Factor, Max, Jr.

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Factor, Max, Jr.

(b. 18 August 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri; d. 7 June 1996 in Los Angeles, California), cosmetic chemist and businessman noted for inventing makeup products, formulating perfumes, and innovating marketing practices.

Factor was the youngest of four children of Max Factor, a wig maker and cosmetologist, and Esther Rosa Factor, a homemaker whose maiden name is not known. Factor also had two half brothers, each from one of his father’s previous marriages. Given the name Francis at birth and called Frank, Factor changed his name to Max, Jr., on his father’s death in 1938. The Factor family emigrated from Russia to St. Louis in 1902 so that Max Factor, Sr., could take advantage of the business opportunities at the World’s Fair in 1904. Soon thereafter the family moved to Los Angeles, where the senior Factor hoped his skills in wig-making and cosmetic composition would be useful to the movie industry. Factor grew up in Los Angeles, attending local public schools until he left school in tenth grade to join the family business full time. After school and during holidays Factor and his brothers and sisters worked in the family cosmetics and wig-making business. He and his older brother Davis Factor made deliveries and took parts as extras in movies so they could make sure all the wigs were returned at the end of each day’s shooting.

Factor worked with his father in the laboratory to develop new cosmetic products that solved problems caused by technological improvements in cameras and other equipment. During the 1920s the Factors developed improved greasepaints that gave actors and actresses a more natural appearance in black and white films. With the advent of color photography in the 1930s, actors and actresses turned the color of the surroundings. Addressing this problem, the Factors produced Pan-Cake makeup, which was so popular with the actresses that they took it home from the studios. Consequently the Factor family began to market their product to the general public. On 26 March 1933 Factor married Mildred (“Milly”) Cohen. They had two sons.

By the time his father died in 1938, Max Factor cosmetics were sold throughout the United States and Europe. The company was characterized by innovative practices in product development and in marketing techniques. Family members continued the company’s operations. Max Factor, Jr., president of the company, and Davis Factor, company chair, worked tirelessly to promote the company’s creativity and growth.

After the end of World War II the company’s fortunes burgeoned. In the company laboratories Factor experimented with perfumes and cosmetics for the movie studios and then marketed the successful ones to the general public. He is credited with inventing nonallergenic lipstick and waterproof mascara and was known for his sensitive nose.

Factor was a quiet, modest man of great kindness. He remained married to Milly until her death in 1969, something of a feat in Hollywood circles. A short, dapper man with wavy hair and an engaging smile, Factor was known for remembering the names of the people who waited on him in restaurants. After the Factor family sold the company to the Norton Simon Company in 1973, Factor retired and devoted his time to his favorite charities, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Devereaux Foundation for the mentally disabled in Santa Barbara, California. He died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles at ninety-one years of age. He is buried in Hillside Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Although it is difficult to separate Factor’s contributions from those of the rest of the family, his innovations affected many women in the 1950s and 1960s. When Max Factor, Sr., began to sell cosmetics to the general public in the 1920s, societal attitudes toward the use of cosmetics were negative. The Factor family’s marketing efforts contributed to a dramatic change in applications and attitudes toward cosmetics. Although Max Factor, Jr., did not invent lipstick, his improvements made the product an important part of many women’s attire.

Facets of Factor’s career are detailed in Fred E. Bosten, Robert A. Salvatore, and Paul A. Kaufman, Max Factor’s Hollywood (1995), a lavishly illustrated book about the family company. Mary Tannen provides a description of Factor with personal tributes from family and friends as well as details of his long and successful career in the New York Times Magazine (29 Dec. 1996). Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times (9 June 1996), New York Times (14 June 1996), and Economist (15 July 1996).

Ellen Loughran