factor Going To The Big Medicine Cabinet In The Sky




Max Factor Kisses America Goodbye [WSJ]

Related: Makeup and Make-Believe [The New Yorker]
Max Factor, the Man Who Changed the Faces of the World [Arcade Publishing]
Earlier: Max Factor: The Man Behind The Makeup
Hell(raiser) Freezes Over (Max Factor Oldie But Goodie)
Max Factor's Iron Maidens (Oldie But Goodie)