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Max Factor by Fred E. Basten

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Max Factor:
The Man Who Changed the Faces of the World
Fred E. Basten

Arcade Publishing, Inc
8-24-08
Hardcover/172 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55970-875-3
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". . . an enjoyable, quick read . . ."

In 1909, an immigrant wigmaker named Max Factor founded a company to manufacture and sell products to make woman glamorous. To celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of that occasion, Fred E. Basten has written Max Factor: The Man Who Changed the Faces of the World, an enjoyable, quick read that is equal parts biography, Hollywood history and business management guide.

Factor was a highly skilled wigmaker and cosmetician for the Russian Czar’s court when he met a young woman, fell in love, and entered into a marriage that was forbidden by his employer. Eventually, Factor fled Russia and moved to St. Louis where his brother and uncle had settled before him. St. Louis was the site of the 1904 World’s Fair and Max set up an exhibit there of his make-up (a term he coined), fragrances and wigs. Soon he was serving the beauty needs of most of the performers who entertained fairgoers.

Max moved to Hollywood in 1908 as it was becoming the center of the nascent film industry. He made custom-order toupees, but also sold theatrical make-up. Soon he started mixing new concoctions for movie stars in a laboratory in the back of his store in the era of black-and-white, silent movies. When sound was introduced in the late 1920s, directors needed quieter lights, but the new lights were much hotter and made the actors look shadowy. Max reformulated the make-up formulas. The later switch to color prompted another generation of make-up from Max Factor and Company.

After their father died in 1938, Max Factor’s children kept the family business going. Many loyal employees served the firm for decades before “moves, mergers, and takeovers” during the 1960s and through the 1990s resulted in Proctor and Gamble taking over the company and the Max Factor brand.

Max Factor is full of little-known facts that will leave even the staunchest movie buffs scratching their heads and muttering, “Hmm. I didn’t know that.” Marlene Dietrich demanded that real gold dust be sprinkled on her wigs to make her hair shine on screen. John Wayne had three hairpieces – short, medium, and long lengths – to fool people into thinking his hair was growing out or that he’d just gotten a haircut. It’s too bad the book has no index to aid readers in sharing the trivia with others.

Reviewer: Laureen Gibson Gilroy