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Pan-Cake Make-Up 

Definition:  Makeup invented by Max Factor & Co. in the late 1930s to be compatible with Technicolor filmmaking. The makeup was so-called because it was a cake-like powder whose container resembled a pan. Embraced by Hollywood studios, pan-cake was soon commercially marketed as the makeup to the stars and remains the basic formula for today’s foundation makeup.

History: Throughout Hollywood’s Silent and Classic eras, the name Max Factor was synonymous with the invention of makeup. In fact, Max Factor invented the word make-up as a synonym for cosmetics.

Hollywood makeupBeyond Stage Actor Greasepaint

However, when he left his St. Louis barber shop in 1908 to open “Max Factor’s Antiseptic Hair Store” in Los Angeles, Max Factor set out to supply hairpieces to the infant movie industry. “Toupees made-to-order. High-grade work,” Factor's sign read on South Central Avenue. Factor’s business plan would diversify in 1909 when his company, now called Max Factor & Co., also became the West Coast distributor of the two leading manufacturers of theatrical makeup.

In 1914, Factor observed a film shoot and was struck by how “ghoulish” actors appeared in their attempts to look good on black-and-white film. Some wore grease paint, the standard makeup of stage actors, which was applied in stick form. Its downside was that it dried to a 1/8-inch-thick mask that cracked with facial expressions. While the distances of stage theater audiences rendered cracks unnoticeable, that was not the case for film closeups. Other actors sought flexibility with mixtures of Vaseline and flour, lard and cornstarch, and cold cream and paprika. To approximate flesh color, others combined Vaseline or lard with ground brick dust.

The occasion inspired Factor to invent a greasepaint in cream rather than stick form which came in 12 different shades and could be applied consistently in a thin layer that remained flexible on the skin. First to try his “flexible greasepaint” were comedy stars Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle. Their praise soon made Factor’s invention the standard makeup of the silent-film era.

Sound, Lights, Film & Makeup

The advent of talkies in 1927 spurred Factor and son Frank (Francis) to work furiously to formulate a new line of makeup. Carbon lamps used for silent films were too noisy for use on sound stages and were replaced by silent tungsten lamps. However, because tungsten lamps cast softer light, the industry was forced to replace orthochromatic film with far more sensitive panchromatic film. These technological changes necessitated the development of makeup that could lighten faces that appeared shadowed despite panchromatic film’s sensitivity.

Max Factor’s solution was “panchromatic make-up” which highly reflected light. The new formulation came in multiple shades that appeared true-to-life in black and white but embodied a sheen and coloration “horrifying to look at” offscreen, according to Frank Factor. For instance, the rosy cheeks and lips of Lombard, Davis and Colbert were actually shades of black or brown. In 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Factor with an Academy Award for his achievement.

Technicolor & Pan-Cake Make-Up

Pan-cake make-up, originally called the “T-D Series,” was developed in the late 1930s when panchromatic make-up proved deficient for use in Technicolor films. The problem was that panchromatic make-up’s reflectivity caused the sheen of actors’ faces to reflect colors of the scenery around them. Put an actor by red drapes, for instance, and she would appear sunburned. So serious was the problem that actresses such as Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Carol Lombard refused to appear in Technicolor films.

At the time Max Factor was incapacitated by an automobile accident causing his son Frank to spearhead the makeup’s initial development. The final product was a powder applied to the face with a sponge. Not only did pan-cake make-up solve the reflectivity problem, its finish appeared transparent while concealing blemishes and other skin imperfections. Moreover, its more porous finish enabled the skin to better cope with heat generated by cinematic lighting.

So successful was the product that actresses began absconding with the makeup for their personal use. Although its shade limited personal use to daylight, Frank Factor recognized the makeup's commercial potential and developed a line of lighter shades that would make Max Factor & Co. the world’s leader in cosmetics. Indeed, the Max Factor brand was so idemtified with makeup that following his father’s death in 1938, Frank changed his Christian name to Max. Of course, name changing ran in the family. Thirty-four years earlier the senior Max Factor, a Polish immigrant, had changed his name from Maksymilian Faktorowicz.

Related Terms:: Studio System   against type    designer stubble  Star System   
Three-strip Technicolor

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