Tag Archives: Our Gang

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) – http://www.news.navy.mil/view_single.asp?id=24572 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!