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Archive for Monday, March 23, 2009

Look at makeup goes beneath the surface

March 23, 2009

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Few stories inspire like those of the business visionary. Steve Wozniak, the goofy guy striving to survive on this week’s “Dancing with the Stars” (7 p.m., ABC), helped create the first Apple computer and in doing so changed the world. Who cares if he can’t dance?

Two other visionaries are the subject of “The Powder and the Glory” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings), a history of the business rivalry between cosmetic pioneers Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden.

Immigrants both, they began their empires in the early years of the 20th century when makeup was considered the province of actresses and prostitutes. Both women tapped into the market of independent women leaving farms and small towns to work in offices and live in cities on their own. Rubinstein identified herself and her products with immigrant women who saw cosmetics as a means to assimilation.

It helped that their customers flocked to silent movies where actresses were heavily made up to accentuate their pantomime performing style.

Arden aimed her products and her famous spas at America’s elite, and she ingratiated herself with horse breeders. She even raised a Kentucky Derby winner. Rubinstein embraced modern art, toured with her art collections, and turned her stores into mini-museums.

Unfriendly rivals for half a century, the two women never met. When one of Arden’s horses bit off her finger and sent her to the hospital, Rubinstein reportedly asked after the condition of the horse.

These businesswomen invented not only a business but the very notion of lifestyle marketing, the confluence of leisure, culture, status and beauty and use of magazines and advertising to weave a seductive spell. They thrived in the teeth of the Great Depression. Customers clung to their products as the one piece of luxury they would not give up.

Television would be their undoing. The upstart Revlon company sponsored the successful (if scandal-plagued) “$64,000 Question” that reached 55 million viewers. Rubinstein, long a champion of the new, did not even own a TV set.

Associated with matrons’ need to maintain a youthful glow, neither company was prepared for the youthquake of the 1950s and 1960s. Rubinstein died in 1965 and Arden a year later.

Filled with interviews with scholars and authors, and marred only slightly by the use of some uninspired graphics, “Powder” may not be slick, but like its subjects, it is smart. This low-budget documentary seems almost like the blueprint for a bigger movie, or even a miniseries.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The Intersect’s architect is revealed on “Chuck” (7 p.m., NBC).

• The rebel is revealed on “Heroes” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Jack and Tony regroup on “24” (8 p.m., Fox).

• Representatives of every military branch participate in “Top Sniper 2” (8 p.m., Military). How did I miss “Top Sniper 1”?

• Mobsters target the wealthy on “CSI: Miami” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Having just been killed off “24,” Kurtwood Smith (“That ’70s Show”) returns as a ghost on “Medium” (9 p.m., NBC).

• A family loses a fortune and then a teen on “Castle” (9 p.m., ABC).

• Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson perform on “Crossroads” (9 p.m., CMT).

• A family with three sets of multiples goes before the cameras on “Table for 12” (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., TLC).

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