Category Archives: Media


It’s June and the dust of pine pollen is flying everywhere. Dangerous time for those with allergies. Sometimes visible yellow clouds of pollen dust sweep across the hills and plains. The golden pollen of staminate cones can pile up on cars and in corners of lots where wind eddies form and collect it.

Pine pollen wafts away on a gentle June breeze

Pines are some of the most majestic of trees.  They are indigenous throughout most of the world’s landmasses, particularly in the northern hemisphere.  Common here in Colorado are the Austrian Pine and the Ponderosa.

The Austrian (or Black) Pine was originally brought to America by European immigrants in the mid-18th century.  Native to the higher altitudes of central Europe, from Italy to Turkey, its hardiness in a variety of soil conditions and climates led to its wide-spread adoption in America.  They are fairly fast growing (1 – 2 ft/year), normally reaching about 50-60 feet, but in ideal conditions can reach heights over 100 feet.  Over 200 million were planted during the Depression and Dust Bowl years as an erosion mitigation method and as a jobs program. They are now considered “native” throughout much of the US.

Many confuse the Ponderosa with the Austrian. Both have prickly needles, and their cones are approximately the same size and shape. But there are quick differentiating identifiers. The Ponderosa is generally found above 6,000 ft elevation, the Austrian below (may vary on location, this is for Colorado). The Austrian grows only 2 needles per bunch; the Ponderosa 3 (although most trees have an occasional bundle of only 2).  The length of needles are approximately the same, so best to pull off a bundle and count them; when hiking the needles can often be too far up to reach – then I just look on the ground to spot older shed needles; the ponderosa sheds them almost continuously, the Austrian more seasonally, but last year’s are usually findable.

Not only is the Ponderosa capable of growing much taller, it has a more gnarly and grizzled looking bark, with deep grooves and furrows that seem to divide the surface into a pattern of scales and puzzle pieces. This is its fire protection “skin.” As the tree matures, the bark takes on an orange-red hue.

Missing in this discussion is the most important pine — in fact important tree — in north American history: the Eastern White Pine.

This truly stately tree once grew more numerous and thicker than imaginable, across north America’s New England states from Maine to Pennsylvania, from Nova Scotia across Ontario, across Michigan – especially its Upper Peninsula – over to northern Minnesota, and reaching – at higher elevations, following the Appalachians – all the way down to Georgia.

Its 5-needle bunches, are soft and feathery, not prickly. They’re almost like the fine filaments on a portrait painter’s brush.  And they are denser in vitamin C than citrusy fruits like lemons and oranges; so they make a healthy herbal tea.

But its importance lay in its prodigious height, and ramrod straight trunks.  Often free of branches up to 75 feet, with heights reaching 200 feet and more, it could be considered the “Sequoia of the East.”

By the end of the reign of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, in the first years of the 17th century, England was well on its way to being the preeminent world power, which would end up with far flung colonies and business interests so expansive that “the sun never set on the British Empire.”

To conduct all this commerce the empire required more lumber than was possibly obtainable on the islands.  England, from the original Picts and Celts to medieval times, had effectively denuded the island of most usable lumber – it being employed for both construction and heating in those pre-industrial and pre-coal eras.  [However, most construction was masonry or simple stonework, the wood being preserved for fuel.]  [1]

And to protect all this money-making commerce the Empire required a large naval fleet, one that could apprehend pirates and fend-off pesky nations’ navies like Spain, the French and Dutch; they all loved to prey upon each other’s goods and staples, and defend trading “lanes” they thought of as their own.

This all required countless tons of stout timber, all to be worked by craftsmen and shipwrights into the spars, decks, keels, hulls, gunwales, and countless other structural components of the day’s ships.  [Excellent description of construction here.]

Most difficult and important were the masts, upon which the sails that propelled and tacked the vessel were supported. Ships-of-the-Line, with 96 to 110 guns, had masts that exceeded 200 ft in height. Even a cutter, only about one-tenth the displacement, had a main mast of 130 ft.  For a galleon the mast was often 160 feet, with a foremast nearly as long. [2]


Pre-Industrial era British Galleon

Where would such timber come from?  The Brits established trade with regions along the eastern Baltic coast where the Baltic Pine, or the Scots Pine, grew in abundance.  Capable of heights over 100 ft, this simplified the construction issue (masts were usually “spliced’ from several pieces with intricate woodworking).

This source had downsides. The Baltic Pines required trade with insecure agreements and market price whimseys. They had to compete with the Dutch and Spanish on price and trade privilege. Also, shipping between England and the Baltic required navigation around the Jutland “peninsula” and through the Danish isles, where they were somewhat prone to pirates and attacks by rivals to their world domination.

Hence the English turned their attention to their colonies in New England, which was more than abundant in tall, strong, straight timber: the Eastern White Pine.

The White Pine towers above the canopy

Now, an interesting twist of history occurred.  The King lay claim to all the White Pine in the new world realm; surveyors marked them with the king’s seal.  However, locals who had settled the land and worked it with the labors of their hands, arms and bodies, and by the sweat of their brow, felt like they had as good a claim to the timber as the king, in fact, better.

In New England the battle between the common hard-working colonialist and the dictate of monarchy started long before the Stamp Act.  It goes back to the first years of the 17th century, when England first set its covetous eyes on the riches of the New World.

The conflict bubbled on and on until it got caught up in the colonies’ loud pleas for greater independence in the years following the Seven Years War (or, the French and Indian War – in which colonialists help defeat France for control of the New World in North America).

Finally, full riots broke out.  Known as the Pine Tree Riots, its main rebellious insurrection occurred in 1772 when New Hampshirites supported local sawmills by physically accosting the Deputy Surveyor and the Sheriff, catching them unawares asleep at a local inn, and driving them out of town – and brutally mutilating their horses’ faces.  As the riots came shortly after The Boston Massacre (1770), emotions were still high and remained so.  Although the rioters eventually were caught and received a modicum of “justice”, the outright defiance never ended; in fact, it increased. The received and shared message was that defiance of the Crown was possible. In this way it’s  likely that the Pine Tree Riots led directly to The Boston Tea Party (1773) and to the open armed rebellion that followed.

On the morning of April 19th, 1775 a group rebellious Americans faced off with a detachment of British Redcoats at The Old North Bridge, in Concord, Province of Massachusetts Bay.  The government, under force of arms had come to relieve them of their rights: including their rights to pine trees, their land, their way of life and the right to defend all those rights, by force of arms themselves, if necessary.  The rebels would not back down.  The “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired, and the revolution was now in open, armed conflict.

Flag flown from Washington’s cruisers, Revolutionary War

Before Betsy Ross’s contribution became widely accepted, it’s no surprise then that the first flags flown by the Americans in the war for independence had a pine tree on them.  The nation’s first naval vessels, six cruisers commissioned by George Washington himself, flew a Pine Tree Flag.

The original flag of New England “patriots” and insurrectionists had a pine tree on a red background.  Per John Trumbull’s famous painting, and popular belief, the flag flown by patriots at the Battle of Bunker hill carried an image of a pine tree. [see below]

Flag flown by New England revolutionaries, believed by some to have been at Battle of Bunker Hill

The great Eastern White Pine has not faired nearly as well as the country whose first flags its inspiring image adorned two and a half centuries ago.  Unprotected and reaching high above the forest canopy, it was easily spotted and relentlessly cut down.  It’s hard being number one.

Millions were cut and sent to sawmills to build the cities of the growing country.  It’s estimated that across North America only about 1% of these giant beauties remain.  When Brits found out how wonderful they were, there was an attempt to grow them back home in England, which met with some success.

There have been attempts to repopulate much of the original White Pine native areas in America, but it’s met with only mixed success.  Ironically, some of the trees came from England, re-migrating back to their native lands.  However, many carried fungal infections, at least four of which are known to plague White Pines, and further flourishing of the species is, sadly, in serious doubt.

There are some very remote pockets in the highlands of southern Europe, from the Alps to the Carpathians, which somehow survived the last glaciation period in isolation, although many there also suffer from fungus induced needle blight.  I’ve read of some managed migration of trees to the Carpathians, since the fungus is not as rampant there.  Success is TBD.

Some efforts have been underway in the US to preserve the White Pines that remain.  Thinning is used to keep the trees spaced enough so that the fungi cannot spread.

Is this a metaphor? As with the country and political movements it inspired and briefly represented, the Eastern White Pine is in distress, and its future appears insecure.

  Joe Girard © 2022

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Trumbull painting, Death of General Warren at Bunker Hill

[1]  It’s generally believed that this over-harvesting of lumber over eons contributed to large regions of England and Scotland being unable to self-replenish the trees, leading to what we now call the “moors” or “moorland”; vast wastelands devoid of trees.

[2] Masts and ships:].

Roger That

The early 1960s milieu of my youth was certainly different than that of our contemporary turmoil, well over five decades hence. 

For example, some obscure skills regarding road maps were very useful, whether on a cross-country adventure, or just heading out to the next county, or across town. One was being able to find a tiny street somewhere in F-9.  You could not just whip out your mobile phone and ask for directions over that last mile.

Another was to unfold a large detailed map and then re-fold differently so that it could be easily used for navigation; – and then, upon completion, getting it all neatly re-folded again (yes, using the original creases and into the original pattern) without rips or tears so that it could be stored efficiently for multiple future uses. That’s an almost completely lost art.  It required patience, some imagination, and 3-D topological mathematical skills to visualize and execute the folded shapes. 

1960s Road Maps

State maps and city maps often folded differently, and especially so if one was from Texaco, another from Standard Oil, and yet another from Michelin, or from whomever.  If you need a tutorial, find a road map collecting club.  These clubs actually exist.  You can find anything in America. 

I was wondering recently about the children’s cartoon show that we sometimes watched: Roger Ramjet.  I think it was a tangent thought on our nation’s new Space Force (by the way, we’ve effectively had a Space Force since long before President Trump deemed it so). Roger Ramjet was one of countless mindless children’s empty-headed shows that ubiquitously populated the TV Wasteland of the early ‘60s moors (the theme song is right now an earworm in my brain).  The term TV Wasteland was so coined by Newton Minow, the first chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in a famous speech to a Senate subcommittee, in 1961.

The commissioner’s name is part of a humorous twist, from yet another silly brain-dead show for children that jumped into the 1960’s wasteland: Gilligan’s Island. The show’s creator and executive director, Sherwood Schwartz, decided that the name of the tour ship that would survive an ocean storm, and drop seven castaways on an uncharted island, would be named the SS Minnow, in sardonic honor of the Chairman.  

I wondered how Roger Ramjet, both the character and the TV show got their name.  Ramjet was a “hot” word de jour, in those fast-paced technology-war and cold war years.  Simply – I would learn a few years later – a basic sort of turbo charged jet engine, without an actual turbo air-compressing mechanism. 

Our hero: Roger Ramjet

But the name “Roger”, I guessed from early on, was due to Roger’s nature.  Namely military.  Roger was super patriotic, definitely military, painfully loyal and honest, possessed a bizarre superpower, and fought evil. He was also a few cards short of a full deck.  Sort of a US version of RCMP officer Dudley Do-Right (yes, Dudley was from that same TV Wasteland brain dead era).

The military term “Roger”, I (think I) learned from watching popular WW2-themed TV shows like 12 O’clock High and Combat!, which featured radio communications wherein the word “Roger” was used to indicate a message had been received.  R for Roger; R for Received. 

The history and etymology of the word “Roger” in this context is interesting and worthy of an essay in and of itself.  It’s still used today, particularly in aircraft communication.  Variations include Roger Willco (Received, will comply), Roger That, and Roger Dodger.  If its use were to start up from scratch today, it would probably be “Romeo”, as that is the NATO and US Military phonetic alphabet word-based “R.” [US Military phonetic alphabet is a tad different.]

[Since my surname is so often misspelled I am used to giving it as Golf-India-Romeo-Alpha-Romeo-Delta. That gets the job done, and the reply is sometimes: Thank you for your service. To which I must respond: I did not have that honor sir (or ma’am)].

The beginnings of “Roger Dodger” seem apocryphal, but it is a good story, nonetheless. According to legend: a naval pilot was returning from a very successful WW2 mission. Feeling quite jolly and cocky, and upon receiving landing instructions from control, he replied “Roger Dodger.”  Very, very unmilitary.  The reply is simply “Roger.”

Radios of the squadron came alive with the shouting of a senior officer at control who had overheard the wisecrack. Such undisciplined comments are simply not acceptable over military channels.  To which the pilot replied (knowing that his reply was anonymous; it could be from anyone on that frequency): “Roger Dodger, you old codger.”

Another essay foray could be into the use of exclamation points, as in the 1960’s TV show name “Combat!”,  which was my first experience with a formal name or title having an exclamation point; this was decades before Yahoo!, and Yum! type product branding. I was too young and unsophisticated to know of the famous musicals “Oklahoma!” and “Hello Dolly!”  [Soon thereafter would arrive the cookie brand, “Chips Ahoy!”, then came so many it became silly.]

What I recall of Combat! and 12 O’clock High is that they were obviously military oriented … one army air force, the other infantry army.  They were not silly, but very serious. The suffering – both physical and psychological – was real.  Personal struggles. Seeing and dealing with pain, injury, aloneness, death. 

So, how did Roger Ramjet get his name? Did Roger get his name from military roots? No. Like the name “SS Minnow” it was simpler and even less meaningful.  It turns out that the name Roger Ramjet just had a good “ring” to it.  Ramjet was from ramjet, a type of forced-air-breathing jet engine.  And Roger was the name of a reporter (Roger Smith) who joked during an interview with executive producer (Fred Crippen) during the show’s initial creation that the main character’s name should be Roger.  So it was, … and so much for branding back in the day.

“Roger” has made it over to emails and texts – well, at least in mine.  If I reply:  

  • “Roger”, then I received and understood your message.
  • “Roger That”, then I received, understood and I agree.
  • “Roger Dodger”, then I received, understood and I am feeling a bit goofy or lighthearted – or perhaps I think you are being supercilious. But I won’t add “You old codger.”

Peace out

Joe Girard © 2020

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The Coronademic and Words

Most of us are fortunate to dwell in some land that is run by governments described with three words: Liberal Democratic Republic.  Let’s ignore the first and third words for today and focus on the second – Democratic – since it will help us address the hottest topic in the world these days, the Corona Virus, and start us on the path to decode the difference between the two similar and frequently heard words: Epidemic and Pandemic. [1]


As the English language evolves ever more rapidly many words have been discarded on the wayside. They languish there – grass and debris covering them, yet not quite dead – calling out from time to time to passersby. “Use me! Use me! I’m perfect for what you want to say.” Most of us usually ignore them.  Our minds and vocabularies have moved on. Or we’re rightfully afraid that no one will understand us; or they’ll think we are pretentious. These lonely plaintive words get scant attention.  They lived vibrant lives once. Occasionally we stumble across a few in an old text, or perhaps in a more contemporary passage tapped out by a witty writer; one equipped with either an English Degree, or a thesaurus. Or both. Or me.

Generic Corona Virus: This is a CDC image in the Public Domain

Other words remain but get morphed so mischievously that they now mean something quite different.  For example, Jealous and Envious – and their cousins: Jealousy & Envy. Until recently, these used to mean pretty much the exact opposite of each other. Jealousy meant to aggressively guard what you have. And envy meant to covet what somewhat else has.  [e.g.: The jealous girlfriend imagined the envy of her friends every single waking moment. And why is it always the jealous girlfriend, not the jealous boyfriend?].

Anyhow, now it seems acceptable that Jealous should always mean what Envious used to mean.  And Envy seems to have all but vanished from modern lexicon, left on the side of that road of language evolution. [Random person: “I’m so jealous of your trip to the Bahamas.” —
Envious, in a faint Whoville voice: “Use me! use me! I’m perfect for you!”]

Back to square one for today: Democracy.  The -cracy ending simply means a form of government, or a ruling structure.  Just think of theocracy, bureaucracy, and aristocracy and you pretty much get the idea.[2] The first part tells you who has the power.  In the painful-to-watch, but occasionally funny, movie “Idiocracy” the idiots ran the world.

In Democracy, the people have the power.  Demos is Greek for “the people.” This also gives us a key to the words of the day: Epidemic and Pandemic.  -Demic: Something that is of the people, or affects the people. 

There are some other unrelated words that end in -demic, and this moment is propitious for a note of caution: the -ic ending can confuse us, because it means “having to do with.” For example, “academic” is only faintly related to ‘demos’, or the people.  Here the -ic indicates it has to do with “academy’; which also comes directly from Greek. Academy: It was a public garden, as in a place where Plato would conduct his classes (which does indeed have to do with the people).  But the word “academic” arrived late in English’s evolution, around the 16th century, from “academy.” That was long after academy had anything to do with public gardens, and everything to do with education – I guess thanks to Plato, and other Greek academics.

Back to “epidemic” and “pandemic”, which sound so much alike, and whose meanings are so similar, that they are often used interchangeably.  That’s Okay, I suppose, as the rules in English fade away and sometimes appear in new places.  But in these times of COVID-19 – or Wuhan Virus, or SARS-Cov-2, or 2019-nCoV, or whatever you want to call it (maybe “the big panic”, or the great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020) – it might be a bit useful to know the difference between “epidemic” and “pandemic.”

For “epidemic” go to the prefix – “epi-“ – and think “epicenter.”  Epi- means having to do with a specific, singular location.  Think about when a significant earthquake occurs; among the first two details reported are the magnitude and the epicenter.  Not just “how strong?”, but also what specific location on the earth’s surface is directly above the earthquake’s focus? That’s Epi-.

So, “epidemic” is something that has to do with “the people” and is fairly local.  Limited to a geographic location.  When the COVID-19 virus first appeared, it was clearly an epidemic.  Limited to Wuhan province.

Outbreaks don’t have to be viral or microbial to be epidemic. There have been, sadly, epidemics of suicide in some school districts, and epidemics of avocado accidents at some emergency rooms.  “Epidemic” doesn’t even have to be medical in nature – although usually people use it that way.  At my place of employment for some 34 years the misuse of the word “adverse” was epidemic among management.  Yes, I cringed, but that was neither the time nor place to correct my superiors.  The main thing is: epidemic is some phenomenon related to people that you can draw a circle around and say “it’s limited to this region.”

By now you can guess that “Pandemic” is an epidemic that is no longer limited to a region.  The prefix “pan-“ simply meaning all, or everything.  Long ago, a few hundred million years ago, all of earth’s landmass was co-joined and contiguous.  You’ve heard scientists and geologists refer to that single continent as “Pangea” (suffix as a slightly modified “Gaia”, meaning earth). 

Or for Pandemic, thick Pan, as in Pandora’s Box: all the sickness and troubles that could plague the world are set free. Such pandemonium was no longer quarantined within her box, spreading to all of mankind. Truly one of the most evil gifts ever given, even if it was mythology.

And of course, you can guess that the COVID-19 outbreak is now well beyond epidemic, having graduated to pandemic status. I think the CDC defines pandemic as three or more separate geographic locations. Continents surely qualify as separate locations. So, pandemic?  We’re there.

Another appropriate word of that day – one with identical letters at the beginning, but a totally different origin – is PANIC. Empty shelves of toilet paper; stock prices losing 10%, then20% of value in a few days.  Is this panic?  Probably.  We recognize the -IC ending as “having to do with.”  But in PANIC, what is Pan?  Students of Greek mythology and chaos (or readers of Tom Robbins) will love this.  Pan is the god of the wild: the woods, the hills, the un-tamed places. When Pan was disturbed his shouts would terrify those who heard it. Any weird or unexplainable sound heard outside the cities and villages was attribute to the anger of Pan – a very unpredictable fellow. This terror would spread orally among the people, with little apparent reason or validation.  Panic: widespread terror with little reasoning.  No toilet paper. 

For reference: The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 killed 25-50 million people in 25 months. Total deaths are pretty well gauged, but infection rates are a SWAG at best. It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s population might have been infected.[3] Those numbers, or anything close to them, are astounding! That was definitely a pandemic.  Especially since world-travel was so limited in those days (outside of travel related to World War 1), it’s hard to imagine how it became so widespread.  And deadly.  Advanced evolution? Could anything like this happen again?

With any luck, the current pandemic will serve as a warning for those to come.

At this point, I’ll call the Coronavirus a Panic-Pandemic. English has few rules, and the rules permit me to make up a word: Panic-Pandemic. Unplug the TV, turn off the radio, and behave like adults.

Wishing peace and good health (and clean hands and no nose picking) to all of you.


Joe Girard © 2020

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[1] I wrote on Democracy vs Republic some time ago, here:
I do plan to publish a study on “Liberal” soon.

[2] Theo = God, or of God.  Theocracy is run by those who are believed to be divinely guided by god.
Bureau and Bureaucaracy: think of an office.  A really big slothful office with lots of internal rules and procedures.  Full of faceless unelected people fulfilling government roles.  Like the Department of Motor Vehicles.  In a bureaucracy, these people are in control.  Hmmmmm…
Aristocracy: Aristocrats are the wealthy, privileged and upper crust of society. 

[3] Fatality rate of 1.4% from these numbers.  That is pretty astoundingly high. (World Pop in 1920 about 1.75 billion, even after the killing fields of WW1). 

[finally] – a pretty cool website for etymology (or “how words got their meanings”) is

Sound of Silence

Well, there’s only one thing I can say about the war in Viet Nam.
Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.

– Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) at speaker podium. (Forrest Gump, the movie — used here under US Copyright Fair Use law)

In the 1994 box office smash and critically acclaimed movie “Forrest Gump” there is a re-enactment of the massive May, 1970 Anti-War Rally, at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting pond, on the Mall in Washington, DC. In the movie, the eponymously named lead character is inserted into the speakers’ program, and he gives a short speech. 

Most of the speech was not heard by the crowd.  Movie viewers didn’t hear it either.  That’s because – per script – the sound system was disrupted by an anti-anti-war protestor, disguised as a part of the security detail, just before Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, stepped up to the microphone. [Forrest Gump’s unheard speech before the Reflecting Pond anti-war rally, in DC, with the whole scene. — early link was taken down, I suppose for copyright issues.]

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything important to say. The words above are what Tom Hanks claims to have said into the dead mike.

I recently came across some old essay notes that reminded me what happened when Wes Studi – a Viet Nam war Veteran, accomplished actor, and full Cherokee Indian – spoke at the 2018 Academy Awards.  The reaction of “the Academy” was if he hadn’t spoken at all.  Hardly louder than crickets.  He was only asking for recognition for films that honor those who fought for freedom around the world – especially when it wasn’t at home.

Much of the US population dealt with Viet Nam war veterans rather disrespectfully, especially from 1968 until about 1980.  Instead of treating them as youthful wide-eyed 18 to 20 year olds, sent off to do their country’s dirty work in a proxy war of the Cold War era, they were spat upon and derided as “baby killers.”  This was most unfair.

Hollywood and the media treated them rather shabbily and ungraciously as well, usually depicting them as damaged goods and misfits.  This is well-documented, and doesn’t even touch upon the disturbing “Full Metal Jacket” and “Coming Home.”  From last year’s Oscars … it seem the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still feels that way.  [I stopped watching awards shows a while ago].

I touched on this in an earlier essay, but it was longer and the treatment of Viet Nam vets, particularly with regard to Hollywood, was part of a broader context.

I don’t have much more to add. But: Now that we have learned that the Pentagon has been lying about progress in Afghanistan for 18 years, we can justifiably cite the refrain of the 1970 protest at the Lincoln Reflecting pond: it’s time to bring our boys home.  Dying in Afghanistan it appears is as worthless as dying in Viet Nam. 

Staying in a war 6,000 miles away for 18 years? “You break it, you bought it” is not an intelligent foreign policy. Stupid is as stupid does. [H/T to Rep Barbara Lee (CA), the only person in either House to vote against the Afghanistan War Resolutions (2001), which she did on the basis that it was too broad, and had no “end game.” Even Ron Paul voted “Yea.” Astonishing.]

By the way, Hanks’ co-star in Forrest Gump, Gary Sinese, is doing wonderful things for veterans and first responders through his actions, words and foundation. Bravo, sir.

That’s all I have to say about that. 

Joe Girard © 2019

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[1] Screen Play for “Forrest Gump.”

Maximum Factor

He was deathly afraid as he lay in the safety and comfort of his own bed. 

An unusual circumstance for such a successful and honored celebrity.

Sometimes it is best to tell a story pretty much just the way it unfolds to you, as an observer and researcher of life.

Doggie with the circle around his eye

Doggie with the circle around his eye

So … I went to the dog-friendly neighborhood jewelers with my wife the day after Thanksgiving. While waiting for service, I spied an adorably cute bulldoggish looking pup, well-behaved on a short leash. Yes, we have soft spots for dogs, but this one was special. Not just the way it furtively followed us with its eyes; but we were drawn to practically staring at its face: It sported a nearly perfectly round patch of dark fur around one eye on a head otherwise bright white.

Where had I seen something like that before?  Of course: the series of movie shorts called “Our Gang” from the 1920s and ‘30s. All the main characters were children, decades before almost anyone thought of such a thing.  Our Gang wasn’t just the first movie to show blacks and whites, males and females, side-by-side as complete equals – they made a whole series of movies for over twenty years. Countless movies.

Alfalfa -- Our Gang/Little Rascals

Alfalfa — Our Gang/Little Rascals

Starting in the early ‘20s and spanning the Great Depression and early World War II years, Our Gang (also known as “Little Rascals”) taught us – through the eyes of children – one of life’s most significant truths: we are all equal.

[Ok, I’m old, but not THAT old.  I’ve seen these movies in syndication.]

Who can forget Alfalfa and his crazy spiked hair, or the way he’d pronounce Buckwheat? Or Buckwheat’s hair and wonderfully expressive face.  Or how he’d said “Otay” for “Okay”?  Portraying Buckwheat, Billy Thomas was probably the most famous, popular and successful Black actor or actress for most of that entire era.

Buckwheat -- OTAY!

Buckwheat — OTAY!

Those kids could act … naturally.

Of course there was a dog to help them achieve at being mischievous.  That dog was “Pete the Pup”, or often, just Pete.

Turns out the first Pete really did have a nearly perfect circle around one eye. But not quite perfect.  Maybe some makeup would do the job. Hollywood had just the man for the job.

He was born in 1874 to a Jewish family in Zduńska Wola (modern day Poland), then part of czarist Poland. Maksymilian Faktorowicz was the fourth and last child born to Abraham and Cecylia (nee: Tandowska). [Some sources have him born as late as 1877.  Records were sketchy in those times and in those regions].

Two siblings died young, and soon thereafter, so did Maksymilian’s young mother.  Abraham soon remarried, to another simple, local farm girl, Leah Dobretzky.

Abraham sired nine more children by Leah over about as many years.  Although three of these half-siblings died young, that still left a lot of mouths to feed. As noted above, official records were dodgy at best, but by Max’s and his brother Daniel’s recollection, that left eight total children.

Abraham’s profession or means of income is not known for sure, but it seems most likely he was a part-time grocer and infrequent rabbi.  Certainly not a great income there, and as a Jew in Russia-ruled Poland Congress*, these were hard economic times for the Faktorowicz (fact-TOR-uh-vitch) family.                      [* Poland Congress]

The message for young Max was simple and clear: life is short, hard and often cruel.

Maksymilian’s formal education ceased at age eight, and he was sent out to work as an apprentice to a dentist, who doubled as a pharmacist. Apparently, that didn’t work out.  At age nine he was moved to Łódź, 50km away, to fulfill an assignment as apprentice to the local wig maker, who doubled as a cosmetician.

The next decade was a whir, as Faktorowicz gained experience, expertise and then … fame as a renowned hair stylist and cosmetician. He had stints from Berlin to Moscow, even serving as a cosmetician to the Imperial Russian Grand Opera.

After compulsory service in the Imperial Russian army, Faktorowicz opened his own stores in Russia, selling his own line of wigs, lotions and cremes.  Soon he was appointed the official head cosmetician to the Royal Family, and the highest ranked cosmetician to the Imperial Russian Grand Opera.

With success came marriage and soon four children.  But life grew burdensome.  As a Jew in an ever more anti-Semitic empire, and with frequent close encounters with the Romanoff Royal Family that were watched very closely, Faktorwicz felt oppressed.

In 1904, during the violent and bloody Russian pogroms of 1903-6, Faktorowicz and his family emigrated to the United States.

He had his eye on the 1904 World’s Fair, in Saint Louis, officially known as The Louisiana Purchase Exposition.  One of the largest extravaganzas in human history presented opportunity to sell his products and show his skill to the world.  There he could make a small fortune from his experience and wares, selling cosmetics, creams and lotions.

Upon passing through Ellis Island, with thousands of other Ashkenazi Jews, the officials found his name – Maksymillian Faktorowicz – too difficult to write and pronounce.  So he officially became, simply, Max Factor.

Factor’s business enterprise flourished.  His father, step-mother and half-siblings soon followed him to Saint Louis.

Alas, his business partner found more fortune in stealing their joint venture’s stock and capital than in contributing much effort himself.

Broke and forced to start over, Max did just that.  With help from his brother and uncle he started a barber shop that also did hair, beard and mustache styling.

Unfortunately, his wife died soon thereafter, in 1906. Factor rebounded, again — perhaps too soon — into a new marriage, which soon failed.

Adjusting to the hardship, Factor rallied. He assessed his assets and opportunities. He married his neighbor and set off for the setting sun.  Off he went to California, where an embryonic movie industry could surely use his talents and skills.

It was there that Max Factor made cosmetics chic.  He made nice-looking actors and actresses even better looking. Until he arrived, and made his impact, make-up was non-existent to appalling. It’s hard to imagine the moving picture industry evolving without Max Factor.

In 1916 he started selling eye shadow and eyebrow pencils. This was the first time such products were available outside the movie industry. By the late ‘20s he had invented his own complete cosmetic line and started marketing his water-proof mascara. In 1930 he invented lip gloss.

Petey, AKA Pete the Pup, Pete the Dog, and Pete the dog with a circle around his eye

Petey: AKA Pete the Pup, Pete the Dog, and Pete the dog with a circle around his eye

Besides making actresses better looking, Factor made Petey, or Pete the Pup, better looking, too.  Max Factor is credited with the perfect make-up job on Petey, and the several reincarnations of Pete that followed over the years.

And now, the rest of the story.

Yes, Max Factor grew indescribably rich from his ascent to the king of make-up in Hollywood, and from building upon that to develop a huge business making and marketing  a line of cosmetics and skin treatments that still bear his famous name today.

In 1938 Factor was in Paris, on a business trip.  While there he received a death threat by note – they’d spare his life in return for money.  Police employed a Factor-decoy in an attempt to fool and capture the extortionist.  But he wasn’t fooled, and didn’t present himself for the money.  Or maybe it was all just a very, very bad joke.

In any case, Factor was so shaken up he was unable to function.  The rest of the trip was canceled.  Factor returned home for bed rest.

Factor died soon thereafter, age 64, or thereabouts.  He was still in bed, scared – literally frightened to death.

The Factor is here

The Factor is here

Factor’s remains are now at the Hillside Memorial Park, in a mausoleum behind the plaque shown here.

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The Factor Empire. Growth and acquisition.

After his death, Factor’s sons grew the business.  His grandchildren grew it further.  Yet, by the 1970s only a few of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were still involved in running the enormously successful Max Factor Company.  Family interest declined, and It was merged with Norton Simon.  This company was then acquired by Esmark, in 1983, which continued to market products under the prestigious Max Factor label.

Just a year later, the conglomerate Beatrice Food bought Esmark and merged the Factor line with its Playtex beauty line (brassieres and make-up – now those go together!). Soon thereafter beauty empire Revlon bought the Factor-Playtex line of products and rights to the Factor name.

All this time the Factor line of products continued to sell well, increasing the brand’s value.

In 2001 Proctor & Gamble bought the Max Factor product line from Revlon, and retains rights to it today.

As of now, it looks like “The Empire that Max Built” is dying a slow controlled death.  Factor products are difficult to find in the US, except on the internet, and are only actively marketed in a few retail outlets in Europe.

But at least it’s not dying of fright.

And we still have Petey, or Pete the Dog, to look back on. And the archived films of beauties like Jean Harlowe, Bette Davis, Bette Grable, Rita Hayworth and Claudette Colbert – even German beauty Marlene Dietrich and everyone’s darling, Judy Garland –  all wearing Factor’s make-up and wigs, often applied by the master himself.


Joe Girard © 2016


Max Factor's star, on Hollywood Blvd

Max Factor’s star, on Hollywood Blvd

  •   Max Factor won an Oscar (Academy Award) for his contributions to the big screen and has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
  •   Random biographies of Maksymilian Faktorwicz, who came to be known as Max Factor

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PS. Dark Footnotes, for anyone who read this far. This is evidently a famous case that I just learned about through extended research for this essay.

Factor’s Great-grandson, Andrew Luster, was arrested for three incidents of sexual assault using the date-rape drug GHB in 2000.  The rest of the Factor family, heavily involved in civic service and philanthropy, quickly disowned the million-dollar-trust-fund baby.

Luster failed to show in court, jumping his $1 Million bond, and fled to Mexico.  He was convicted anyhow, in abstentia, of some 86 criminal counts, and sentenced to 124 years in prison.

After conviction and sentencing, Luster was still on the lam, living under an assumed name. A bounty hunter named Duane “Dog” Chapman found him in Puerta Vallerta.  Upon kidnapping Luster for return to the US, both men were arrested by the Mexican police.

Luster was extradited to the US and is now “serving his time.”  Well, not all of it. Upon petition, his case was reviewed and the sentence was reduced to 50 years. He will be eligible for parole in 2028, at the age of 86.

In civil court his victims were awarded $40million in damages.  Luster paid that and is now financially bankrupt … as well as morally bankrupt.

And now, back to the dog, this time “Dog” Chapman.

Dog Chapman, bounty hunter

Dog Chapman, bounty hunter [Photo credit: By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Dominique V. Brown (RELEASED) – as PUBLIC DOMAIN — cropped]

Chapman jumped bail in Mexico and fled to the US soon after his arrest, in 2003.  Wanted by Mexico, Chapman was arrested in Hawaii, in late 2006, and held for judicial hearings that would lead to his extradition to Mexico to face kidnapping and bail-jumping charges. There, in Hawaii, he was released on $300,000 bond.

After numerous court proceedings in the US, and appeals to the US Senate and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, somehow, eventually, the Mexican government dropped charges against the Dog.

Dog Chapman remains a bounty hunter and something of a celebrity.

And now you know much more than you wanted. Thanks for reading.


Good night!

Shame on DC

     In September of 2004, in the run-up to the elections, Dan Rather and CBS news ran with an unproven — and ultimately shown to be fabricated — story that George W. Bush’s friends had falsified his National Guard records, and that Bush had not really fulfilled his Guard obligations, thus allowing him to avoid the draft on false premises. Rather ran the story on 60-Minutes. When the story was proved false, CBS and Dan Rather were correctly excoriated; Rather was shamed into retirement and CBS had to make a humiliating public retraction. It may well have been a key to Bush’s re-election.

     The story just seemed so true. There had to be truth to it. Everyone knew that Bush was a slacker back then. And his election in 2000 was just so wrong. So CBS, and decades-long anchor man Dan Rather, defenestrated prudence and due diligence, leading to a short-lived embarrassment. 

     Which brings us to the junior US Senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez. Menendez, who has been in NJ politics pretty much since getting elected to the local school board at age 19, just had to be guilty of something. After all, he’s a politician (a Democrat, horrors), he’s been in politics for decades, he’s from New Jersey, and he’s an integral part of the Machine that runs Hudson county.

     Menendez was recently exposed as having received numerous “free” trips on a private jet from big-time campaign contributor Dr Salomon Melgen of Florida.  Turns out they regularly vacationed in the Dominican Republic together.  News hacks couldn’t help themselves, and expanded this to a story that included regular visits to DR prostitutes. And not just prostitutes, but under-aged teenage prostitutes.

     Menendez, whose parents were Cuban refugees, confessed to the free trips almost immediately, and paid Melgen (whose office contents were seized by the FBI) $58,000 to more than pay for the executive quality of the trips. But he fought the allegations of paying for sex — minors or not.

     The Daily Caller (AKA “DC”), a conservative on-line 24 hour news service, picked up the story and ran with it. Menendez was then called out as tangled in dark allegations by others, including Fox News, Politico and the New York Times.

     Turns out, it was a set up. DC did not do their due diligence. They just reported the story as it was reported to them. As it turns out, the young ladies who testified to their liaison with Menendez had no idea what they were doing. They were paid all right — they were paid to give false reports. They had no idea of who Menendez was; and his claims not to know who they were are correct.

     In Fox’s defense, they didn’t ever appear to embrace the story, and were careful to state that these were merely allegations. Same with Politico and the NY Times.  Still, that type of reporting needlessly ruins careers and they should be admonished.

     For the Daily Caller it’s “DC” for “don’t consider” and “U” for unsubscribe.

     As far as I can tell, the worst thing Menendez has done is decide not to run against real live crook, Goldman-Sachs executive and idiot Jon Corzine in the 2000 NJ Senate primary.

     Shame, shame, shame on DC. I hope they don’t live this down for at least 10 years, unlike Rather and CBS, who are somehow in this Alice-in-Wonderland world back to social respectability. Read it here in the Washington Post.