Burt Shavitz: Burt's Bees Co-Founder Was Mr. Natural

Burt Shavitz

If you're a fan of the Burt's Bees line of natural, environmentally friendly personal care products, you might have assumed that the Walt-Whitman lookalike on the label was a generic hippie dreamed up by marketing experts.

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But Burt Shavitz, who passed away on July 5 at age 80 in Bangor, Maine, was a real person and an actual beekeeper. Here are some intriguing facts about a man who was as wild and free-spirited as his likeness might suggest.

  • In 1970 Shavitz abandoned his career and urban lifestyle as a New York City photojournalist for Time and Life after his photograph of a dour neighbor staring out her window made him realize "that would be me ... if I didn't get the hell out," he once explained to the New Yorker.
  • He moved to Maine – "a Garden of Eden" he remembered from childhood visits – and built his first home there with lumber donated by neighbors window frames scavenged from the local dump.
  • He became a beekeeper after a man whom he'd met as a news photographer gifted him his complete set of beekeeping gear, which he later described as "an act of God."
  • He met his future business partner, artist Roxanne Quimby, when he gave her a ride hitchhiking.
  • He and Quimby started out selling candles made from wax from Shavitz's hives before expanding into personal products.
  • Though he reportedly received $4 million after the company was sold to investors in the 2000s, he continued to live an austere lifestyle without running water and heating his house with a wood stove.
  • He didn't own an alarm clock.
  • According to Mental Floss, the image on the product label was from a wood carving created by artist A.C. Kulik.

 

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Here's the trailer to the 2014 documentary about him, Burt's Buzz.

Photo: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

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