Of all the genres NETFLIX offers, the Documentaries catch my eye most often and not only are some entertaining, they are educational. Recently I happened upon “Burt’s Buzz”, the fascinating tale of how Burt’s Bees Company had it’s unlikely birth. I opened a PBR and put my feet up and met this very interesting fellow.
Burt Shavitz is that ancient face you see on their eye-catching, yellow packaging on the earthy, yet pricey lotions and lip balms sold everywhere. Evidently, Burt was born marching to the beat of a different drummer. Born in Manhattan, due to inherit a family factory, he enlisted in the service and came back to New York as an independent photographer. He took pictures of everyday New York and sold them to the NY Times, Life Magazine and a host of others. After taking a shot of a woman in the window of her apartment, who never left the building, Burt had an epiphany and moved to the woods of Maine. Feeling God wanted him to become a bee-keeper, he became a hermit hippie. Living in a cabin and a Thoreau-type existence, he made a living selling natural honey at craft fairs and beside the road. One day a young mother, Roxanne Quimby, hitched a ride with Burt in 1984. He encouraged her to take his leftover bees-wax and make home made candles to sell to tourists. In the movie, I could tell she was the love of his life and several times he refers to her as “the one”. The romance was never mutual, but a partnership was born.
Burt’s Bees was a small, local company that made candles, lip balm, and personal hygiene products, until today the total is 197 different items. From the rustic mom and pop operation in Maine, Roxanne became the driving force and expanded the company each year, until she moved the Burt and Bee logo to North Carolina in 1993. Burt says he tried to live there and mess around the 18,000 square foot factory, but by that time it was pretty much Roxanne’s company. She bought him out for $130,000, and they parted ways for good. In 2007, the company sold for $925,000,000 to the Clorox Corporation.
The movie doesn’t attempt to portray Roxanne as a corporate bad guy, but you can feel Burt’s pain and loss of her friendship. He still lives in a cabin in Maine with no real modern devices, cooks on a wood stove, and prefers to be outside. However, this quirky old hippie, who still looks like the wood cut image on the products, has adjusted to the modern fact of being an almost 80 year old pop icon in many markets. After being cheated out of about $200 million, by his estimates, he travels the world as Burt’s Bees mascot. Oddly enough, he seems to revel in this fame and lifestyle. Enjoying 4 star hotels and room service, his handlers claim he doesn’t understand his fame or how the world works in 2014, but came away with a different perspective. I saw the light in his eyes, especially in Taiwan, as he hugged pretty young Asian women, and gazed at long lines of fans waiting to take a picture with him. It was heartening to witness he still loves the woods of Maine, but I came away liking both the old Burt and the new one. Take a look at “Burt’s Buzz”.