McNutt had integral roll in Mitchum success
Bill McNutt ~ working on his
These are just a few of the Mitchum products for
which McNutt created the formulas and packaging: Hobnail bath oil, Mitchum lotion
|By SHANNON McFARLIN
P-I Staff Writer
How many readers recall the
scent of Goldfire bath powder? Or
the fragrance of Lemon Twist bath
oil? Or, to be painfully frank, how
many appreciated the effectiveness
of Mitchum Anti-Perspirant?
Those who do have one man to
thank for those sweet memories:
Bill McNutt of Paris, who formulated
and designed the packaging for many of the best-selling and most fondly remembered products for the former Golden Peacock and Mitchum companies.
For many decades, Paris was the
hub of the nation's cosmetic industry and for many of those years, McNutt was an integral part of the companies' success.
McNutt's Life was changed in 1957, with a visit from two Mitchum Company officials: Mitchum Warren, sales manager (later company president),
and Herbert Brisendine, product manager (known to his employees as "Mr. Herbert").
The pair, as McNutt puts it, "made
me an offer I couldn't turn down."
McNutt had decided when he was
an eighth-grader at Atkins-Porter
Elementary School that he wanted
to be a pharmacist and had mapped
his life around that goal.
After graduating from Grove
High School, McNutt attended Murray
State College (now University)for
He then transferred to the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Memphis where he received a bachelor's degree 'in pharmacy.
He was working as a pharmacist
at Hamlet Drug Store, formerly of
Paris, when Mitchum and Brisendine walked in and offered him a job
at the Golden Peacock plant, which
was located at the comer of Blythe
and Fentress Streets.
"They had heard that I did well in
school and they wanted a pharmacist
to work for them.
"I decided to try that because I
had had a cosmetic lab course in
"What they wanted was someone
to test products to make sure they
were up to standards on a chemical
basis and to formulate new products."
The offer was too good to pass
up for a young man with creativity
"I spent two or three months just
studying books, magazines and journals to totally immerse myself in the
cosmetics industry," McNutt said.
His energy paid off, both for the
company and the customers.
Hired in October 1957, McNutt
was faced with one of his greatest
challenges which emerged as one
of his greatest successes in Janu-
By then Warren had been elected
president of the company and made
a trip to the West Coast.
While on the visit, he spoke with
drug and department store buyers
"and found there was an antiper-
spirant product, poorly formulated
and packaged, but selling well. The
product was sold repeatedly to those
who perspired heavily, because it
When he returned to Paris, Warren called McNutt into his office
and assigned him a formidable
task: develop a similar product for
Golden Peacock which had to meet
the following requirements:
Be more effective in controlling
perspiration and odor; be a perfectly
Be safe for fabrics (the West
Coast product ate through clothing and users had to wear garment shields);
Be less irritating to the under-
arms; have a desirable dispenser
applicator; be attractively packaged;
and contain no fragrance.
"This sounded impossible to me,"
"After much research into anti-
perspirant chemicals, I started
experimenting," McNutt recalled.
At that time, most products on
the market only controlled odor, not
One Friday afternoon after
working all week on a formula McNutt thought he had the per-
Before leaving for the weekend,
he made a 100 cc sample and left
it on his desk, but forgot to pull
the blinds on a large window in his
"All weekend, the sun shined
through on that sample," McNutt
recalled, "and Monday morning,
I found my sample formula had
Customers wouldn't have liked
purple underarms, so McNutt once
more hit the books.
"I soon found the ingredient that
was light sensitive," he said. "After
some more research, I found another
chemical to use as the antibacterial
agent that was not light sensitive,
was compatible with the other
ingredients and was actually more
The new product would be called
Mitchum Anti-Perspirant, and the
rest is history.
Mitchum Anti-Perspirant became
a multimillion dollar product for the
company and changed the national
demand from deodorants to anti-
The product was marketed for
the first time in 1959, and McNutt
recalled that the first time he
ordered packaging for the product,
"I ordered twenty-five hundred
However, as the product became
a success, it became standard pro-
cedure to order 1 million cartons at
Starting as a chemist for the plant,
McNutt was promoted to chief chemist
and purchasing agent.
As the company grew and acquired
the cosmetic lines of other
companies (notably the House of
Wrisley and Nina, a French cosmet-
ics line), he became technical direc-
tor and then vice president of the
company's technical division.
As the company grew internation-
ally, so did McNutt's responsibilities
and product successes.
He developed the formulation of
Esoterica soap as well as its packag-
"We wanted something different
for the packaging and we developed
a hard plastic container for that
individual soaps, plus a paper box
that held three bars of soap at a time
they would include a plastic tray
molded for the three soaps."
McNutt developed the formulas
and unique packaging for Lemon
Twist, Hobnail Cologne (with a
molded shape and bows); and other
"We were a hands-on company,"
McNutt said. "When we were deciding
packaging, I'd get samples of bottles,
bring them in to Mr. Warren and
we'd discussed how it should look,
what labeling it should have.
"And we had consulting artists
who would help. As a small com-
pany, we worked with other mem-
bers of the staff: marketing, sales
and advertising. Everybody worked
The women who worked at the
plant were enlisted for their opin-
"We'd ask the women in the plant
to try out fragrances to see what
they thought and when we acquired
the Nina line, we developed lip-
sticks and foundation make-up, we
enlisted the aid of the women in the
company to try them out."
The Mitchum Company out grew it's
original plant in 1967 and built a new
plant on the Highway 54 west of Paris
(now Tecumseh Products).
Acquired by the Revlon company
in 1970, the local plant closed in
"Mr. Warren died in August 1967,
just before the new plant was com-
pleted," McNutt recalled. "I had a
lot of respect for that man; he was a
Moving into the new, bigger plant
was a time of great excitement for
McNutt, only to be followed by
the great emotional let-down of the
plant closing in 1972.
"I was one of the last five people
to leave the building and lock the
door for the final time," he said.
"That was a sad time."
After the plant closed, McNutt
worked as a relief pharmacist for
area drug stores for a year, and then
joined a group of local investors
who tried to start another cosmetic
"There were four of us. Jerry
Owen, David Freeland, Salman
Kodja from Syria and myself.
"I was vice president of technical
development and we worked on that
from 1973-1975, but it didn't go
well. There was a downturn in the
Beginning in 1975, McNutt
worked as a pharmacist for Fry
Drugs until retiring in 1985.
After the plant closed, McNutt
was offered jobs by both Revlon
and Esoterica, but, after contem-
plating the offers, "I decided I
wanted to live on less and enjoy
McNutt made his mark on the
cosmetic industry, but the road was
not always an easy one.
He experienced the first of nine
lung collapses while he was in col-
"It collapsed while I was driving
home from Memphis. I figured that
came from my birth I was deliv-
ered by Dr. (Elroy) Skruggs at home
and I was a blue baby.
"He had to give me artificial res-
piration right there on the floor at
After experiencing the first lung
collapse, he laid off a year, working
at Meal's Drug Store for his college
He married Ann Coursey in 1952,
and they first lived at Memphis
while he finished his degree and
she worked at the Otis Elevator
McNutt was supposed to gradu-
ate in December 1953, but suffered
another lung collapse in November
and had surgery in Memphis Baptist
A month later, after final exams,
he walked across the stage to receive
"You had to walk in the ceremony
in those days to get your diploma
and believe me, that wasn't easy for
me to do."
As the Mitchum Company grew
and acquired other lines, the stress
of McNutt's job grew, especially
dealing with executives from the
"It became a high stress job,
which is probably why I have so
many heart problems now," he
McNutt has undergone several
surgeries and has been implanted
with a defibrillator and pace-
"I take it a day at a time."
McNutt's first wife died in 1976.
He and his second wife, the former
Glenda Crews Caldwell, have a
Ann and I had Debra and Ran-
dall and Glenda had a daughter,
Lisa Caldwell, and we have six
grandchildren and four great-grand-
In his retirement, despite his
health problems, McNutt has
"done some of the things I wanted
"I go fishing, hunting and I have a
workshop where I like to build min-
iatures to scale. What I'm planning
to do now is build a miniature of my
grandfather's log house."
McNutt is a 50-year member of
the Paris Lions Club and the local
Masonic Lodge and has volunteered
with the Boy Scouts and Explorer
He recalls his days with Golden
Peacock-Mitchum with a great deal
of fondness and satisfaction.
"I really enjoyed it. The people
were great and very congenial. We
had an intelligent group of execu-
tives guiding our company and
everybody worked together."
In 1992, McNutt compiled a
comprehensive history of the local
cosmetics industry, including the
National Toilet Company, Mitchum
and Golden Peacock, and Tyson &
The history is available at the
Paris-Henry County Chamber of
THE PARIS POST-INTELLIGENCER
July 13, 2004 Edition ~ Used by permission
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