More than a cosmetic effect

Times Staff Writer

Max Factor literally changed the face of Hollywood. And his effect on Tinseltown is elaborately illustrated in “Max Factor: Hollywood’s First Makeover Artist,” on exhibit at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum through Dec. 1.

More than 120 objects, including wigs, stills, ads, contracts and devices, haven’t been seen since the closure a decade ago of the Max Factor Museum at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The exhibition is just a small portion of the collection culled from hundreds of boxes of material donated to the Hollywood Entertainment Museum in 1992 after the Max Factor company was sold to Procter & Gamble and the new owners shuttered the museum.

The Russian-born Factor’s primary business at the movie studios initially was making wigs for productions, says Hollywood Entertainment Museum curator Jan-Christopher Horak. When he began producing makeup, “It was up to the individual actors to buy their own makeup.”

Factor began his wig business in Russia the 1890s and continued his craft when he immigrated to the United States in 1903, first setting up a wig booth at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Four years later, he moved to Los Angeles and opened a wig shop on Hill Street, where he also sold makeup -- not yet his own creations -- and sundries.


Finally in 1914, he created a makeup for motion pictures. “At that time everyone in the movies is still using theatrical makeup because the movie industry is so young that no one is really thinking about special makeup for the movies,” Horak says.

But Factor did. Because the black-and-white stock used in movies until 1928 didn’t capture red tones, actors needed to use heavy white makeup without any red pigment because red tones turned a person’s face dark on screen. “So he created a makeup that looks kind of natural and that is thin enough that it is virtually invisible,” Horak says.

Factor won an Oscar in 1929 for his work. By 1920, he was selling his makeup to consumers.

“He is incredibly smart in parlaying this Hollywood connections into a way to sell makeup to American women,” Horak says.


“In the late teens and early ‘20s, everybody is going nuts for film actors and actresses,” Horak says. “Everyone wants to look like them. He gets the studios to sign sweetheart deals with him so he gets the use of the images of the stars to sell makeup.”

In 1935, Factor built his studio at Hollywood and Highland complete with makeup salons -- one of which is re-created for the exhibit -- labs, a wig-making department and part of his manufacturing facility. Eventually the studio became the Max Factor Museum.

Factor died in 1938 and his son, Frank, assumed the business and the name Max Factor.


Max Factor exhibit

Where: Hollywood Entertainment Museum,

7021 Hollywood Blvd.

When: Daily except Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Ends: Dec. 1

Price: $7.50 for adults; $5.50 for seniors; $4.50 for students;

$4 for ages 5 to 12 and free to museum members and children under 5

Contact: (323) 465-7900 or visit