Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Max Factor | 1328A Biddle

(Information pulled from STLMAG)        When Maksymilian Faktorowicz, age 9, was apprenticed to a wigmaker in ód´z, Poland, he had no idea that one day he’d be responsible for Jean Harlow’s platinum waves, the “bee-stung” lips of the ’20s, or the very existence of a thing called lipstick. But before making it big in Hollywood, he was the wigmaker for the Imperial Russian Grand Opera, which led to a post as official cosmetician to the czar and czarina, until 1904, when the anti-Semitic pogroms began. Faktorowicz used his skills to survive: Painting himself a sickly yellow and feigning a limp, he explained to the court that he was terribly ill and requested a three months’ rest at a Karlsbad spa. Instead, he fled through the woods with his young family and boarded the Molka III, destination America. He joined his brother and uncle in St. Louis, setting up a cosmetics booth at the World’s Fair.

That went disastrously: His partner absconded with the money and with his precious wigs and chemicals. Not to be deterred, Max—now just Max Factor—opened a barbershop on Biddle in St. Louis’ Jewish quarter, the family living in an apartment above the storefront. As is the case with many celebrities with local ties, Factor’s time in St. Louis was deeply influential but kind of awful: In 1906, wife Lizzie dropped dead on the sidewalk from a brain hemorrhage. After a disastrous marriage to a Russian mail order bride (which did result in a fifth child), Factor married a neighbor, Jennie, in 1908. By that time, his talent clear, it was Hollywood or bust.

After landing in L.A., he opened Max Factor’s Antiseptic Hair Store. His inventions include eyeshadow, mascara, and Pan-Stik, now known as foundation. Factor’s human hair wigs were so exquisite, he pressured the studios to cast his sons as extras—not for the money but instead so they could babysit the wigs. By the time the golden age of talkies rolled around, Factor’s business was going by the glitzier name of The House of Makeup. Factor was applying makeup to the faces of movie stars, often blending it exactly to their complexions, while filling orders for, say, 600 gallons of foundation for the extras on the set of Ben-Hur.

Factor’s star continued to rise until his death in 1938, when he literally died of fright after being harassed by an extortionist. Frank Factor, born above that Biddle Street shop in 1904, changed his name to Max Jr.—and stepped in to save the business. He turned the Wicked Witch green for The Wizard of Oz and used the glamour of studio stars to market makeup to everyday women. We’re wearing it still.

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