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Marilyn Monroe’s Makeup

Nestled amongst a series of tacky tourist shops and attractions along Highland Avenue in Los Angeles sits a grand Art Deco building designed by famed architect S. Charles Lee. It is the home of the Max Factor Makeup Museum, and was in fact, purchased by the famed Hollywood makeup artist, wig maker and inventor in 1928 – just months before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. It didn’t open until 1935, but when it did, it changed they way cosmetics were marketed and sold in America. Everyone wanted to look like their favourite stars up on the Silver Screen, and cosmetic sales took off. Factor created the signature looks of most of the first screen legends such as Marlene Dietrich, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow. In 1935 he introduced the first commercially available foundation called Pan-Cake Foundation. Motion pictures, Max Factor, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden changed the world, and for the first time, society and working class women could purchase makeup without the stigma of being labeled “hussies.” Up to that point, makeup had mostly only been worn by actresses and prostitutes.

Max Factor Makeup Museum

Max Factor Makeup Museum in Los Angeles

The lobby of the building at 1660 N. highland Ave. was a white and rose-coloured oasis of lavish marble, re-created historical chandeliers, pastel hues, antique furniture, trompe l’oeil, and faux finishes with 22kt gold and silver leafing. It was so impressive that it elevated the whole ide of makeup for society women – a concept Factor dreamt up. In fact he even created a line called Max Factor’s Society Makeup catering to the refined woman. It was a brilliant stroke of marketing.

max factor museum lobby

One of the most famous movie stars to frequent the Max Factor Building was Norma Jean Baker, or Marilyn Monroe as she’d later become known. It was in this building, in the room designated for “blondes” that Monroe became a blonde. The character of Marilyn Monroe with the platinum blonde hair and the crimson red lips was born in that room.

marilyn Monroe's makeup desk

Marilyn Monroe’s Makeup Desk where she became a blonde.

“Whitey Snyder, a top Fox makeup artist happened to be Marilyn Monroe’s favourite,” says actress Joan Collins who was signed to the Hollywood Studio system early in her career. “Whitey built Marilyn a black metal travel case to carry her extensive collection of cosmetics. When she first came to Fox, she wore far too much makeup, particularly her base, which was far too thick and heavy. And she had old-fashioned ‘bee-stung’ lips and unplucked eyebrows. Whitey and she worked on her look together. He taught her to put Vaseline on her face to create the illusion of depth and luminosity. Her eyebrows were plucked and painted into a winged look. And he put plenty of shiny gloss over her famous lips, which made them appear bigger with lipstick.”

marilyn monroe's makeup

Marilyn Monroe’s Makeup

“Whitey taught me a lot,” continues Collins. “Particularly how to apply foundation with the lightest touch and always to blend, blend, blend.” Aspiring actresses and actors, like Collins and Monroe were required to attend makeup classes while signed to Twentieth Century-Fox.

marilyn monroe

Many of the makeup techniques taught there were created by Max Factor who did away with the heavy grease paint formulas, and instead created lighter foundations.

marilyn monroe's makeup case

One of Marilyn Monroe’s makeup cases.

One of the most thrilling experiences for anyone who loves makeup is walking into the Marilyn Monroe room in the Max Factor Museum, surrounded by her makeup and personal effects.

marilyn monroe makeup

You see her makeup case where she stored all her products. You see actually foundation sticks and lipsticks that she used when making herself up for a scene. Most of the time, Factor or a studio makeup artist would create her look depending on the role she was playing. Fearing blemishes, Marilyn washed her face fifteen times a day, frequently used Nivea moisturizer and thought her right side of her face was her ‘best’ side.

Marilyn's accessories


Marilyn’s accessories

The room is lined with photo stills from her pictures, advertisements and a video screen that plays “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, arguably one of her most radiant performances. Who can forget the line, “I just love finding new places to wear diamonds”?

gentlemen prefer blondes

It was in that same building that Factor dyed Lucille Ball’s hair red and created the signature makeup look of dramatic lashes and red lipstick. He really was the most influential makeup artist of the Golden Era of Hollywood.

marilyn monroe display

Born in Poland in 1910, Factor emigrated to America to be closer to the film industry. By 1916, was selling eyeshadow and eyebrow pencils to women. He became renowned for creating glamorous yet realistic makeup looks for onscreen. Four years later, he introduced a full line of products available to the general public. He came up with the name “make-up” to describe it.

max factor makeup

He was known for saying, “You are not born glamorous. Glamour is created.” And that couldn’t have been more true with Monroe. He went on to win an Oscar for his pioneering beauty techniques and products. But one of his most impressive achievements is his guiding hand in creating Marilyn’s iconic look.

marilyn monroe book


  • Reply
    Erica V
    June 13, 2015 at 12:41 am

    “Glamour is created.” Wise words!

  • Reply
    Krystal Gehrke
    June 12, 2015 at 9:57 am

    All the packaging is sooo vintage and classy. So beautiful!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    What a great post.

  • Reply
    Xristina Apostolakou
    June 11, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    This is incredible ty for sharing this…

  • Reply
    Judy Ruffolo
    June 10, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    SO amazing! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    Audrey H.
    June 10, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    I loved everything about this article. Seeing Ms. Monroe’s makeup area and reading the details given by Joan Collins was so cool. Love the way makeup packing looked back then too.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    This article so interesting re: Marilyn n Max Factor really enjoyed Thank you Dave!

  • Reply
    Karen Ali
    June 10, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Dave reading about how she used Vaseline on her face & washed 15 times a day! I love learning new stuff about my most fav lady!!!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 9:50 am

    I love this article. The idea that it takes time and strategy to come up with a look helps mortals understand what goes into a ‘look.’

  • Reply
    Nina Westbury
    June 10, 2015 at 9:46 am

    This is incredible Dave! You tell the story so beautifully. I need to go to LA to see this place myself!

  • Reply
    Christine Christensen
    June 10, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Great article and pictures!!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 9:35 am

    how amazing it must be to see all that in person. such a treat to see. thanks so much for sharing this with us, dave. 😉

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Very much like Max Factor products @twinsneedtobeto

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I really loved this article! A lot of history and max factor really pioneered the makeup revolution. I watched mysteries at the museum other night, and max factors history of trying to find a new formula when film went to color was so neat!

  • Reply
    Hazel Ainslie
    June 10, 2015 at 9:10 am

    “I just love finding new places to wear diamonds” What a woman!

  • Reply
    Susan Sagona
    June 10, 2015 at 8:34 am


  • Reply
    Rabbiya Waseem
    June 10, 2015 at 8:25 am


  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 7:59 am

    so cool!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Very interesting article !!! Thank you for sharing Dave

  • Reply
    Maria Medeiros
    June 10, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Beautiful! It’s so funny I keep thinking the mascara needs to be tossed due to bacteria. Lol I’m so silly. This is a really special post. Beautiful.

  • Reply
    Sharon Sweeney
    June 10, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Loved this very much, thanks Dave

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I Love Marilyn♡ So this post was a real treat…

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