Burt Shavitz, of Burt’s Bees, died two years ago. A photographer (for Life and Time) from Manhattan, he settled near Bangor, Maine, in the 1960s. There, he discovered beekeeping. Although Maine is one of the worst places in North America to keep bees (limited forage, cool temperatures, harsh winters), his beekeeping nevertheless led to a candle business with his eventual partner Roxanne Quimby. It was mostly she who developed the wildly successful business which was purchased in 2007 by Clorox for about one billion dollars. By then, Burt Shavitz was largely out of the game. But his image (and the myth of the man) have continued to sell the Burt’s Bees’ line of creams and balms and healthy beehive by-products.
The Burt Shavitz myth is more than an advertising gimmick. He was a real beekeeper, a real granola-sucking backwoods-cabin sort of guy. However, when Burt’s Bees general manager Jim Geikie tells us, “Burt was a living embodiment of our purpose to connect people to the wisdom, power and beauty of nature,” it does border on a myth in the making. For a realistic sense of the complicated Mr Shavitz, I suggest Jody Shapiro’s documentary, Burt’s Buzz. It does justice to Burt’s life while exposing some of the petty things that actually make him likeable and connect him to us, the non-mythologized. Watch the film and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s a YouTube link to the documentary.
Meanwhile, the tall tale continues with the Burt’s Bees company’s release of a 360 Experience that “Takes You Inside Founder Burt’s 300-Square-Foot Cabin” where “There isn’t even an alarm clock”. Oh my. No alarm clock. How primitive. Maybe he used the reminder feature on his I-Phone. Anyway, for those of us who do not own a 300-square foot cabin in a Maine forest, here’s Burt’s Bees’ invitation to voyeurism. Look around and enjoy the cracklin’ fresh atmosphere of a fireplace which generates its homey sound on a repeating 61-second audio loop. It would add to the surrealism if the 360 Experience mentioned that Burt’s cabin is no longer in the woods in Maine, but was moved to Burt’s Bees corporate headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus in North Carolina.
Here’s a link to Burt’s Nature, the 360 Experience of Burt’s cabin/monument. If you feel creeped out as you wander through the mythical dead man’s mythical Maine house, you’re not the only one who finds this ‘experience’ eerily similar to a Rod Sterling Twilight Zone episode. Don’t misunderstand me – Burt Shavitz was an extraordinary man. Ex-military, acclaimed photographer, beekeeper. But I think he’d agree – give him a rest.