The world of makeup was transformed by the rise of film as popular entertainment. The original black and white films presented actors with stark, dramatically emphasized faces, using the same techniques and makeup made popular on the live stage. With black and white, the vivid contrast between dark and light, shadow and radiance helped to sharpen actors’ features, to heighten their facial expressions, and to whitewash any number of flaws through the thick cover of blue or green-tinted makeup. As early black and white film stock did not register a wide range of colors—the red spectrum, for example, often appeared black and dark grey on film—actors, who often applied their own makeup for scenes, compensated by using green and blue-toned makeup to bring a more natural appearance to their albeit shades of grey complexions. With the introduction of Technicolor and panchromatic film, the world of cinema opened itself to a rainbow of colors and makeup techniques and film cosmetics were allowed a new palette of shades and hues with which to experiment.
One of the first makeup artists to experiment successfully with the wide range of colors now available to costume designers and cosmeticians, Max Factor is known for having revolutionized movie makeup. Working skillfully with different combinations of chemicals and even inventing his own line of products designed at first for film but later marketed to a wider public, Max Factor changed the ways in which film, cosmetics, and the skillful application of powder, rouge, and lipstick could transform a woman into a screen siren. He is credited with coining the term makeup, based on the phrase “to make up one’s face.” Born in Poland, Max Factor was apprenticed to a pharmacist at the age of eight and soon discovered he had an extraordinary talent for understanding the chemistry of cosmetics. He was discovered in Moscow, where he opened a store in the suburbs and was subsequently appointed the official cosmetician to the Russian Royal ballet. Max Factor and his family immigrated to the United States in 1904. At the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, Max Factor found his first public by selling the rouges and creams he had developed earlier in Russia. In 1914, he developed a foundation for actors that would not crack, cake, or crepe under the harsh studio lights and he became a highly sought-after makeup artist in the film industry soon afterward. His makeup was a thinner greasepaint made in 12 shades in cream form and packaged in jars, unlike the thick stick greasepaints used in the theater. His makeup technique was dramatic but real, beautiful but natural. He enhanced the best features of the face while keeping women unique, interesting, and strong.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the golden years of filmmaking, Max Factor became intimately associated with the world of movie stars. He worked with iconic beauties such as Claudette Colbert, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Jean Harlow. Max Factor invented some of the most influential and iconic looks for actresses—he created the first false eyelashes for silent film star Phyllis Haver; rosebud lips and the Cupid’s bow lip style in the 1920s; and the hunter’s bow lips for Joan Crawford in the 1930s. Max Factor was not only a skilled chemist, a makeup artist, and a charismatic character; he was also a savvy businessman. He maximized his relationship with the most popular movie stars of the day, achieving celebrity status by making up celebrities. His close and intimate friendships with the movers and shakers at the movie studios allowed him to make cameo appearances in some of the most popular films of the day. His move from behind the scenes to the maximum visibility in front of the camera made him a familiar brand name, brought him a new marketability, and introduced him to a plethora of celebrities who could endorse and help him sell his cosmetic breakthroughs. Many of Max Factor’s celebrity clients appeared, at no cost, in beautiful full-page, color magazine ads to promote Max Factor cosmetics.
Max Factor became a household name because he brought glamour and beauty to the stars—and he understood that if he marketed his own line of products, he could convince the wider public that he could do the same for them. His numerous cosmetic innovations were often created for the screen first, firsthand testimony to their efficacy, before they were introduced to the public. Some of his inventions included the first motion picture makeup in 1914; lip gloss, originally developed for the screen, in 1932; Pan-Cake Makeup, forerunner of all modern cake makeups, in 1937; Tru Color Lipstick, the first smear-proof lipstick in 1940; Pan-Stik Makeup in 1948; Erace, the original cover-up cosmetic, in 1954; and the first waterproof makeup in 1971. Max Factor was the first to realize the lengths to which women would go to emulate their favorite divas. He marketed his products not only to flatter individual stars, for example, in creating shades specifically for the actresses: Platinum for Jean Harlow, Special Medium for Joan Crawford, and Dark for Claudette Colbert; but he also allowed the average woman to identify with and ultimately purchase the desired look of her idol. He developed the color harmony principles of makeup—enticing millions of women to have their colors done to enhance natural hair, eye, and skin coloring with complementary makeup colors. In 1935, he opened the Max Factor Makeup Salon in Los Angeles, bringing movie magic into the reality of the everyday world. One did not have to be an actress to have access to Max Factor’s expertise; one just needed an appointment. Max Factor & Company became a multigenerational, international cosmetics giant before it was sold for $500 million dollars in 1973.
Certainly, the popularity of the moving pictures brought a new form of celebrity to the wider public. Actors and actresses who make film so varied, interesting, and entertaining became the new idols and icons for the masses. The increasing availability and accessibility of the cinema meant that singular models of beauty and aesthetics were becoming more standardized, more uniform, more hegemonic as larger and larger audiences were bombarded with examples of what beauty looked like. Movie studios took great care in choosing and grooming their actors and actresses—studios often had direct and final control over the creation of the image and reputation of its corps of actors. Studios changed the names of their young stars, required them to conform to rigorous diets and exercise regimes, even physically changed their appearances in order to make them more attractive, more appealing, and in many ways, more mainstream to their mainstream audiences. The young actress Judy Garland, for example, was forced to take a variety of drugs, including amphetamines, to attain and maintain the more svelte and streamlined figure popular at the time. For the film Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), director Vincente Minelli requested that makeup artist Dorothy Ponedel beautify Garland for the movie. Ponedel took dramatic measures to refine Garland’s features, including extending and reshaping her eyebrows, changing her hairline through plucking, modifying her lip line, and removing her nose discs (rubberized disks used to reshape the nose). Movie studios implicitly understood the impact of beauty on their viewing public and spent copious amounts of money to keep Hollywood beautiful.
Stars and Celebrities
The influence of movie stars and celebrities on the definitions of beauty and glamour are undeniable. Marlene Dietrich sold her beauty secrets by endorsing Lux Soap and Woodbury Cold Cream. Audrey Hepburn became the picture of elegance, and women wanted to emulate her Givenchy-garbed gamine beauty. Elizabeth Taylor helped to popularize the extended lash line of the Cleopatra cat-eye. Sophia Loren brought a new, raw sexuality and sensuality to the voluptuous hourglass figure and brunette became the new sexy. Bo Derek made braids alluring when she stepped out of the ocean onto the beach to the delight of Dudley Moore. Julia Roberts revitalized hooker chic when she played a prostitute with a heart of gold, complete with a fashion montage. Most recently, the onslaught of incredibly skinny, lollipop headed (so called because their heads appear so big on their thin-as-stick bodies) actresses, on average a size 0 or a size 2, has made the diet and fitness industry one of the fastest and most profitable enterprises in the modern period. The glamorous, but ultimately unrealistic, images presented on film often have a negative impact. Women are especially affected by this phenomenon as the model of beauty does not reflect the average appearance of women in society. Since the 1960s, the number of cases of eating disorders among girls under the age of 10 has doubled. New studies show that more than 80 percent of 10-year-old girls have already dieted.
Beauty Space and Culture
Film has the power to transport and transform the viewer—often by reflecting the very intimacy and power of space and community. The 1980s and 1990s saw the popularity of films that not only put beauty on screen but also put the making of beauty, the unifying cultural space of beauty parlors and barbershops, directly into the language of popular media. With films like Herbert Ross’s Steel Magnolias (1989), which framed the relationship between a mother and daughter within a larger family of strong, independent southern women whose sharp, cutting, and caring repartee permeated the local beauty shop, and Rob Lekutic’s hit Legally Blonde (2001), in which Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods’s friendship with a manicurist and her extensive firsthand knowledge of beauty salon techniques give her the winning edge in the difficult defense of a fellow sorority sister accused of murder—beauty parlors, the friendships made within them, the relationships occasioned by this public yet intimate space came to the forefront of American cinema. In 2002, Tim Story brought another dimension to the depiction of space and community in his film, Barber Shop, by placing his story about brotherhood, economics, racism, and community squarely in an African American barbershop. For the men and women in the movie, the barbershop represented a gathering place, an intimate space, a safe domain in which the elements of home and community could be combined. In 2005, Billie Woodruff directed Beauty Shop, a film headed by Queen Latifah, who played a woman who finds independence, respect, and her own voice in the ownership of her own beauty parlor. In a film that celebrates girl power and the strength that feeling confident and looking good can offer, the beauty parlor itself, the very space, becomes its own living and breathing character—providing a place for diversity, racial harmony, economic opportunity, and the appreciation of individual beauty.
Often, film describes an idealized beauty, space, and community, but it may do so by making promises it cannot keep. Some of the most evocative films describe the fairy godmother–like transformations of women, from ignorance to knowledge, from frumpy to beautiful, from abhorred to desired, all in under two hours and all for the price of admission. Most recently, the very popular Princess Diaries performs the ultimate makeover on a young woman who is deemed a nerd because of her bad hair and glasses. Several makeup artists, a temperamental hairstylist, contact lenses, and a few spa treatments later, Hollywood transforms Anne Hathaway, and she is instantly depicted as beautiful, poised, elegant—the lost princess. From the Disney cartoon, Cinderella, where the fairy godmother bibbidy-bobbidyboos the poor Cinderella from servant girl to unrecognizable princess save for her glass slipper; to My Fair Lady where Eliza Doolittle is transformed from curbstone flower girl to Hungarian princess; to Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts goes from hooking on Hollywood Boulevard to crying tears of joy at the opening of the San Francisco opera in a red Eugene Alexander designer gown and $250,000 ruby and diamond jewels—film has offered women the ultimate makeover.