Letters paint picture of life
DEVON actors have brought to life a collection of 2,000 letters between make-up pioneer Helena Rubinstein and her salon manager.
The story has formed the basis for a musical Powder and Paint, which has been developed by a Westcountry producer and will be performed by the Crediton Operatic and Dramatic Society later this month.
The correspondence reveals an insight into the world of the Polish woman whose empire spanned the UK, Europe and America. They shed 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.
Rubinstein also witnessed the horrific injuries suffered by soldiers as she battled to help them with early forms of cosmetic surgery.
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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 Crediton.
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."
James decided to turn the great story in to a musical and, in so doing, found himself immerged in another storyline when he set out to find a librettist and a composer and found two former military men who couldn't wait to take the project on.
Retired Brigadier Ant Stevens has an excellent track record in directing musicals and operas, with a CV including Gilbert and Sullivan greats such as Iolanthe, The Pirates of Penzance and Patience. He has also written pantomimes and a review based on 'Oh! What a lovely war'. In 1982, he directed a production of Chicago, 20 years before the box office hit that starred Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger.
His ambition throughout his working life was to write a musical when he retired, and he has managed to turn that in to a reality with Powder and Paint.
He said: "It has been a huge achievement. The real reward will be to see it on the stage and think 'yes, I have done that'. It is a very topical story and it also has the glamour of a period piece."
Ant worked alongside retired Major General Mike Heath, who wrote much of the music.
Rubinstein built an empire making women beautiful. She developed a world-wide cosmetics business which dominated America, Australia, the United Kingdom and much of Europe.
Powder and Paint will be performed by CODS, Crediton's amateur dramatic society, from October 31 until November 3. Most of the story-line is told through the songs performed by a cast of 24. Search Bitter Twist of Fate on YouTube for a taste of the music. Visit www.codsonline.com or www.powderandpaint-themusical.com