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The queen of make-up is celebrated in a musical

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 22, 2012

Helena Rubinstein and Edward Titus, as played by Cathie Poole and John Nash of Crediton's amateur dramatics society

Helena Rubinstein and Edward Titus, as played by Cathie Poole and John Nash of Crediton's amateur dramatics society

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A collection of 2,000 letters between make-up pioneer Helena Rubinstein and her salon manager has formed the basis for a musical which has been developed by a Westcountry producer.

The correspondence reveals an insight into the world of the Polish woman whose empire spanned the UK, Europe and America, and sheds light on everything from product formulas and the impact of the First World War to her rivalry with fellow cosmetics guru Elizabeth Arden and her heartbreak at her husband's affairs.

She also witnessed the horrific injuries suffered by soldiers as she battled to help them with early forms of cosmetic surgery.

The letters were inherited by James Bulmer, who lives near Chawleigh in North Devon, whose mother was close friends with Rosa Bird, the manager of the London salon to whom Mrs Rubinstein wrote.

Mr Bulmer, an experienced film maker, initially wanted to turn them into a feature film, but received no interest from financiers in America. Instead, he has created a musical called Powder and Paint, which will receive its world premier in the Westcountry.

Mr Bulmer said: "This correspondence is incredibly revealing about the period between 1914 and 1928, the most important period of the Rubinstein empire."

In one letter in April 1923, Rubinstein refers to Elizabeth Arden's advertising as "ridiculous", and wrote: "It is funny. I wonder if she 'gets away with it' as they say in America." In another, dated 1915, she writes tongue-in-cheek: "Life is very hard and my tax bills are high. Please put my 27 fur coats into storage."

Mr Bulmer recruited his friend, retired Brigadier Ant Stevens, to the project. He has a track record in directing musicals and operas, with a CV including Gilbert and Sullivan greats such as The Pirates of Penzance and Patience.

He worked alongside retired Major General Mike Heath, who wrote much of the music.

Helena Rubinstein established her business in 1899 after she borrowed £250 from a friend to set up her salon. She was a millionairess by 1907 and, in 1928, she sold the American side of her business for £7.5 million to the bankers the Lehman Brothers, buying it back two years later.

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