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Who Was Max Factor?

By J. Hahn
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Max Factor was an innovative makeup entrepreneur who had his heyday during the golden years of Hollywood's movie studio system. He was born Max Faktor in 1877 in Lodz, Poland, and began work as an apprentice wigmaker and cosmetician when he was only 9. When he was in his early teens he moved to Berlin to work for a hairdresser named Anton.

Later, when he was 14, Factor moved to Moscow to work with the cosmetician for the Imperial Russian Grand Opera and later performed his mandatory service for four years in the Russian Army. When he was discharged he opened his own cosmetics shop in R'azan, Russia. A member of theatrical troupe stopped by on the way to a performance for the imperial family and invited Factor along.

The Russian imperial court was great for his business, but the courtiers had strict control over his life. He married secretly and fathered three children. In 1903, he escaped from Russia with his family and came to St. Louis, Missouri. Along the way, the spelling of his name was changed from "Faktor" to "Factor." His wife died within a few years of arriving in the US.

Factor remarried twice more before moving his family to California in order to take advantage of the burgeoning movie business. He opened a wig and cosmetics shop in Los Angeles. Inspired to find a new type of makeup after he noticed that the kind the actors used cracked and looked bad on film, he developed a new makeup base that quickly became popular among silent movie stars.

After his initial success, he developed a number of products that catered to the movie studio system, including false eyelashes, nail enamel and Pan-Cake makeup, which is still in production today. He was in demand as a makeup artist and developed Clara Bow's trademark bee-stung lips and Joan Crawford's "smear" of lipstick. Factor's makeup shop was the go-to store for actresses in Hollywood and served stars such as Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Judy Garland and many more.

Max Factor died in 1938, but his son Frank changed his name to Max in order to keep continuity in the company. The company went on to produce a number of memorable products, including the green makeup used for the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, one of the first indelible lipsticks, and the first concealer. Max Factor had a number of memorable advertising campaigns featuring the famous actresses who used the company's products.

The company went public in the early 1960s and was sold in the early 1970s. The name is now owned by Procter and Gamble and can be found in drugstores throughout the United States. Some of Max Factor's heirs are still in the cosmetics business. His great-grandsons Dean and Davis Factor created the popular makeup line Smashbox.

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