Factor, Max

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FACTOR, MAX (1877–1938), U.S. cosmetics manufacturer. Factor was born in Lodz, Poland, where at the age of eight he served an apprenticeship to a dentist-pharmacist. Years of mixing potions instilled in him a fascination with the human form. Factor opened his own shop in Moscow, where he sold hand-made rouges, creams, fragrances, and wigs. A traveling theatrical troupe wore Factor's makeup while performing for Russian nobility. Appreciating his handiwork, the Russian aristocrats appointed Factor the official cosmetic expert for the royal family and the Imperial Russian Grand Opera. Factor emigrated to the United States in 1904, and opened a cosmetics booth at the World's Fair in St. Louis. He moved his family to Los Angeles, where, in 1909, he opened a cosmetics and perfume shop in the center of the city's theatrical district. The business subsequently developed into Max Factor & Co., the largest cosmetics firm in California for decades.

In 1914, Factor created a makeup specifically for movie actors which, unlike theatrical makeup, would not crack or cake. Film stars rushed to his makeup studio, anxious to try out his "flexible greasepaint," while producers headed for the wigs that Factor made from human hair. In 1938 he developed pancake makeup, a new type of material to be used by actors in Technicolor films, which soon became the standard makeup for all color motion pictures.

In the 1920s Factor introduced cosmetics to the public, promoting the idea that every girl could look like a movie star by using Max Factor Makeup. When pancake was launched, it became one of the fastest-growing, largest-selling, single makeup items in the history of cosmetics. Factor was responsible for countless other cosmetic innovations, including the word "makeup" itself, which he coined. He and his company created such mainstays as lip gloss, the eyebrow pencil, false eyelashes, waterproof makeup, and the concept of cosmetic "color harmony." He also developed numerous makeup techniques for movie special effects, as well as personal application.

Much of his work has been preserved at the Hollywood History Museum in Hollywood, California. The exhibits include the lobby and various makeup rooms from his studio, as well as thousands of rare Hollywood costumes, props, sets, and memorabilia.

Factor co-authored the book The Technique of Stage Make-up: A Practical Manual for the Use of Max Factor's Theatrical Make-up (with J. Knapp, 1942).

Each of his four sons joined the business. davis factor (1902–1991), who was born in Russia, became chairman of the board. max factor, jr. (1904–1996), born in St. Louis, became vice chairman of the board. A specialist in cosmetic chemistry, he received awards from the motion picture and television industry for designing special makeup to go before the cameras. louis factor (1907–1975), also born in St. Louis, became vice president and assistant secretary of the firm. Los Angeles-born sidney factor (1916– ) was a member of the board. Max Factor's son-in-law, max firestein (1894–?) of Denver, became chairman of the board's executive committee. Active in Jewish organizational life, he was president of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Council and served on the national campaign cabinet of the United Jewish Appeal. His sons alfred firestein (1924– ) and chester firestein (1930– ) became president and executive vice president, respectively, of Max Factor Co. davis factor (1935– ) of the third generation was director of marketing in the international division. By the end of the 1960s Max Factor had become the third-largest U.S. cosmetics manufacturer, and the largest in the international field.

Max Factor became a division of Procter & Gamble in Hunt Valley, Maryland.


F. Basten, R. Salvatore, and P. Hoffman (eds.), Max Factor's Hollywood: Glamour, Movies and Make-Up (1995).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]