Makeup in the Twenties

During the decades prior to the Roaring Twenties, makeup was associated with actresses and prostitutes – professions many people considered identical. No self-respecting woman would wear makeup. The more daring might have cautiously applied a small amount that wouldn’t be noticed. Which rather defeats the purpose, don’t you think?

Ever heard of Maximilian Faktorowicz, the makeup artist who immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1904? Yes, you have. Like so many immigrants, simplified his name on arrival. He became Max Factor. Factor had worked with European ballet troupes and stage actors, but when film studios began moving to Hollywood in the 1910s, he gambled on moving to California to work with film actors. 

This was not as easy as it sounds, because traditional stage make up (grease paint) was too heavy to be used by motion picture actors. He had to invent his own products—at first, creams and powders—that would work for the film industry. His clients included most of the leading actresses and actors of the silent film era and early talkies, including Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford. He opened his own beauty salon in Hollywood.

Not until 1927 did Max Factor begin to market his products nationally. By then, the prejudice against makeup was softening, thanks to silent screen pioneers like Mary Pickford and Clara Bow who were seen as respectable women. People credit Factor with coining the word “makeup” (which replaced the more formal “cosmetics”), but that word had been around since 1821, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. I think it would be more accurate to say that he brought the word makeup into widespread usage.

I mention Max Factor briefly in my novel, so had to research his life and products, but found him to be a remarkable person.

The Name Game

       Silent film actors often gave themselves a new name, something more memorable, more alliterative, more modern than the one bestowed upon them by their parents. For example, one casting director advised a handsome young extra named Frank Cooper to change to a first name that sounded tougher. She suggested Gary after her rough-and-tumble hometown of Gary, Indiana. “Coop” took her advice. When little Gladys Smith got her first part in a David Belasco play, the famous New York director insisted she change her humdrum name. Together they settled on Mary Pickford. She became one of the country’s most famous film actresses, known all over the world as “Little Mary” or “Our Mary.” Her siblings were all too happy to piggyback on Big Sis’s fame. They change their names as well, from the almost comically boring John Smith to Jack Pickford, and from Charlotte Smith to Lottie Pickford.

       Foreign-born actors needed something less—well, less foreign, so that American audiences could pronounce and remember their names. So Greta Lovisa Gustafsson became Greta Garbo, the famous vamp. Wong Liu Tsong became Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American film star. My favorite? Get a load of this: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi who became Rudolph Valentino, the Latin Lover.  Here are a few more silent movie name changes:

 Mary Astor – Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke

Joan Crawford – Lucille Lesueur

Lon Chaney – Leonidas Chaney

Douglas Fairbanks – Douglas Elton Ullman

W. C. Fields – William Claude Dunkinfield

Buster Keaton – Joseph Frank Keaton

Stan Laurel – Arthur Stanley Jefferson



WAMPAS Baby Stars

WAMPAS Baby Stars 1934

Once upon a time, a sure-fire way for an aspiring screen actress to get noticed was to be named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Each year from 1922 until 1934, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose thirteen young women whom they believed would be the screen’s next stars. The girls got lots of attention, party invitations, publicity, and small parts, and some did break into big time stardom. I found this photo at an antiques mall hanging on a pegboard wall in a shoddy frame and bought it for $10. It was taken in 1934, the last year of the promotion.

WAMPAS Baby Stars you might know include Clara Bow (the “It Girl”), Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Ginger Rogers (Fred Astaire’s dance partner), Sally Rand, and Fay Wray (of King Kong fame).  For a complete list, see