Perhaps you remember the familiar advertising slogan, “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe It’s Maybelline.” It might be one of the last legacies handed down from the original family of an American dynasty. Although the company now known as Maybelline New York was acquired by L’Oréal Paris in 1996, Maybelline remains a household name.
One of the original family’s direct descendants, Sharrie Williams, has authored, The Maybelline Story…and the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It, to tell her family’s own fascinating story.
The office in her attractive, yet beautifully stylish adobe-style North Scottsdale home, is neatly stacked with a rich collection of photos and memorabilia. She tells the story of how the vision of her grandfather’s brother founded the American make-up giant, Maybelline Cosmetics.
The book is a true page-turner, each chapter leaving the reader wanting more. In the Preface, Alan Andrews Ragland, describes company founder, Tom Lyle Williams, as “a self-made man—a boy from small- town American who, through determination, great ideas and plain old hard work, created an astonishingly successful company called Maybelline.”
In 1915, Mabel Williams, inspired her brother, Tom Lyle, to formulate an eye-beautifying product called, “Lash-Brow-Ine.” Today’s version of that original product still claims to be the best-selling mascara of all time. Tom Lyle, bought the company that became known as Maybelline with a $500 loan he borrowed from his brother, Noel J. Williams
That company, named in sister Mabel’s honor, would eventually become the leading cosmetic industry giant in America.
As the story goes, after witnessing his sister Mabel, “replacing” her singed eyebrows and lashes with a mixture of burnt cork and petroleum jelly, Tom makes a tremendous discovery. He realized that the way actresses made their eyes so compelling on screen could be easily replicated for non-starlets with a few ingredients in their proper ratios.
Sharrie Williams relates a colorful story of how her great uncle, the middle son of an American family (with roots going back to the 1600s, that include Benjamin Franklin, the founder of West Point and a leader of the Boston Tea Party) played a pivotal part in American history, creating a company with a product that has become a familiar household name.
During the “roaring ‘20s,” the “flapper era” would provide a devoted following for the eyelash and eyebrow beautifiers that Maybelline produced. The demand for Maybelline products was so great that even through the Depression the company remained successful.
“Hollywood and Silent Films were a key ingredient in making Maybelline, the great company it became during the 20th century,” Sharrie explains.
Some of the famous faces over the years who have represented the Maybelline Cosmetics Company have included: Gloria Swanson, Jean Harlow, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Lana Turner and Loretta Young.
After the company sold in December 1967, Linda Carter of Wonder Woman fame became the face of Maybelline for a time. After it sold again to Loreal Paris, Maybelline New York’s famous Super Models representatives have been the likes of Christy Turlington, Kirstin Davis, Miranda Kerr, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Melina Kanakaredes, and Sheetal Mallar. Julia Stegner, Jessica White, Emily DiDonato, Lisalla Montenegro, and Shu Pei.
The author grew up in Southern California leading a middle class lifestyle until the sale of the Maybelline Company made her father an overnight multi-millionaire, which she says turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. Sharrie reveals candidly her own realization about beauty, from the inside out.
We asked her some questions about her life and experience in writing the book.
nsL: What is one of the most interesting things you learned from documenting your family’s history—and from growing up in that family?
SW: I learned, our lives were like the old Saturday Night Live skit, ‘It is better to look fabulous than to feel fabulous.’ I remember when the Maybelline Company sold, my parents went through a nightmare divorce and my father became obsessed with creating a lifestyle of the rich and famous. It was a brutal transition and I covered up my grief with a lot of make-up, designer clothes and an expensive car. After all…to the world I was supposed to be happy and look fabulous, but inside my heart was breaking. This lifestyle went on until I too, faced a divorce and the loss of a child. From that point on I wanted to find the real person hiding inside the perfect facade I created to protect me from being hurt.
nsL: in your book, you point out that the Maybelline Company survived through some of the most tumultuous times in American history. What made the company sustain during the Great Depression? What was it like to be a part of that history?
SW: My great uncle Tom got down on his knees every night and asked God for guidance. During the Depression he lost his fortune, but he was given the key to success. Up until that time, the Maybelline product was mostly available through the classifieds in magazines and newspapers. He decided to sell Maybelline in the dime stores, making it affordable for all women, putting the product in a little red box and dropping the price from 75 cents to 10 cents. He moved from Chicago to Hollywood and used the famous faces of movie stars to endorse his product…and the rest is history. I’m grateful to be from the family that gave the world a quality product for beautifying their eyes, yet it was, and is, still sensibly priced.
nsL: how did you come to live in North Scottsdale and have you adjusted to living in the desert?
SW: My daughter graduated from Arizona State University and received her Masters from University of Phoenix. She fell in love with a boy at ASU and married him at his father’s home in Tempe. After their first child was born, I knew I had to be where my kids were. So I rented my home in California and bought this charming adobe-style home on an acre in North Scottsdale. I’m still going back and forth to California to see my sister and my friends, but after almost three years living here, writing my book and now my blog everyday, I’m falling in love with the peace and quiet and creative energy radiating from the beauty surrounding me here in the desert.
nsL: What are some of your own personal beauty and healthy lifestyle tips?
SW: I’ve been using use the most incredible skin products from Dr. George Brennan in Newport Beach for over 15 years and they have kept my skin tight and plastic surgery unnecessary. HC Compound and PM Stimulator: These two prescription strength products are used together to accelerate exfoliation, lightening and the cell renewal process. The HC Compound contains point one percent Retin A, and the PM Simulator contains four percent hydroquinone and 12 percent lactic acid.
nsL: What are some of your favorite summer foods?
SW: I eat mostly vegetarian to keep my blood free from toxins, and I enjoy raw salads, with two tablespoons of olive oil every day; a watermelon at least once a week; and my favorite breakfast is a cup of frozen blueberries in the blender with almond milk. I find the more flushing foods I eat, the cooler I feel, and I sleep much better in this heat.
nsL: you’re in great shape. What do you do for exercise?
SW: I go at least four or five days a week to AZ on the Rocks for yoga, and I swim in my pool for cardio. Combining all these ingredients has been my fountain of youth, and I’m blessed to have the time and space to live such a healthy lifestyle here in North Scottsdale.