Max Factor and the Tube

Max Factor is widely known for his contributions to the motion picture industry and make-up he developed for the movies was often repurposed for the general public. After the Second World War the motion picture industry became increasingly threatened by television. Like the movies this new medium had specific make-up requirements and Max Factor & Company developed make-up for it as well.

Early television

Commercial television came to America during the 1940s and 1950s but, as in Europe, there were test transmissions in the 1930s. These early tests demonstrated that conventional make-up techniques were not suitable for televison. Make-up that looked good in real life, or worked well in film, looked terrible on black-and-white television shot with the Image Iconoscope camera tubes. Used for broadcasting in the United States until 1946, these cameras had a much lower line standard than those used after the war and produced a picture with low definition. Along with the low definition the way these camera tubes registered colour in shades of gray was also a problem and using make-up to compensate for these problems resulted in some rather bizarre looking faces.

Green Replaces Red in Make-up for Television

Green lipstick and rouge replace the customary red in make-up designed for actresses appearing in television broadcasts. The television camera, it is explained, does not record the red coloring in the human complexion, leaving the transmitted image flat and unnatural. When green is substituted, however, the lips and cheeks of a performer appear in accurate relation of tones with other facial features as the image is projected on the screen of the receiver.

(Modern Mechanics)

The BBC’s London Television Service (a non commercial broadcaster) had also encountered make-up difficulties. The problem must have been well known, as a discussion of it ended up in ‘The Art and Craft of Hairdressing’ (Foan & Bari-Woolls, 1936) – the same year regular television broadcasts started in London.

British television in the 1930s had some problems not experienced by later broadcasters as they were transmitting in two forms, one of which was partly mechanical – the Baird system. The British were also using Image Iconoscope camera tubes – called Super-Emitron in Great Britain – and so were also working with low line standards and fuzzy picture definition. As in America make-up was used to compensate for these issues.


This new branch of entertainment has brought with it an entirely new technique of make-up. Here two considerations decide the kind of make-up to be used. The first is light sensitivity at the transmitter; the second is the degree of definition attainable at the receiving station. Since the received picture is in monochrome, that is black and white, or black and red, or black and green, colour does not appear on the screen. There are two methods of scanning the scene. One is to flood it with light and to scan it with a mechanical or electrical device. The other is to light it with a moving spot of light. Whatever coloured light is used, the colour used for the make-up must provide deep contrasts, but owing to the fact that the photo-sensitive cells used for transmitting are preponderantly sensitive to one range of colour the actual colour of the make-up must be the complementary colour of that which most affects the “electric eye.” Thus, if the cell is sensitive to red the make-up must be green. With such a cell, the actor would use green for shadows, wrinkles, eye shade, eyebrows, etc., while he would use red to soften out shadows and blemishes.
Again, the television screen shows a picture that is made up of lines of varying depth of shadow and light. Many factors limit the number of lines which can be used so that the picture is comparatively coarse and rather like a rough half-tone block. Definition of a very high order is therefore not yet practicable. Hence at the receiver, particularly with thirty-line television, the features are very blurred and indistinct. Soft graduations of details in the actor’s face are lost altogether. For this reason in the chief purpose of television make-up to increase the contrast. The lips, nostrils, and eye shadows are very deeply made up with green or purple according to which system is used, and any facial lines to be emphasized are lined in with the same colour. Shadows which have to be removed are covered with colour of the same hue as that to which the photo-cell is most sensitive, which, in the case mentioned above, where green was used for heavy contrast, would be red. The same considerations enter into the costumes used in television. Only when photo-cells can be made panchromatic and the definition of television systems increased to the fineness of the cinema film will ordinary cinema make-up technique be of any use.

(Foan & Bari-Woolls, 1936, p. 500)

Max Factor had developed a make-up for this new medium as early as 1932, working with the pioneer Don Lee Television station W6XAO, in Hollywood, California and had even trademarked the term ‘Television Make-up’ at that time (Max Factor, 1958).

Post-war television

Fortunately, television imaging improved after the Second World War, particularly following the introduction of Image Orthicon cameras developed by RCA. First announced in 1939, Orthicon cameras were ten to twenty times more sensitive than Image Iconoscope (Fisher & Fisher, 1996) and the increased sensitivity meant that the pick-up tubes began reproducing grey tones as faithfully as panchromatic film – as predicted by Foan & Bari-Woolls back in 1936. This enabled the Max Factor company to adapt its Pan-Cake make-up to television in 1946, ending the more bizarre looking practices of the past. To emphasise this fact, the Max Factor company held a press conference in which they made-up two women – Jane Grant and Mary Wirt – using the old television make-up before applying the new natural looking form they had developed.

1950 Max Factor make-up chart for American television

Above: 1950 Max Factor make-up chart for American television (Foan & Wolters, 1950, p. 455)

As Foan & Wolters note, some allowances still had to be made.

Blue is almost always darker on the tube than to the eye, so eyeshadow with blue in it has to be cautiously applied, but the usual colours are, as in films, blue-grey or brown.
Men’s beards present a problem that is peculiar to the medium, for even a very closely shaved face is liable to show the beard as a dirty patch. This has to be obliterated with a light putty coloured grease before the final groundwork is applied. Shadows under the eyes are troublesome, and even very young faces have to have highlighting there. False eyelashes have to be tested on each artist, for on some occasions they will darken the eyes to “burn holes in a blanket” while another time they will enlarge them.

(Foan & Wolters, 1950, p. 455)

See also: Early Movie Make-up, Panchromatic Make-up

Colour television

The arrival of colour television introduced some new problems. For example, in the early decades of colour television, programs broadcast in colour were also being watched on black and white receivers so the make-up used had to work in both. Predictably, in 1954, the Max Factor company unveiled a make-up range suitable for black and white and colour as well, made available in Pan-Cake and the company’s more recently developed Pan-Stik.

Principal pigmentation colors apparent in the human skin re red, blue, yellow, brown, and gray. These colors have different wave lengths and reflect light with various intensities. Therefore, even a naturally flawless complexion without make-up, provides a major problem by showing varying degrees of blotchiness when reproduced over television. This is true of both men and women. Light complexions will come through a spotty, ghostly white. Dark complexions will look plain dirty. Men look as though they need a shave, regardless of how closely they may have shaved, unless make-up is used. Even the woman who is beautifully made-up with her everyday society make-up materials isn’t at all prepared for the television cameras. Her foundation make-up will televise as though it were either much too light or much too dark, with a mottled complexion appearance being evident in either case. Her ordinary lipstick shades will usually televise much too light, and most of her everyday rouge shades will be altogether too dark.
The application of Max Factor TV Pan-Cake Make-up or TV Pan-Stik Make-up creates a monotone complexion finish from which light is reflected evenly and in the same intensity, thereby resulting in a clean, smooth skin tone. None of the many serious complexion defects previously mentioned can become apparent to the TV camera when either of these make-up foundations has been correctly used.

(Max Factor, 1958)

Also see the company booklet: Max Factor: Television make-up for black-and-white and color television

This new colour television make-up had a bonus for the Max Factor company. It formed the basis for the Hi-Fi line released in 1955.

See also: Max Factor

Updated: 14th November 2017


Basten, F. (2008). Max Factor: The man who changed the faces of the world. New York: Arcade Publishing.

Fisher, D. E., & Fisher, M. J. (1996). Tube: The invention of television. Washington: Counterpoint.

Foan, G. A., & Bari-Woolls, J. (Eds.). (1936). The art and craft of hairdressing: A standard and complete guide to the technique of modern hairdressing, manicure, massage and beauty culture (2nd ed.). London: New Era Publishing Co. Ltd.

Foan, G. A., & Wolters, N. E. B. (Eds.). (1950). The art and craft of hairdressing: A standard and complete guide to the technique of modern hairdressing, manicure, massage and beauty culture (2nd ed.). London: New Era Publishing Co. Ltd.

Max Factor. (1958). Television make-up for black-and-white and color television [Booklet]. USA: Author.