Max Factor — A Wizard of Make-up (1929) 🇺🇸

Max Factor — A Wizard of Make-up (1929) |

December 12, 2023

Some one has said that any mildly pretty girl can, by expert grooming, be made to look beautiful. And certainly the American woman’s annual bill for cosmetics would indicate that, if we do not all look beautiful, it is not because we don’t try!

by Alma Talley

But the question is, how skillful are most of us? And you know the answer yourself.

All of which brings us to Max Factor, who is called “the make-up wizard of Hollywood.” For years he has specialized in what might be called prescriptions for faces. For years he has diagnosed faces, as a doctor diagnoses symptoms. He decides what are stars’ best features, and should therefore be emphasized, which features are bad, and should be made as inconspicuous as possible.

And where could Mr. Factor make better use of his talents than in the movies? Where else in the world is make-up quite so important? Screen acting is the one profession in the world where one’s face is really one’s fortune. If the camera does not lie, it certainly exaggerates, and it is highly important to any player that his features look as nearly perfect as possible.

When Betty Bronson was selected to play Peter Pan, she was sent to Mr. Factor for advice on her make-up. When Clara Bow began to work for Paramount, after several years of semi-obscurity on the screen, she did not suddenly arise to her present box-office value without cause. She learned, at last, how to make up, and her screen appearance became that of an almost different girl. Formerly she appeared before the camera with great globs of mascara around her eyes, and with masses of lipstick crudely applied. Max Factor changed all that. He showed her how to apply mascara delicately, how to make her mouth look natural before the camera, and what shade of grease paint gave her face its best coloring. And Clara became, suddenly, for camera purposes, a beauty, which she had never been before, and which she is not in real life.

Julia Faye has a rather pointed chin, which comes out badly in photographs. Max Factor arranged a make-up which rounds out this pointed feature. She uses very light-brown grease paint on her her chin to catch all the high lights before the camera. And beginning at her chin, she uses darker and darker grease paint up her cheeks, until her forehead, which is quite broad, becomes very dark. This is called setback. And of course the various tones are blended together, as she applies them, so that one shade gradually merges into another.

Such are the make-up problems which are brought to Mr. Factor to solve. With his son-in-law, who is also a chemist, he works them out.

When Douglas Fairbanks was making The Thief of Bagdad, there were numerous rehearsals for the scenes in which the robber band climbed into large jugs a la Ali Baba and his forty thieves. Of course, there was really no oil in those jugs, but it was warm under the heavy arc-lights, and climbing in and out was strenuous work. The men wore very little clothing, but were covered all over with grease paint.

And there was the problem. Each time they emerged from the jugs, the grease paint was all smeared, and there had to be time out to apply fresh make-up. And that’s expensive, on a set using hundreds of extras. So Max Factor was called in. He concocted a make-up which did not smear.

Another problem came up in filming Noah’s Ark. There were water scenes, involving dozens of extras. How to make them up so the grease paint would not wash off? Max Factor supplied a waterproof coating to apply on top of the regular grease.

Movie make-up has changed considerably since the old days, since, indeed, the use of panchromatic film, which catches colors much more vividly than the old type of film. For instance, panchromatic makes bright-red lips come out on the screen as a violent, black line which looks unnatural and leaps out from the face. The coloring has to be toned down. Max Factor tries very hard to induce actresses to use brown lip salve, a little darker than the tan grease paint on their cheeks; but stars are reluctant to use it. They wish to look pretty on the set; who wants brown lips? For the same reason, they are unwilling to use gray grease paint instead of brown, which, according to Mr. Factor, is a much better shade for the camera.

Mr. Factor’s son-in-law evolved a new gold paint for professional use. Oriental dancers are frequently called upon to gild or bronze themselves all over. This has always been a precarious undertaking, because the pores were thereby closed, a condition which, if prolonged, causes death. Now there is a gilding which is porous and does not shut the air off from the skin.

Max Factor’s lifetime of experience in this work began when he was eight years old. At that age he was apprenticed to a wigmaker in his native Russia. Americans have no idea what an apprenticeship, in the European manner, really means.

To Max it meant that for five years he worked constantly at the wigmaker’s long, drudging hours, and no pay. His compensation consisted of the knowledge of the trade which he was acquiring. At the end of five years, he was given a new pair of shoes as a bonus. That was all.

But his training was thorough. It was much more than merely learning to make wigs. It included everything one would normally learn in a beauty parlor about cosmetics, and so on.

He gradually rose to success in his native country. He became official cosmetician for the Russian Imperial Opera. He was called upon frequently by ladies of the court. And it was only due to an impending war that he finally left his native country.

He had served the compulsory two years in the army, and had had enough of military life. Through his contact with court circles, he learned that war with Japan was a certainty, not many years in the future. So he came to America. With a French partner he went to St. Louis in 1904, where the World’s Fair was being held.

Max Factor had a large stock of perfumes and cosmetics, and his French partner absconded with it all, leaving the young Russian immigrant all but penniless.

And that is when he went to Hollywood, where the film industry was just taking root. Movies seemed a good field for his talents. Since he was expert in a profession which had few experts at that time, he had no difficulty in making studio connections.

And now, girls, if you’ve been waiting for a little advice as to your own make-up, here is what this authority has to say:

The first principle of make-up, for ordinary use, is that it seems as natural as possible. This is an obvious statement, but it requires only a glance around to realize that there are many women who need such an admonition.

Young girls, says Mr. Factor, should always use a lighter make-up than older, more sophisticated women — lighter tones of rouge, lightly applied.

Powder, of course, should always match the tone of one’s skin. The back of the hand is a good place to test the shade.

Brunettes should never use orange rouge — with one exception, and one only. That exception is, at night, when one is wearing an orange frock. Never at any other time, with any other color!

Girls with large or prominent noses should rouge as closely as possible to the nose — delicately, skillfully of course. This makes the nose seem smaller.

And, on the contrary, sharp, pointed noses can be made to look fuller if the rouge is applied only on the outer edges of the cheeks, say from the center to the hair line.

Puffy eyelids can be made to seem less so with the application of a little eye shadow, light or dark, according to one’s coloring. This is rubbed in thoroughly, so that it cannot be detected, and blended into the skin at the edge of one’s eyelid. The idea is that if the eyelids are imperceptibly darkened, it gives them greater depth — setback.

Eyebrows are sometimes improved by extending them a little at the outer edge, with an eyebrow pencil.

Eyebrows should never be thinned from the top, as this destroys expression. The thinning, if any, should be done at the bottom, and the tweezers used at the top only to even the line and remove any stragglers.

As to lip rouge, this is best applied with the fingers. And Mr. Factor calls attention to the number of girls who spread it on carelessly, just on the outside of the lips, so that there is an ugly, red line where the rouge stops. In applying lip salve, one should always open the mouth slightly, and rouge inside the lips as well. And, in completing the operation, put powder on over the lipstick to soften the color. Wet the lips to remove the powder a little.

Mouths that droop at the corners can be made less droopy by curving the line of rouge at the edges, not too conspicuously. And if the lips are not uniform — that is, if one is thicker than the other — they can be matched, or nearly so, by skillful application of rouge.

Oh, there are many tricks to this business of make-up; professional beauties usually learn most of them.

And of course there is the right way to go about putting on make-up. First, be sure that the face is thoroughly clean. Then use a powder foundation over the face and neck. Then, according to Mr. Factor, a light coating of powder. Then rouge, rubbed in thoroughly and blended with the natural coloring, so that there is no definite spot where the rouge leaves off. Never, never, just a round blob of color, which so many girls seem to achieve!

Then another coat of powder. This is put on with a large puff, patted on, not rubbed in.

“What part of her face does a girl usually powder first?” Max Factor asked me.

“Her nose, probably,” I said promptly.

“Exactly. And that’s all wrong. She should always powder first under her chin, to take the heaviest load of powder off the puff. Leave the nose until the puff is more lightly covered.”

Of course the neck should be powdered, too, to match the face. Eye shadow, provided one used such extreme make-up, would be applied at this point. And then mascara, which young girls should be wary of using.

Last comes the lip rouge, which should be powdered over. And the finishing touch to the face, as any actress would tell you, is to brush the whole surface, neck and face, with a complexion brush, similar to a baby’s hairbrush. This removes any surplus powder, and gives a smooth surface to the skin.

All this is the expert’s method of making up. And of course the best rule one can follow, is to use the very least amount of make-up, to bring out your best features. Because the very first demand of good taste is not to look made up at all!

Max Factor — A Wizard of Make-up (1929) |

A touch here and there, and Max Factor works wonders in Vera Reynolds’ make-up.

Here he tries out the cold cream best suited to Martha Sleeper.

Max Factor — A Wizard of Make-up (1929) |

Crude make-up was formerly Clara Bow’s misfortune, before Max Factor taught her the right way.

Irene Rich is another who wisely consulted the wizard.

Max Factor — A Wizard of Make-up (1929) |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, June 1929