A biography of the man who is largely responsible for the creation of modern skin care products - based on The Angel of Beauty: The Story of Dr. Erno Laszlo by Diana Lewis Jewell, 1998, 113 p.
Article added on September 22, 2002
Diana Lewis Jewell has not written a scientific, but an easy to read and entertaining biography of Erno Laszlo, the man who is largely responsible for the creation of modern skin care products as we still know them today.
Erno Laszlo studied skin pathology and skin disease at the Royal Hungarian Elisabeth University of Medical Sciences in Budapest, Hungary's capital, under the tutelage of Professor Soma Cornel Beck. He completed his clinical studies in Berlin, Germany, with the famous dermatologist Professor Max Joseph, "the father of modern dermatology".
When Laszlo could not see the results he had expected from the preparations of Max Joseph in Berlin, he asked his clients to tell him exactly how they were using the preparations. He was a a student and needed to know. Women confessed to him that they were not using the "stinky, dirty cream". Secretly, Laszlo created a cream without the foul odor the professor was prescribing. It was a snow white product without any odor at all. His women clients began secretly to use his new product. When the professor found out about it, he judged it a good idea and expressed his gratitude towards the young doctor. This was the beginning of Laszlo's career in cosmetic dermatology.
The rise of Erno Laszlo to world fame reads like a fairy-tale: One day, back in Budapest, one of the most distinguished doctors of his time asked him for help, regarding Princess Stephanie, the widow of the Austrian Crown Prince Rudolph von Habsburg. She had had a tragic destiny later known as the Story of Mayerling - the murder/suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf Habsburg, the son of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and the beautiful young Baroness Mary Vetsera on January 30, 1889, at the royal hunting lodge in Mayerling. A story which until today remains to a large degree a mystery - at least for writers and filmmakers.
Princess Stephanie was devastated because she had been rejected and betrayed by her dashing royal husband, betrothed to her in her fifteenth year through an arranged marriage. He had found her instantly unattractive, deserting her on their wedding night, openly consorting with one of Europe's great beauties.
Years of public humiliation had turned Princess Stephanie, a woman who lacked social graces, into a virtual recluse. After the murder/suicide, the Emperor had married her off again in middle age, to Count Lonyai, assuring him the title of "Prince".
A second dashing husband was the final crush to her self-confidence. She could barely speak and walk. The Count could not cross the chasm of her despair and distanced himself from her. The doctor asking Erno Laszlo for help told him that the Princess "will drive him away completely and this will be the end of her."
The two men were talking of dermatology, this new-found science of cosmetology and of possibilities. Erno Laszlo had studied the pathologies of skin disease and the facial disfigurements of the war. But it was the desperation of women like Princess Stephanie that had led him to develop dermatological preparations that would both heal and beautify the skin.
Erno Laszlo told the doctor that he needed not only to know what the princess was thinking, but also what caused her to think this way in order to be able to help her. "It takes a kind of psycho-cosmetology". With Princess Stephanie, it was her father, King Leopold, who convinced his daughter at a very tender age that she was stupid and ugly. Her husband was unable to help her, as we have seen above. Furthermore, the Princess had a morbid fear of artificial beauty and would use no makeup.
Two days after the meeting with the doctor, Erno Laszlo met the princess at her country estate. He promised to invent "a makeup that will be no makeup". A product "practically invisible to wear. But it will make your skin look the way nature wanted it to be." And he was able to deliver. He created a transparent cream which imparted a subtle glow to the skin. Weeks after the Princess had received the newly developed skin care product, she wrote Erno Laszlo: "My husband has said how well I look." At the same time, her hard edges were replaced by a feminine charm and graciousness.
Of course, word spread about the "miracle doctor's" achievements and women from near and far began to contact him. He devoted his life to the improvement and perfection of their skin. He spent as much time in the laboratory as with the day-to-day treatment of those who came to his clinic.
In Budapest, one of Hungary's most celebrated and most beautiful young actresses, Frida Gombaszoegi, was shot in the face by a rejected suitor. The ravaging bullets left deep scars in her face and soul. With specially formulated preparations, Erno Laszlo was able the soften her scars through months of treatment to the point that she was finally able to return to the spotlight.
As a side effect of the treatment, Erno Laszlo fell in love with one of the sisters of the young star. Iren Gombaszoegi was a lesser known character actress. After they married, Iren left the stage to work by his side.
In 1927, the Erno Laszlo Institute for Scientific Cosmetology opened its doors on a tree-lined boulevard in Budapest. Specializing in the new field of cosmetic science which he had pioneered, it was an immediate success and attracted the foremost beauties of Budapest, and within a short time, from all of Europe.
Erno Laszlo also began to answer letters, asking the women in his replies to give him detailed descriptions of their skin which enabled him to diagnose and advice. It later developed into his famous "Invisible Consultation", the Erno Laszlo Skin Questionnaire, which provided an accurate classification of a particular skin type. The correspondence with his clients and his weekly articles for the Hungarian daily Pesti Napló allowed him to establish what was then the first mail-order business for beauty products.
Erno Laszlo gave more than simple beauty treatment advice. He delved into the personal lives of his patients. At the same time, he was strict, asking them to strictly follow his advice. If a woman deviated from the routine, he knew it immediately from her skin and would not continue to see her unless she followed his instructions. It was his scientific approach which yielded convincing results.
In 1937, Erno Laszlo visited Hollywood, where fellow Hungarians such as Adolph Zukor and William Fox had made their careers. Among the friends the beauty doctor met was Paul Gordon, a playwright, author and producer known for his Concert Productions. Through him, Erno Laszlo met Gayelord Hauser, then the Health Guru of Greta Garbo and other stars.
It did not take long before major film studies were calling the man who had dedicated his life to the beauty of women. Warner Brothers offered Erno Laszlo a supervisory job in its make-up department. In the end, he rejected the offer.
In December of 1937, he made a makeup demonstration on Frances Donelon, one of America's most famous models. He decided to move lock, stock and skin creams to the United States. In November 1939, he moved to the Waldorf Astoria until his wife joined him in 1940. They never returned to Budapest. In 1945, the Laszlo's became citizens of the United States. The biography of Erno Laszlo, part 2.
[Added on March 4, 2013: At the end of February 2013, Erno Laszlo has left Sak's Fifth Avenue. You can find Anne McFadden now at the Erno Laszlo Institute at 382 West Broadway, Soho, NYC].
Photograph copyright: Erno Laszlo LLC.
Photograph copyright: Erno Laszlo LLC.
Photograph copyright: Erno Laszlo LLC.