Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, and virtually all of the major movie actresses were regular customers of the Max Factor beauty salon, located near Hollywood Boulevard.
Max Factor specialized in transforming ordinary people into dazzling stars. Many of his celebrity clients also appeared in full-color magazine ads to promote his cosmetics, so the brand name Max Factor soon became world-renown.
And now, almost sixty years after its grand opening in 1935, that very same beauty salon has been restored to its original pristine condition; it's open to the public as a romantic (albeit somewhat campy) museum of those grand times of Silver Screen glamour - chronicling Max Factor's role in that history. *
The museum is located on Highland Avenue, just a few steps south of Hollywood Boulevard. Contrasting dramatically with the seedy urban sprawl just outside its doors, the interior of the historic studio is once again a polished Art Deco gem - a white & rose-colored oasis of crystal chandeliers, pastel hues, antique furniture, and potted palms. But now it is open to the public, not just to the superstars of Tinseltown.
You enter through dark marble archways; the small museum is divided into several rooms. They feature hundreds of autographed photos of famous stars (who were also studio clients), Max Factor magazine ads featuring Hollywood's leading ladies, dresses, wigs, magazine covers, a gleaming Oscar (which Max received himself in 1929 for his unique make-up), and glass cases displaying old-fashioned versions of Max Factor powders, perfumes, lipsticks and other products. Plus, there are a few unique items that border on the bizarre...
A pioneer in the field of movie make-up, Max Factor invented the first make-up used in a motion picture (a greasepaint in a tube), and went on to become the inventor of lip gloss, pancake make-up and false eyelashes.
The original Max Factor studio contained four special celebrity make-up rooms, each designed to bring out the best in women of a particular hair color: one room is labeled "For Blondes Only" (and is decorated in flattering shades of blue); other rooms are solely for redheads (done in mint green), brunettes (dusty rose pink), or brownettes (pale peach). These special rooms have been faultlessly preserved, and are complete with the original make-up chairs, settees, lights, and flattering, multi-angled mirrors.
Max Factor actually started out as a wig-maker, and the museum's "Hair Department" contains famous wigs and hairpieces worn in Hollywood films by both male & female celebrities. Here you'll find Billy Burke's blond curls from her role as the Good Witch Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz," Lucille Ball's bright red wig, and even a selection of men's toupees, including those worn by John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, & George Burns.
One unique item on display in this room is a wig worn by German actress Marlene Dietrich, who insisted that it be dusted with flakes of pure, 20K gold, to make her hair sparkle. Max Factor was a thrifty sort, though, and when Ms. Dietrich brought the wig back to be cleaned, he routinely combed the wig to recover some of the precious gold. On one occasion, he collected $24.32 in gold dust from her faux tresses!
There is an entire wall full of colorful Max Factor glamour ads from old magazines, featuring movie stars such as Judy Garland and Joan Crawford. There are also dozens of autographed photos from just about every famous name in Hollywood. Another room duplicates Max Factor's private office, complete with his original desk, and photos of him as a teenager in his native Poland.
"The Scroll of Fame" has a prominent place here. It was signed by those attending the grand opening of the Max Factor Studio back in 1935, and it contains the autographs of hundreds of movie stars, making it one of the largest single collections of celebrity autographs anywhere. You can also see the original contracts signed by major Hollywood actresses - just about everyone who was anyone at the time: Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Clara Bow, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, ad infinitum.
Despite the museum's small size, there is even a little theatre room, where up to eight people can sit and watch two short, entertaining videos about the history of Max Factor. The song "Hooray for Hollywood" echoes through the hallways. (Incidentally, that song's original lyrics contained the line: "Want to be an actor? Call Mr. Factor!")
Oh yes, I mentioned bizarre items... There are two strange Max Factor inventions on display at the museum: "The Beauty Calibrator " is a weird gizmo from 1932 for measuring the face; it looks more like some medieval torture device. "The Kissing Machine," from 1939, presses two sets of rubber lips together, under ten pounds of pressure, in order to test the indelibility of lipstick.
This is an unusual little museum, and probably not be to everyone's taste. But it is also one of the few remaining bright spots along the otherwise dreary Hollywood Boulevard, and bear in mind that it is absolutely free, so you have nothing to lose by stopping in for a visit.
Parking: There is a parking lot (surrounded by a chain-link fence) on the south side of the museum.
Admission Price: Free. (* The old Museum is now closed. Click here for details about new Hollywood History Museum )
Hours: Mon-Sat: 10 AM - 4 PM. (* The old Museum is now closed. Click here for details about new Hollywood History Museum )
Getting there: The Max Factor museum is located on the east side of Highland Avenue, just one half-block south of Hollywood Boulevard (between Hawthorn Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard). It's within easy walking distance of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and just around the corner from the Ripley's Museum. / From Hollywood and Vine, go west on Hollywood Boulevard (about 3/4 of a mile) to Highland Avenue. Turn left (south) on Highland, and the museum will be on your left (east) side.
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Copyright © 2014-Gary Wayne
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