Grant McCracken as Max Factor as Walt Whitman

Max Factor Sr Tomorrow, Pam and I are going to a Halloween party.  It's called Dead Brands. 

The invitation: come as a brand that's gone out of business.  P&G is about to suspend the sale of Max Factor in North America.  So I'm going as Max. 

The question is what clues to give off.  I am wearing a lab coat.  I may or may not have "Max" written in red on the pocket.  I may have a make up brush in my pocket.  (Too obvious?) 

Pam is going as one of Factor's clients:  Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, or Judy Garland.  She can't decide which.  I'm suggesting she go as Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, AND Judy Garland.  I think she should go as "beauty," as in a medieval morality play.  I will be wearing welder's goggles.  This will serve as a useful red herry for those trying to guess what dead brand I am.  If pressed, I will say that I wear them to protect my eyes from Pam's beauty.

I have been practicing my Polish accent.  I'm not good at accents so I may ditch this.  And Pam and I am rehearsing dialogue in the event someone needs a clue.  Here's that wonderful conversation from Casablanca.

Mr. and Mrs. Leuchtag decide, heartbreakingly, to show off their English.  They are preparing to leave for America the next day.

Mr. Leuchtag: "Sweetnessheart, what watch?"

Mrs. Leuchtag examines her wristwatch and says: "Ten watch."

Mr. Leuchtag: "Such much!"

It is wrong in crucial details: nationality (Max was Polish, the Leuchtags German) and historical timing (Max left in 1904, Casablanca was set in in the late 1930s), but it does help suggest that my "Max" is a newly arrived American. 

Max Factor, Sr. was born Maximilian Factorowtiz in Lodz, Poland (then Russia).  His father was a Rabbi, too poor to afford a formal education for his 10 kids.  So Max was apprenticed to a dentist/pharmacist, and he turned this knowledge to the manufacture of rouges, creams and fragrances.  His ascent was swift.  He was eventually supplying make-up to Russian nobility. 

When he passed through Ellis Island on February 25, 1904, Max was a man of some substance.  (He came with $400, about $10,000 in today's currency.)  Within a few months, he was at the World's Fair in Saint Louis selling his wares.  And within a few years he had moved to LA to the very new film industry.  (His work there is immortalized in the song Hooray for Hollywood: "To be an actor, See Mister Factor.")

Wow.  Max effectively invents a category, securing the best customers he can in Russia.  This would be enough for some.  Not Max.  No, Max has to go to the newest industry in the youngest part of the most recent, most reckless, positively Whitmanesque country in the world and start again.  With all the risk, commotion, and difficulty this represents: new languages, new cultures, and the endless uncertainties of a new industry in a new world.  We can assume that the Russia's anti-semiticism must have weighted in Max's calculation of risk.  But clearly he was pursuing opportunity as much as he was fleeing risk. 

Max Factor turned opportunity into an almost endless stream of  innovation.  He invented the term "make-up." He invented the make-up required by black and white films, color films, and for television.  He invented lip gloss, pan-cake makeup, and make up that coordinated with skin tone. 

He was a supplier in the transformational arts being developed in this transformational place called America.  He is a cultural creative before we quite grasped the cultural or economic significance of Richard Florida's term.  Naturally, because he is a creature of commerce we do not pay him his due.   Walt Whitman, we remember with reverence.  Max, not so much.  From a structural point of view, they are not so very different. 

It will take a genius to detect.  But I'm hopeful.  It could be Scott Lerman, Cheryl Swanson, Tony Spaeth, Richard Shear, Debbie Millman, or Tom Guarriello.  But I'm hoping someone will say, "oh, so you came as Walt Whitman.  Good choice." 


McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Transformations.  Identity construction in contemporary culture.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  here

The Such Much scene from Casablanca here.

16 thoughts on “Grant McCracken as Max Factor as Walt Whitman

  1. Grant McCracken

    Irene, thanks for the ad, I was trying to think of some way of acknowledging the work of Maxs great grandsons, but then I lost track of it. Thanks! Grant

  2. dabitch

    Borrow a white dog, do the “circle around one eye” thing, like the dog in the little rascals had, and you’re set. Max factor did that circle, you know.

  3. Dixon de Lena, CEO/Founding Partner, Integral Partnerships LLC

    Max made my first girl friend look real good!

    A moment to make a small distinction: Richard Florida’s term is The Creative Class. “Cultural Creative” is a label sociologist Paul H. Ray coined in his 1996 study and subsequent updates in 1999 and March 2008. His book, “Cultural Creatives: 50 Million People Changing the World” (2001) contains results from the 1996 study. See the 2008 survey update results here:

    But I’ll bet you knew this.

  4. DanT

    The Leuchtag’s conversation makes sense in German, just not in English. The German word for hour, clock, and watch is Uhr (oo-er, close to some pronounciations of hour). Substitute watch for uhr in the conversation and it is clear.

    “What time is it” in German is “Was uhr?” or “What watch”

    10 O’clock is “Zein uhr” or “10 watch”.

    The last line is “Such watch!” as in “That time already!”

    I am not sure how that translates into Polish.

  5. Grant McCracken

    posting for Patrick Pierce who can’t get through the Typepad firewall:

    “The make-up of make-up artists” slogan could be an item to put on your lab coat, I don’t think too many remember it but it will be a decent clue. You could write it using lipstick.

  6. Patrick Pearce

    Like I was saying, “The make-up of make-up artists” slogan on your lab coat. Just read about a party here in Montreal called “Wish you were dead”, where guests are invited to show up dressed as their least favorite living celebrity (Celine Dion and Courtney Love are listed in the suggestions), so this got me thinking about a variation on your brand party where you dress as the brand you would like to see die. Microsoft pops into my mind. Any others?

  7. Rhea

    What a clever idea for a Halloween theme! The list of dead brands is growing exponentially. I think I’ll steal this idea for use on Halloween 2010.

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