Max Factor's beauty museum prepares to fade away


HOLLYWOOD -- The best thing to come out of the bomb that was "The Two Jakes" would have to be the face lift it afforded Max Factor's Museum of Beauty -- and its immortality. When director and star Jack Nicholson chose the converted salon for a brief scene with a mud-packed Meg Tilly, Paramount Studios spent $20,000 restoring it to the exact condition in which it would have been found in October 1946.

"Nicholson said he wanted every case filled with the same products that would have been there at the time," museum coordinator Randy Koss explains. "I had to take down the entire exhibit. He was so specific. So I said, 'You don't want Panstick, that came out in '47.' "

The camera came, blinked and went on its way. "And you didn't see any of it," Mr. Koss says with a heavenward roll of his eyes.

But what the filmmakers left behind -- fresh paint, reupholstered chaise lounges, restored display cases, rebuilt deco chandeliers and torchiere lights -- continued to bring a glow to Mr. Koss' complexion -- until the recent announcement that the museum would be closing its doors for good as of July 1.

The museum, located in the building just off Hollywood Boulevard that had been the company's headquarters since the 1920s and dedicated to the legacy of Max Factor -- a Jewish wig-maker who went from the court of Czar Nicholas to become Hollywood's foremost makeup maven (he even coined the phrase "makeup," we are told, thus replacing toiletries and cosmetics as the noun of choice) -- will donate its unique %J collection to the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, which will open in 1995.

"If you're an actor, go see Max Factor," was the order sung in "Hooray for Hollywood," and all the biggest deals of the day did: Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, Merle Oberon, Loretta Young. His paint and powder gave them the alabaster skin, shimmering eyes and luscious lips men fell in love with and women longed to copy. And with studios making all the major stars available to endorse his products, Max Factor sold the world the promise of screen perfection.

The exhibit, which featured such Factor milestones as the first pair of false eyelashes, the first "Pan-Cake Make-Up" (as it was trademarked) and the first publicly offered lip gloss ("It had long been used by the stars," says an accompanying card) was opened in 1984 to give tourists visiting Hollywood during the summer Olympics something more wholesome to see than Frederick's lingerie den.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad